The historic agreements and MoUs worth $46 billion, the epergne of which is a – Pakistan China Economic Corridor between Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea and China’s western Xinjiang region, are seen as a game changer in the region. Pakistan and China signed 51 agreements in a number of areas including infrastructure development to energy during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit to Pakistan. The economic corridor will not only benefit all of Pakistan but it will empower China to bring forth a terse and cheaper route for trade with other countries. President Xi Jinping’s visit evinces that China has engendered Pakistan the central colligate between its dual Silk Road initiatives. While the maritime Silk Road is the meretriciously benign name for China’s “string of pearls” strategy, the overland Silk Road project has been designed to advance Chinese interests in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea basin and beyond. These commencements are part of combined Pak-China’s larger strategy to break out of the East Asia mould and become global partners on long lasting bases. The corridor will link up China’s overstrung Xinjiang region with the Arabian Sea through a 3,000 km overland transportation corridor to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The $46-billion corridor will run through all four provinces including Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir and hooks up China’s maritime and overland Silk Roads and increase Pakistan’s pivotal grandness for Beijing. It is also set to get delivery of eight Chinese attack submarines to improve its naval strength. Interestingly China and Pakistan have little in common, yet boast one of the closest relationships in international diplomacy. Weapon transfers, loans and infrastructure projects enable Pakistan to engage brewing terror posing intimidations to both countries. But much of the Chinese funding will be for power projects, including the $1.4-billion Karot Dam, located on the Azad Kashmir’s border with Punjab. This dam is the first project to be financed by China’s new $40-billion Silk Road Fund. The launch of corridor inventory comprises — a network of roads, railway and pipelines — will not only give China access to the Indian Ocean but provide a lot of opportunities with Pakistan. The corridor’s transportation links will also allow China to rapidly come to Pakistan’s aid in the event of war with any of its neighbours. Moreover, by transforming Pakistan into a client state of the Chinese economy, the corridor will tighten the grip over the affairs of South East Asia that have been fallen to the hands of USA right after the war on terror. The contracts and related concessions, China has been offering Pakistan will open a window that assures long lasting economic protection. Both Pakistan and China thinks in the long term for playing a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and West Asia. Pakistan’s with a foresight to make the corridor economically executable and offer it for international trade and transit on a mass scale, pursues such a venture not only to facilitate the country’s economic increment but also enhance its political and strategic leverage vis-a-vis other countries in the region. The transit system will enhance commodity exchange between all regional countries including Russia and Eastern
Europe translating into substantial amounts of transit fee for Pakistan. While Pakistan will attain energy security, it may help Central Asia and Xinjiang overcome food shortages. It will also enhance tourism and people to people contact among the nations. In the end, it is not just about trade and transit of fossil fuels and minerals among the producers and consumers; it is also about securing KC as an alternate sustainable route reducing dependence on Afghanistan. China also prefers the transit to the Gulf through Pakistan over Afghanistan and Central Asia, to avoid negotiations with multiple countries and save transit fees. To accommodate increasing trade volumes, China is upgrading the dry-port at Sost from existing handling capacity of 40 containers per day to 400. The countries will also issue visa on arrival to encourage travel and tourism. If all goes as per plans, then by 2030, Pakistan expects to earn heavily from such trade. The success of Pakistan’s ambitious economic plans depends on the volume of trade passing through KC as well as the political situation in Afghanistan, which for the time being remains volatile. The prospect of gaining access to Central Asia’s oil, gas and mineral resources is the main reason for an energy hungry nation like Pakistan to speedily complete the project. Central Asia has proven gas reserves of 236 trillion cubic feet and oil reserves of 200 billion barrels. While Turkmen-Kazakh-China pipelines are in place, their extension to Pakistan through the Karakoram Corridor appears to be an early possibility. Future Russia and Italian OGP ventures in Kazakhstan and China will add to the prospects of Karakoram Corridor. Likewise, possible uranium and gas imports from Uzbekistan, and Hydel energy from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will make KC a reliable corridor to boost Pakistan’s economy further. In the end, the success of KC to fulfill domestic energy needs also depends on how Pakistan optimizes its strategic relations with the Central Asian countries. Since the current Chinese investment in Pakistan has reached tens of billions of dollars compared with a meager $550 million in 2006, it is imperative for Pakistan to not only maintain this land connectivity but also expand its scope to meet China’s needs. China considers these investments strategic and a way to revive Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan’s economic boost is a key to Chinese dominance and influence in South Asia and in the Muslim world. Land connectivity also enables it to transport heavy machinery, equipment, and additional workers to Pakistan. Currently, more than 60 Chinese public and private sector companies and 10,000 skilled workforce are working on over 250 projects in Pakistan. China is the world’s second largest oil consumer currently imports more than half the oil it uses. It is also world’s largest copper importer. It gets almost half of its oil needs from the Gulf billion, taking the bi-lateral oil trade to $27 billion. The recent $3 billion oil contract with Iraq will further increase Chinese dependence on the Middle Eastern oil. In view of its close association with Africa and the Middle East, and the proximity of Pakistani ports to the energy hubs, China’s interest in developing KC as a future primary oil supply line is obvious. The expansion of the rail network connecting Pakistan with Iran and Afghanistan will also boost these prospects. While, it may take some years for the overland route to become economically viable; it will continue to serve China as an additional supply line. Given the length of the sea route and narrowness of the Malacca Strait, which carries 80 per cent of China’s oil imports, safety around the choke points always remains a challenge. The KC will therefore decrease Chinese vulnerability to closure, disruption or interdiction of Malacca Strait and South China Sea. On the other hand, the Gwadar-KC combination also guarantees a logistical advantage by significantly reducing the distance of 16,000 km to a mere 2,500 km between Chinese industrial areas and the Gulf. Similarly, Kashgar, which is 3,500 km away from the Chinese east shore, is now less than 1,500 km from Pakistani ports near the Strait of Hormuz. The high-speed Urumqi- Beijing rail link (LanXin-II) that will take only 11 hours between the eastern and western most extremities of China. With that, time to commute from central and eastern China to the Pakistani ports will be a few hours only. The unfolding of the anti-terror war in October 2001, in Pakistan, there remained growing apprehensions of blockade by India and Afghanistan. For most of the time, Pakistan’s security apparatus viewed the growing Indo-Afghan-American relations as an unusual “Pakistan-focused nexus” meant to “strategically cordon” Pakistan. Much of Pakistan’s security doctrine has since aimed at preempting and neutralizing those threats rising from its western and eastern borders. It will also serve as the mainstay of Pakistan-China’s India-containment strategy to reciprocate its nefarious designs against them. China’s land corridor to the Arabian Sea will extend India’s encirclement by both the countries from the Jammu & Kashmir land borders to the Indian Ocean sea lanes. More fundamentally, India is contained geopolitically by the longstanding axis between China and Pakistan, involving, among other things, covert nuclear, missile and intelligence cooperation. The analysts say that Pak-China has employed innovative ways to question India’s sovereignty over Indian held Kashmir keeping in mind China’s stepped up incursions into Ladakh signalling clearly that it is where the China-Pakistan nexus can now squeeze India. Its military pressure on Arunachal Pradesh appears aimed at distracting from its other designs. The hue and cry against the backdrop of emerging prospects of fresh deal between two friends is noteworthy. The Pak China Economic Corridor binds Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and China into a regional security bloc, which will be an anti-route to counter Indian and Western influences in the region. The question for the other countries in region is how to benefit from such huge prospective? Either becoming hostile to it or lending a positive cooperation so that they may gain a handful share, it depends on their choice!