For a resource-constrained and cash-strapped Pakistan, the Chinese investment of US$ 45 billion dollars in the energy and infrastructure projects under the umbrella of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the biggest ever opportunity for Pakistan not only to lift the economic profile of its sagging economy but also to lay a strong foundation for sustained economic growth. This can benefit all the federating units in addition to helping Pakistan become an economic hub for the region. It would help China to expand her commercial interest in the region and beyond, which is an inescapable imperative in view of its emergence as one of the major economic powers of the world and her strategic goal of regional connectivity. The shortest and easy access to the Arabian Sea would facilitate trade links with Middle East and Africa besides putting China at an advantageous position to import oil for its needs at much lesser cost as a consequence of squeezing of the distance made possible by the Corridor. The CPEC is therefore rightly being billed as a game changer for Pakistan as well as China.

China is also making investments in other countries of Asia including India as a part of its overall strategy that aims at creating Chinese influence economic linkages and utilizing its soft power in managing the world affairs, rather than flaunting the military muscle. But the magnitude of the investments being made under the CPEC is unprecedented. Pakistan and China have a history of ever-growing and impregnable ties spanning well over six decades and the latter has also played a very important role in its economic development and bolstering its defence capabilities. The CPEC which is a venture of mutual benefit, to a great extent, owes it initiation to the geo-strategic location of Pakistan in addition to the other ingredients that make Pakistan as an ‘Iron friend of China’. The PML(N) government which is also working on a well thought out strategy for building regional linkages and regional connectivity, has exhibited great sagacity and vision by aligning Pakistan with the Chinese world view and vision and making best use of Pakistan’s strategic location.

It all sounds nice and encouraging to enumerate the benefits that would likely accrue to both China and Pakistan, but the fact is that some regional and global powers are relentlessly working on a ‘Contain China’ policy. They do not approve of the exponential expansion in the economic ties between the two countries and Chinese easy access to the Arabia Sea. They have been sponsoring terrorism and insurgency in Balochistan and trying to scare away the Chinese engineers by organizing their kidnappings. These powers getting will cause delays in the implementation of the CPEC projects by creating a law and order situation in Balochistan and elsewhere, which was improving due to the National Action Plan. There are already some worrying portents in this regard… The murder of 20 labourers in Turbat belonging to Sind and Punjab, sudden reappearance of Brahmdagh Bugti from his Swiss hideout, reactivation of the rights movement and the crescendo of denial of fair share to Baloch people, are some of the ominous pointers to this likely eventuality.

Gawadar port, which is the crux of the CPEC, lies in Balochistan. The successful implementation of the proposed corridor, allied projects and the expected economic prosperity are inextricably linked to the prevalence of an ambience of peace and security not only during the implementation of the projects but also when they become operational. That would require elimination of the insurgency in the province.

The Chinese are prepared to fulfill their commitments as per schedule agreed between the two countries but for that to happen they will demand that Pakistan provide fool-proof security for the Chinese engineers and other professional workers who would be involved in the building of the corridor, developing Gawadar port and international airport in that city. Reportedly, the government of Pakistan has decided to raise a special division of the Army to secure the Chinese workers as well as the installations related to the CPEC and a provision of US$ 250-260 billion is likely to be made in the next budget for this purpose. The personnel of this division would be equipped with the latest weapons to thwart the designs of the terrorists and insurgents. It is a very reassuring and pragmatic decision by the government. The COAS General Raheel who visited Quetta in the wake of the murder of 20 labourers at Turbat and the killing of the 13 militants involved in the massacre, sounded a strong warning to the insurgents and said that they would not be allowed to implement their nefarious designs and they would not find any place to hide in the country. In a way he declared a decisive action against them which must also have sent a message of reassurance to our Chinese friends and all the stakeholders in the implementation of the CPEC.

However at the same time the government would need to find a permanent political solution to the problem because the guns can create a lull in the conflict and confrontation but cannot resolve the issues in their entirety. The government has already taken some positive steps on the political plank by having a Baloch nationalist as a Chief Minister of the province, facilitating local bodies elections in the province and given its blessings to the provincial leaders to orchestrate a political process to bring the estranged Baloch leaders back into the political mainstream. These efforts need to be redoubled through different channels. Because political reconciliation and peace in the province on perennial basis is the key to reaping the economic gains that the CPEC projects promise. It is satisfying to note that the Prime Minister understands it and on numerous occasions has not only underlined the need for political means to resolve the issue but also demonstrated unmitigated political will to do so.

Some elements are also trying to politicize the CPEC issue and making it controversial. The government must also take all the political forces into confidence and remove their apprehensions to ensure national ownership for this crucial undertaking.