Intro: China-Pak Economic Corridor will soon be a reality in near future. The big question is what will China demand in turn from Pakistan?
There is a story of a dragon called Vritra in the ancient text of Rigveda. The story goes; the dragon had once encircled water of two mighty rivers named Shatudri and Vipat, the Satluj and the Bias of today, and made the lives of people living in the Valley miserable. It is said, for killing the demon and protecting his followers Indra was accorded the highest place among the pantheon of the Vedic Gods by the Vedic seers.
The writer conducted research on the nature of the Vedic story way back in 1980s and interpreted the nature of the demon Vritra. To dismay, the memories of the Vedic theme were evoked after the broadcast of the road map of the proposed road connecting the south most point of Pakistan, from the upcoming port of Gwadar with Kashgar in western China by BBC. It appeared like a multi-headed hydra spreading its tentacles on the western front of India.
Recent visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping and China’s new Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Pakistan and of the neighbour country declaring its neutrality towards participation in the Yemen war along with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations should not be seen in isolation.
Pakistan’s neutrality came only after prior assurance about substantial help from China. Infact many a trade contracts were finalised between the two countries during the visit. The major project is the link road extending from Gwadar to Kashgar. It is part of the Chinese investment in Pakistan to the tune of $46 billion in infrastructure and energy schemes over a period of time. It will include building new roads, 1800-kilometre railway line and a network of oil pipelines to connect Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region to the port of Gwadar. China will supply much needed solar power infrastructure (of course of the doubtful quality as the Indian experience goes) to the energy starved Pakistan. In addition, it will also fund a new batch of nuclear reactors.
Pakistan plans to add four new nuclear plants by 2023. These will be funded by China, with four more reactors in the pipeline (adding up to a total power capacity of 7,930 MW by 2030) with unwritten intent of augmenting the nuclear weapon capability for Pakistan.
For Pakistan it came as a great relief after it came in the bad books of its mentor for decades, the Saudi Arabia who fed its millions through madrassas and kept the volatile population under control for decades. Pakistan had realised that since it could not rely on Saudi support anymore, it now needed an all-weather friend. China seized the opportunity and jumped in to play the role.
The much talked Gwadar to Kashgar road is thus aptly named as China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC), for it will certainly be of immense economic use for China not only from the crude oil supply point of view but strategically also. The link road will give China direct access to the Indian Ocean and cut down the crude supply route by almost 3 thousand miles. It will also be part of long term strategy of encircling India on the western front. In the wake of these happenings, to the writer, the BBC road map appeared as a dragon with tail in Gwadar extending to Kashgar and further multi-mouthing many cities in China.
U-turn in the Road map
While the politicians of both the nations eulogised the economic gains for both the countries, the real twist in the story occurred after BBC published a U-turn in the route covering two major cities of Lahore and Islamabad. It is said that Punjabi ruling clique is now trying to make changes to the original map of CPEC and instead want the route to connect Gwadar with Kashgar through Punjab province instead of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan (KP&B). Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chairman of Awami National Party (ANP) said, “The original route passes through Quetta, Zhob and Dera Ismail Khan.” He added that the route was supposed to bring prosperity in terms of infrastructure development to the tribal belt, but now Punjab is trying to back down from its decision and make changes to the original plan. Afrasiyab Khattak, a senior leader of the ANP, said the federal government wants the road to pass through Islamabad and Lahore and it is in the quest to leave KP&B regions out of the project.
This U-turn takes the road to Lahore which is just a few Kms away from the Indian border and will deprive people of KP&B regions much needed life line for the economic growth. This twist has infuriated the people from these two provinces. They felt let down as the route became public after being broadcast by BBC. Qaumi Watan Party leader, Salim Khan, said that Pashtuns are disappointed as Chinese president is not visiting Pakistan but Punjab only and that the decisions that have been taken are against Balochs and Pashtuns.
Gains for Pakistan
With easy access to Chinese vehicular traffic, it is expected that the Gwadar port and the surrounding areas will grow fast with more infrastructural development. The Punjabi clique expects it to grow as an alternative to the age old port of Karachi-There is dire need for it, as the port city has been a stronghold of Mohajirs, inimical to the Punjabis. Karachi has over the last three decades deteriorated into a hot bed of terrorist activities and inter-sectarian rivalry between Pashtuns and local Mohajirs, in addition to the rivalry between Shia and Sunnis. Gwadar port will open up new possibilities-The land mafias comprising of the ruling Punjabi clique and the army would grab the prime lands leaving crumbs for the local Baloch population.
In times to come, it is said that Chinese will flood the Pakistan market with cheap and low quality goods. It will though temporarily meet the urgent needs of Pakistan people, but in long run it’ll harm their local industry. It is beleived, China that is eager to cash this opportunity to its advantage in Pakistan will gradually facilitate access to the Middle-Eastern market. Strategically, Chinese are envisaging big trade potential with these countries including Pakistan. It is a well-conceived strategy.
Challenges for India
India faces new challenges in the moves jointly initiated by China-Pak. It is established that China desires to control growth and global Indian influence. There have been predictions of India becoming world power parallel with China. The real politic dictates that such parallel powers be curbed. That is what China is doing by extending infrastructure building help to Pakistan. It will also direct Pakistan to provoke border dispute with India.
How can India counter China?
Indian High Commissioner TCA Raghavan addressing a meeting of KP Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPCCI) on April 22 said that trade between India and China was equal as was between India and Pakistan in the year 2000, ranging between $100 million dollars. However now, he said, after passage of 14 years, the trade volume between India and China has jumped to $65 to 70 billion while trade between India and Pakistan is around $2.5 to 2.9 billion.
While India’s trade with China has grown many times, trade with Pakistan has lagged behind over the last decade and half. The larger quantities and variety of traded goods with better quality between India and Pakistan can offer better alternative to Chinese goods. That needs to be enhanced. At the same time India should tighten its control on the western border and any terrorist incursions should be heavily dealt with. As the Saudi help dries, it is bound to set disillusion among the Pakistani people about Wahhabi Sunni Islamic identity. Iran will also be interested in similar developments in Pakistan.
China has specialised in producing common consumable goods very cheaply. India cannot compete at this stage with China. However producing medium capacity capital goods and production units with quality production potential can put India in stronger position to compete China. These can be exported to the Islamic countries including Pakistan. To achieve this India will have to reorient its production planning and help augmenting the medium and small scale sector. It will have to lay down policies for growth of capital good producing sector and bring down the industrial loan interest rates, the policy followed very effectively by Chinese. India should plan strategies for curbing the influence of army establishment in Pakistan and promote democratic process in Pakistan. That will put deterrent effect on Chinese influence.
Dr Pramod Pathak (The writer is a prolific writer and writes on history culture andforeign policy)