Edi­tor’s Desk

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The $ 46 bil­lion China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) of­fer ex­tended dur­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s visit is a his­toric devel­op­ment op­por­tu­nity for Pak­istan. More than 50 Mem­o­ran­dums of Un­der­stand­ing (MoUs) and agree­ments in var­i­ous sec­tors in­clud­ing en­ergy, in­fra­struc­ture, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic devel­op­ment were signed be­tween the two coun­tries. The cor­ri­dor is a planned net­work of roads, rail­way and en­ergy projects link­ing south­west Pak­istan’s deep­wa­ter Gwadar Port with north­west China’s Xin­jiang Uighur au­ton­o­mous re­gion. China is ex­pected to in­vest $ 34 bil­lion in en­ergy projects and $ 12 bil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture. Some $ 15.5 bil­lion worth of coal, wind, so­lar and hy­dro­elec­tric projects will be com­pleted by 2017. China and Pak­istan are set to co­op­er­ate in gas, coal, and so­lar en­ergy projects to pro­vide 16,400 megawatts of elec­tric­ity — roughly equiv­a­lent to Pak­istan’s en­tire cur­rent ca­pac­ity. Chi­nese firms would ad­vance loans to lo­cal Pak­istani firms to set up in­fra­struc­ture projects on low markup rates sub­si­dized by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment with a 15 years time­frame. Among th­ese deals, the set­ting up of coal-based power plants in Thar is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the coun­try’s econ­omy can­not en­tirely rely on tra­di­tional means to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity. And the green en­ergy pro­duced through so­lar and wind plants will help de­crease neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects.

De­spite the pos­i­tive prospects of devel­op­ment for both states, se­cu­rity fears linger over the CPEC that in­volves ma­jor con­struc­tion in some in­creas­ingly restive ar­eas in Balochis­tan. Mak­ing the stalled Gwadar Port func­tional can put the coun­try on the path of progress. Yet there are chal­lenges that need to be ad­dressed first. The sig­nif­i­cance of Gwadar as an al­ter­na­tive port linked with China (and later Cen­tral Asia) war­rants un­doubted at­ten­tion. The port lies near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman, east of the Strait of Hor­muz through which much of the Mid­dle East’s crude oil passes. But link­ing Gwadar to the rest of Pak­istan and on to the west­ern Chi­nese city of Kash­gar, 3,000 kilo­me­tres away, would in­volve ma­jor in­fras­truc­tural work in Balochis­tan. The project is part of Bei­jing’s plan to ex­pand its trade foot­print across South Asia and give it eas­ier ac­cess to the Mid­dle East, South East Asia and Europe via Gwadar Port. But there are ques­tions over Pak­istan’s abil­ity to ab­sorb this in­vest­ment given its chronic prob­lems with mil­i­tancy, sep­a­ratism, po­lit­i­cal volatil­ity, in­ef­fi­ciency and cor­rup­tion. Pak­istan faces a num­ber of chal­lenges re­gard­ing this most am­bi­tious project. Cur­rently, in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal trans­port link­ages are miss­ing in Gwadar be­sides other in­fras­truc­tural fa­cil­i­ties that have so far kept away in­vestors. Gwadar’s only us­able link with the rest of the coun­try is the Makran Coastal High­way, but this means trans­port­ing goods via Karachi, a long and in­ef­fi­cient de­tour. Un­less Gwadar is linked north­wards with the na­tional high­way grid, the dream of a sec­ond port may not come true. Plan­ning in its proper se­quence is re­quired. There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween wish­ful think­ing and plan­ning. Un­like in the past, proper plan­ning of the devel­op­ment of Gwadar will help re­duce the coun­try’s de­pen­dence on Karachi Port that han­dles the in­ter­na­tional trade of Pak­istan and has be­come over­crowded and a bot­tle­neck. In or­der to tackle the chal­lenge of un­rest, the gov­ern­ment needs to re­view its poli­cies re­gard­ing Balochis­tan. There is a gen­eral re­sent­ment among the Baloch peo­ple due to their alien­ation from the main­stream gov­ern­ment poli­cies and de­ci­sions. The Baloch peo­ple should be made a part of and stake­hold­ers in the eco­nomic cor­ri­dor. The gov­ern­ment should adopt a ra­tio­nal ap­proach in­stead of re­ly­ing only on mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to curb the na­tion­al­ist in­sur­gency, and that too with­out ad­dress­ing ba­sic Baloch con­cerns. The his­tory of in­sur­gen­cies in Balochis­tan shows the dif­fi­culty of solv­ing the prob­lem through the use of force alone. A nu­anced ap­proach needs to be adopted to re­solve Balochis­tan’s long run­ning is­sues po­lit­i­cally. On the other hand, the ex­trem­ist re­li­gious sep­a­ratist move­ment in the Chi­nese prov­ince Xin­jiang needs a dif­fer­ent treat­ment be­cause such move­ments (as we have learnt to our cost in Pak­istan) are not amenable to rea­son. China needs to ap­ply wis­dom to tackle th­ese ex­trem­ists by iso­lat­ing them from the peo­ple and win­ning hearts and minds in the restive prov­ince. China has al­ready started work on this long road to peace and devel­op­ment by ex­tend­ing gen­er­ous largesse to Pak­istan. It is now up to Pak­istan to make the best of this golden op­por­tu­nity.

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