A challenge and an opportunity

A year and a half after China and Pakistan >announced plans for an Economic Corridor, the CPEC, to connect “Kashgar to Gwadar”, the two countries operationalised the trade route this week, with the first shipment moving to Gwadar port and on to the Gulf and Africa. Many of the infrastructure and energy projects that are part of CPEC, worth an estimated $46 billion, are already under way. Of this, $35-38 billion is committed in the energy sector, in gas, coal and solar energy across Pakistan, with the combined expected capacity crossing 10,000 MW. This is roughly double the current shortfall the country experiences. In addition, the 3,000-km rail and roadway project is expected to generate 700,000 jobs by 2030. While Pakistan sees CPEC as a game changer, there are many challenges. There are some misgivings domestically, with critics questioning the project’s viability, and some accusing China of launching a second “East India Company”. There are the security challenges too, especially in the western areas near the key Gwadar port, where militants ranging from Baloch nationalists to the Taliban and the Islamic State have carried out attacks. Systemic challenges include project delays in the CPEC’s first year, which the World Bank warns could prove to be an impediment to Pakistan’s overall growth. Pakistan-India tensions, unless contained, too could endanger sectors of the project where Pakistani troops are engaged in providing security. Finally, the economic slowdown in China and the political instability in Pakistan could impact the project’s future as well.

However, >these internal considerations for Pakistan shouldn’t blur the bigger picture for India: CPEC is now a reality. In the past India’s reaction to the project, announced a few weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in 2015, had turned from dismissal and disdain to disapproval and then to outright opposition. India even raised concerns over projects in disputed Gilgit-Baltistan at the UN General Assembly. Not only has the project gone ahead despite the objections, but China now sees CPEC as a physical link between its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project and the Maritime Silk Route (MSR). India has refused to be a part of either. That Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all on board the OBOR and the MSR should give India pause. It is important for Delhi to also take a closer look at the security implications of the China-Pakistan clinch that is fast drawing in Russia in the north, all the way to the Arabian Sea, while China plans a floating naval base off Gwadar.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 3:52:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/A-challenge-and-an-opportunity/article16643848.ece

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