Chinese President Xi Jinping put forth a historic initiative in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 that aims to build connectivity and foster cooperation between China and the rest of the world. China Pakistan Economic Corridor, also known as CPEC, is one of the six economic corridors under this ambitious project. Initially, it was anticipated as a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative both by China and Pakistan. The policymakers across Pakistan event went to the extent of describing it as a game changer for Pakistan.
The projects carried out under CPEC brought significant transformation in infrastructure and power sector development which ameliorated Pakistan’s transportation issues and electricity crisis in the immediate run.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor was formally launched in April 2015, when Chinese Premier Xi Jinping paid a visit to Pakistan and heads of both states signed multiple memorandums of understanding worth $46 billion which later on exceeded $ 62 billion. The proposed goals of the project were to bring transformation to Pakistan’s existing infrastructural network by developing roads, railways, and highways; and mitigating the existing power shortfall by investing in multiple power projects ranging from coal-based power projects to wind solar, and hydropower projects. Both parties to the agreement also acceded to developing an overland corridor from China’s Kashgar region in the Western Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan. For China, the significance of this project was manifold. On the one hand, it would reduce the time, distance, and cost of goods transported from and across China, and on the other hand, it would help China in avoiding the incessant Strait of Malacca dilemma. By circumventing the route of the Strait of Malacca in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea China via the CPEC route would directly transport its oil and gas imports to its Western underdeveloped region. Since 2015, numerous projects have been operationalized and under this initiative, China has peppered Pakistan with more than $25 billion in investment in multiple projects, predominantly in energy and infrastructure projects. The most notable projects carried out under CPEC vis-à-vis infrastructure include Karakoram Highway phase-II (Havelian-Thakot section), Peshawar-Karachi Motorway (Multan-Sukkur Section), Lahore Orange Line Metro Train, and Hakla D.I Khan Motorway.
The most remarkable work has been done in the energy sector where multiple projects have added thousands of megawatts to the national grid, staving off the perturbing energy crisis in Pakistan.
The energy projects completed so far mainly include 1320MW each from Sahiwal Coal Fired Power Plant; Coal Fired Power Plant at Port Qasim Karachi; Hub Coal Power Project, Balochistan, and SSRL Thar Coal Block-1 project. Besides that Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park, Bahawalpur having a capacity of 1000MW along with numerous wind projects in Thatta have been completed. These projects have added more than 8000MW to the national grid since 2015. This indicates that CPEC has instilled substantial improvement in Pakistan’s infrastructural and energy sectors.
There is no denying the fact that CPEC has brought tremendous improvement in some spheres. After the successful completion of phase-I, both states, since 2020 were keen to kick start the phase-II focused on developing special economic zones, agricultural uplifting, research and development, and technological cooperation. The periodic attacks on Chinese workers by local nations across Balochistan and Sindh has impacted the progress of the CPEC.
CPEC has remained an ideal flagship project so far, the argument labeling the project as a mirage of development does not carry much weight. Without this project, it was impossible for Pakistan to put an end to the incessant and appalling power crisis going on since 2012. In the same way, as indicated above CPEC has brought significant improvement in the infrastructure of Pakistan besides providing employment opportunities to more than 70,000 people in Pakistan. However, it goes without saying it is due to the internal lacunas in our governance and social fabric that Pakistan could not accomplish the actual dream of CPEC. In order to materialize the long-awaited dream of economic autarky, the successful execution of the CPEC is indispensable.
The immediate measures for that purpose include introducing arrangements with more and more representation of local people of the respected areas; removing the bureaucratic bottlenecks that hinder the way of investments; maintaining a strict security environment around the ongoing projects; and encouraging more regional states to take part in this landmark initiative of China.
This is the responsibility of all stakeholders in Pakistan to make it successful at any cost; otherwise, prospects of a bright future are bleak.