The government policy to establish regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity, is a visionary initiative to benefit from the geostrategic situation of Pakistan. CPEC is an epitome of the on-rolling economic cooperation between Pakistan, China and other regional countries and arguably the biggest ever collaborative effort in this regard. It is rightly billed as harbinger of transformational change in the economic profile of the entire region including Pakistan, which is envisioned to become hub of economic activity for countries of South Asia and Central Asia.
TAPI and CASA-1000 are other trans-regional projects that have the potential of triggering economic revolution in the region. However, due to volatile situation in Afghanistan and the failure of the efforts to bring peace in that country, the completion of these projects on time and building road networks through Afghanistan to link up with Central Asian states seems a far off reality. Therefore, Pakistan in collaboration with China is mulling over the prospects of forming a bigger economic bloc between South Asian, Central Asian, West Asian and East Asian states. In consultation with other countries Pakistan is also working on building six economic and energy corridors to link South Asia with countries of Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia. According to the sources Kashghar route of China will be used as a principal link with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and other states through KKH which is safer and shortest route for the purpose.
There have been an exchange of fifteen high level visits between Pakistan and the prospective nations to join the new bloc. China, Middle Eastern countries, Iran and some Central Asian states have already expressed their willingness to join this larger alliance. It is understood that Pakistan is also open to India joining the bloc. Senator Mushahid Hussain in his interview with the US media hinted about the formation of the larger economic group saying this will be a bigger group than SAARC and Pakistan would like India to join the group. Official circles dismissed the notion that India due to its hegemonic designs might try to dominate the group saying China’s presence in the bloc would create a balance. It is a right and pragmatic thinking on the part of Pakistan government. Notwithstanding the current tensions, no person in his right mind can deny the benefits of India joining the regional arrangement. Pakistan and India cannot afford continued hostility between them and they will have to ultimately work together for peace, security and shared economic prosperity in the region. Being members of the same economic bloc with the possibility of increased economic interdependence might also help in resolving the political issues between them, provided India positively responds to reconciliatory overtures made by Pakistan.
With a view to create multiple avenues for ensuring connectivity with the Central Asian states, Pakistan has also taken some initiatives at bilateral level. Pakistan and Tajikistan have agreed to build three highways which are: Gawadar-Peshawar-Kabul-Kunduz-Dushanbe, Khunjrab-Kalasu-Surghab and Chitral-Ashkham-Dushanbe. The agreement to this effect was signed during visit of the Tajik President to Pakistan in November 2015. On December 13, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also attended the ground-breaking ceremony of TAPI in south eastern Turkmenistan which is envisaged to become operational by 2019. President of Turkmenistan visited Pakistan in March 2016 and the two countries signed eight agreements including security and cooperation in dealing with terrorism. Pakistan has also become member of the SCO and relations with Russia have also attained new heights. Russia has signed defence agreement with Pakistan under which state of the art MI35 helicopter would be sold to Pakistan. Russia has also agreed to build a gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi with an investment of $2billion. It is noteworthy that the Central Asian States and Russia are all interested in using Gawadar port for access to the Arabian Sea. That will make Pakistan a hub of economic activity in the entire region.
Pakistan is also member of the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) which in collaboration with ADB and five other multilateral donors is engaged in developing six corridors that will connect Gawadar and Karachi with ports with Central Asia and Europe via Russia. Ishaq Dar is the current Chairman of CAREC. A meeting of the organization and the donors is underway in Islamabad. Since its inception CAREC has invested $27.9 billion on 166 projects for establishing road and rail networks and trade facilitation between Central and European countries. The organization also initiated 108 projects in the area of transport and trade facilitation and energy in 2012 with an estimated cost of $38.8 billion and $45.8 billion respectively, which are likely to be completed by 2020. During the two-day deliberations the CAREC ministerial meeting will consider future plans in the key deliverables in the four priority sectors i.e. transport, energy, trade facilitation and trade and the CAREC corridor.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressing the CAREC meeting appreciated its role in poverty alleviation and said Pakistan was also committed to promote economic cooperation through regional integration to achieve the goal of poverty reduction. Expressing confidence in the CAREC vision he also suggested formation of a pool of experts on human development in sectors of finance, banking, marketing, energy and infrastructure and concluding ‘CAREC Aviation and Open Skies Agreement’. He said Pakistan was a key facilitator of CAREC and a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia.
Ishaq Dar during his welcome address to the delegates of CAREC also dilated on economic situation in Pakistan. He said “Our government’s policies have resulted in Pakistan’s economic turn- around which is evident in the GDP growth rebound, fiscal consolidation, low inflation, strong rupee and overall macro-economic stability. All key macro-economic indicators have recorded significant improvement over the past three years. Improvement in fiscal sustainability, foreign exchange reserve position and governing structures has led to the emergence of Pakistan as a trustworthy and long-term destination for global partnerships, collaboration and investment. We believe that Pakistan is now well poised to play its pivotal role in enhancing economic cooperation between CAREC member states”.
It is hard to contest the claims made by the Prime Minister and the finance minister in view of the endorsement of international lending and rating agencies The Director General of IMF who is currently on a visit to Pakistan addressing a seminar organized by the State Bank Of Pakistan also observed that Pakistan was out of the economic crisis. That indeed is very encouraging spectacle. Further consolidation of the economic gains through a continued process of structural reforms will surely enhance Pakistan ability to play a productive role in strengthening regional linkages and harnessing the potential that waits to be exploited. Building regional connectivity and being part of the regional economic initiatives is absolutely essential for economic future of Pakistan. The CAREC initiative will also supplement the projects under CPEC. The economic managers of our economy are moving in the right direction.
TAPI and CASA-1000 are other trans-regional projects that have the potential of triggering economic revolution in the region.