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South Asia

CPEC: Geo-strategic and economic significance

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Authors: Vahid Pourtajrishi & Tayyebeh Vakilotojar

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of prime importance for Pakistan as it can act as the game changer boosting the economic and geopolitical role of Pakistan in the questions of the region.

Roots of China-Pakistan linkages date back to many centuries into the fabled Silk Route connecting the civilizations of India, China, Persia and Europe. Though separated by the formidable mountain ranges of Himalayas and Karakoram, the two regions remained connected through numerous mountainous tracks and routes which not only facilitated trade and travel but also the flow of ideas, culture and religion. Construction of the Karakoram Highway which was completed in 1978 provided all weather links between Pakistan and China, hence, further promoting trade and culture.

The Frontier Works Organization (FWO) is undertaking massive infrastructure development program all over Pakistan and particularly the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).It is constructing a part of the CPEC’s Western Route in Baluchistan and a portion of the Eastern Route besides maintenance of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). Road projects in Baluchistan will link Gwadar Port with Quetta, Chaman and Rattodero at the Indus Highway and bring forth a change in socio-economic dimensions of Baluchistan and Pakistan in general. With the completion of 870 km portion of the road infrastructure developed by FWO, not only people of interior Baluchistan will be benefitted but Gwadar Deep Sea Port would also be linked with Chaman, reducing the distance by nearly 400 km. construction of Lahore-Islamabad and Karachi-Hyderabad Motorways on Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis will facilitate the pace of development to take on the challenges of the CPEC.

Completion of Gwadar Port in 2007

The distance between Gwadar and Kashgar, Xinjiang province (China) is nearly 2,800 KM while the route in Pakistan comes about 2,442 km, comprising highways, energy pipelines and industrial estates stretching from Gwadar to Kashgar through Khunjerab to benefit the economies of the two countries .

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the project “will provide connection between economic nodes or hubs, centered on urban landscapes, in which large amount of CPEC economic resources. They link the supply and demand sides of markets”.

Communication infrastructure of the CPEC will connect the vast but landlocked Western Chinese region with the Arabian seaport of Gwadar thereby giving it a direct and shorter access to the trade markets of the Middle East and beyond.  FWO, the leading infrastructure development organization of Pakistan, created specifically for the Pakistan-China connectivity through construction of Karakoram Highway five decades back, has a pivotal role to play in implementation of this gigantic and crucial venture.

Two great routes, including the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road) and the Silk Route have served the Indian subcontinent. Link with China through Silk Route was not a single road but a vast network of interconnecting routes that linked the East and the West for nearly two millennia. Karakoram Highway, in 1947, the northern areas were accessible via two routes: the Srinagar Astore-Gilgit mule track and the Kaghan Valley Track over the Babusar Pass and Chilas. After 1948 Kashmir War, the Srinagar Route was denied to Pakistan and the entire northern areas became dependent on the Kaghan Valley Route.

Gwadar is considered to be the gateway to South West and Central Asia. Located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, 624 nautical km to the east of the Strait of Hormuz, Gwadar port has immense strategic significance. The CPEC is a classic manifestation of convergence of geostrategic and geo-economic interests of the two countries bonded in time tested socio-economic and diplomatic relations with absolute trust in each other.

Gwadar Port will not only serve as a shortest route for China’s oil supply but it will also reduce the cost of supplying oil by billions of dollars. Fully functional Gwadar Port connected with China and Central Asia can play a role in the economic revival of Pakistan being located at the crossroads of huge supplying and communicating markets. FWO owes its birth in 1966 to Karakoram Highway. By managing a large work force stretched over inhospitable and harsh mountain ranges for over 887 km, FWO succeeded in carving out the “Eighth Wonder” of the World in 1978.13Today, FWO is a vibrant construction entity of 45,000 professionals equipped with over 5,000 pieces of state of the art construction machinery, stretched all across Pakistan besides venturing overseas.

Maintenance of KKH and Construction of Mansehra Naran-Chilas Road

In 1958, a modest project was initiated to provide a road link between Swat and Gilgit which grew up into a mega highway project when, in 1966.FWO is developing Jalkhad-Babusar-Chilas Road, which has almost been completed. This road is a continuation of the Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad Road, which is complete and takes in a large volume of traffic during summers.

By end of 2016 would effectively link Gwadar Deep Sea Port with Afghanistan and China. FWO is according top priority to these routes keeping in view the supreme national interest and accordingly almost 60% of its resources have been employed for construction of these road projects. The M-8 Motorway reflects the vision of a progressive Baluchistan.

It is the first highway of the province, which shall be converted into a Motorway connecting Gwadar with the Indus Highway. Eventual alignment of this road will traverse along Gwadar, Turbat, Hoshab, Awaran, Khuzdar and Rattodero. However, the contract agreements were terminated in October 2010 due to adverse security situation as all the contractors expressed their inability CPEC 146 to work.

In 2013, fresh bids were called but only FWO submitted its proposal and the work were awarded to FWO. FWO has undertaken construction of Gwadar–TurbatHoshab and Khuzdar-Shahdadkot segments. The road is sponsored by NHA from PSDP Funding. Construction of Khuzdar-Shahdadkot link is also underway. The Highway is also known as the Gwadar-Quetta link.

According to the scope of work, length of highway is 448 km, carriageway width is 7.3 meters with shoulders of 2.5 meters. Moreover, 15 bridges are to be constructed. The construction work has been divided into four sections: the Hoshab-Panjgur (138 km), Panjgur-Nag (130 km), NagBasima (91 km) and Basima-Surab Section (89 km)

FWO is currently undertaking repair and modernization of Lahore-Islamabad Motorway (M-2) whereas the 4 lane Karachi Hyderabad Super Highway is being upgraded into a 6 lane motorway in its pursuits along the Eastern Route.

Lahore-Islamabad Motorway

Under the Concession Agreement, M-2 has been handed over to FWO in 2014 for concession period of 20 years. Project was inaugurated on 15 December 2014 and work commenced during January 2015 after largest financial close in the history of transportation and communication sector in Pakistan.

Conversion of the existing 4 lane Karachi–Hyderabad Superhighway into a 6 lane Motorway (M-9) has been entrusted to the FWO in 2015 for a concession period of 25 years. FWO is also in the process of bidding for different sections of the Karachi Lahore Motorway.

FWO is working in close harmony with Pakistan Railways for development of ‘Pak-China Dedicated Freight Corridor.’ The Corridor will extend from Karachi and Gwadar to Kashghar and eventually link the regional rail networks in the neighborhood. Oil City and White Oil Pipeline: To meet the strategic needs of Pakistan, besides the huge contemplated and projected requirements of the CPEC, an Oil Village with a capacity of 50,000 MT on Build-Own-Operate (BOO) basis and connecting it with White Oil Pipeline is being planned. Another mega initiative is Gwadar-Kashgar Cross Country Oil Pipeline with 400,000 MT storage facilities.

Economic Development Plan along Major Routes: Under this plan, a number of smart cities, industrial zones, container terminals, grain and fuel storage facilities, warehouses, dry ports and thermal power plants are planned.

CPEC: Infrastructure Development 155 along Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway and Dedicated Freight Corridor.

Energy and Water Sector Projects: In order to develop energy and water sector in Pakistan, FWO has planned to undertake and develop mega dam projects as well as medium size Hydro Power Projects. The last but not the least is the capacity issue, in the implementation phase and addressed by raising and training a huge technical and skilled work force needed. National University of Technology and Skills Development (NUTECH) has been conceptualized. Proposed university to introduce the concept of basic to higher education CPEC 156 in the field of technology for the first time in Pakistan, though already adopted in the advanced countries.

The CPEC is a prized opportunity for Pakistan to realize its strategic and economic potential and is regarded as a “Game Changer” for Pakistan and the region. The benefits of the project will materialize gradually and the require determination from Pakistan and China to achieve their cherished goals in the best possible manner. FWO, in its capacity, has been striving to play its essential part rather leading the implementation of the CPEC.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

Vahid Pourtajrishi is an expert at planning unit of the department of the international affairs of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has worked as journalist at correspondent of Mehr News Agency.

South Asia

As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad

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The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.

Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.

The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.

India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.

India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.

Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.

New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.

Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.

The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.

The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.

With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.

The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.

Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.

The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.

All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.

The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.

With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.

Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.

The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.

Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.

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South Asia

The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature

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The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.

 In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.

The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.

The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.

Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.

 The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.

The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.

The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions.  The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.

The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.

Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.

The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.

In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.

Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.

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South Asia

Reinforcing the Role of the International Community in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. The United Nations defined Myanmar’s August 2017 atrocities to the Rohingyas as “Textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. On July 02, 2018, during his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General noted that “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar”. Thus, the severity of the Rohingya crisis is well-recognized by the international community. This article focuses on the necessity of the international community’s role in facilitating a safe and sustainable Rohingya crisis solution.

The ironic story is that though it is already three years passed, no concrete action is manifested to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China applied veto power in the case of Rohingya refugee resolution, which made strong impediments to the repatriation process. Russia and China did this calculating their narrowly defined interest rather than humanity which is in fact, ironic for the world. Thus, the United Nations could not play a crucial role in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation.

Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. Though Bangladesh is a rising economic power, feeding more than 170 million people is not an easy task. Also, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have added extra socio-economic pressures in the country. For Bangladesh’s continued growth, prosperity, and stability, there is no alternative to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar as early as possible. Since Myanmar committed ethnic cleansing to the Rohingyas, and the country is not interested in taking back the Rohingyas, only the international community including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can pressurize Myanmar to ensure a safe and sustainable repatriation.

Bangladesh strongly believes that the international community can play an essential role in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis permanently. For instance, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, offered five points proposal including the full implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, and the establishment of civilian monitored safe zone in the Rakhine State to the international community to resolve the issue. Similarly, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina offered a four points-proposal to resolve the Rohingya crisis highlighting the role of the international community. Sheikh Hasina emphasized that the international community must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem area addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingyas are accounted for.

The good news is that the on November 19, 2020, the United Nations has adopted a resolution on “The Situation of Human Rights of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” while Bangladesh seeks a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Resolution called for taking concrete actions by Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, i.e. granting them citizenship, ensuring the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes by creating a conducive environment. Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Rabab Fatima notes that “As a country that hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, Bangladesh continues to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, which lies in their safe and dignified return to Myanmar”.

Notably, Germany on behalf of the European Union and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the OIC co-tabled the Resolution which was sponsored by the 104 member states including the USA, Canada, and Australia. It is also a positive development that a total of 132 countries voted in favour of the Resolution while nine countries voted against and 31 countries abstained. It demonstrates that most of the countries in the world want a permanent, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. It also signifies that these countries care for the humanity while the nine countries who voted against the Resolution only care for their narrowly defined interest. The future generations will undoubtedly read and know the actions of those nine countries who do not care for humanity. Those nine countries need to know that despite several domestic challenges, Sheikh Hasina has shown kindness, humanitarian gesture and thus protected and sheltered those Rohingyas from killing by the Myanmar armies.

Notably, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of hosting refugees. This will remain as a humanitarian example in the world. One also needs to keep in mind that the socio-economic realities of Turkey (who is the top in hosting refugees), and Bangladesh is not the same. While the GDP (per capita) of Turkey is US$ 9043, Bangladesh’s GDP (per capita) is US$ 1856, the population density of Turkey is 108 per square kilometres, and Bangladesh’s population density is 1116 per square kilometres. Thus, considering the contexts, and socio-economic realities of Bangladesh, the international community needs to reinforce the Rohingya refugee repatriation process. Most importantly, the international community needs to execute the adopted Resolution as early as possible for the sake of humanity, for the sake of a just cause. The future world will certainly note the noble actions taken by the international community for such a just, and reasonable cause.

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