Akbar the great Mughal Emperor had only daughters. As for any king only a son could be the legal heir to the glorious Mughal throne, Akbar was distressed. He was informed about a witchdoctor commonly known as peer from a small town known as Fatehpur Sikri bestowed with the wisdom and strength of making any person’s deepest desires come true. Akbar paid a visit to him and soon was blessed with a son. Elated with the thought of a protected crown, Akbar had his engineers build a city in Fatehpur Sikri in 1569. Even though the grandiose Mughal architecture still stands tall, the city died out few years after it was built owing to its proximity with the Rajputana areas in the North-West, which were increasingly in turmoil and a certain necessity which was overlooked before making it the capital from 1571-1585.

Mr. Irfan Raja promised our small class of 35, that details of the reasons for the demise of Fatehpur will be disclosed after he had given a detailed talk about the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) now known as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

He began his talk with a formal introduction of himself as a member of the Foreign Service and how over the years he was, as a Pakistani representative, present on great many historical events – of these the unification of Germany in 1989 seemed to be the most admirable among the entire class. Focusing mainly on the development of CPEC, he began his talk on QTTA and how he, as the ambassador to Kazakhstan, overcame a milestone in detailing out for the entire world a trade route linking the Central Asian Republics.

As soon as Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, Pakistan wanted to initiate bilateral agreements with the newly independent country. Many trade agreements, MOUs were signed and permits distributed. In 2004 finally this project took off and a NATO truck carrying goods from Pakistan set out for Almaty.  It was, however, a failed attempt because the truck was held hostage in Almaty for four months. After that neither of the two countries had the courage to negotiate any more bilateral trade agreements.

In 2005 Irfan Raja was posted to Almaty as the Ambassador of Pakistan for five years with a certain amount of passion in his heart that could have been labeled as misled. However, Mr Raja knew he could achieve much and set the path for others to follow.  With the knowledge of the QTTA and how it had failed by not being planned out properly, in 2006 Mr Raja contacted the Pak Caspian Trade Links and arranged for two trucks simultaneously carrying Pakistani goods to reach Almaty. The trips proved to be shorter, averaging a time of 13 days from Islamabad to Almaty. Considering this a victory, and with the reopening of the Silk Route, a celebratory party was arranged in Almaty. But due to limitations on the Pakistani media (arguable) or the sheer lack of interest in work, this meeting didn’t get the coverage it deserved. To many it did not even happen.

It was here that Mr. Raja, along with his friends and colleagues, forming a 27 member delegation in Almaty, decided to embark on a journey via Silk Route, highlighting to the world the liaison this route could create between the Central Asian Republics (CARs).  They reached Islamabad in 4 nights and 5 days, passing through one of the world’s biggest and most beautiful ranges of Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas.

However, this can be labeled as an economic triumph, it wasn’t – since it did not meet with the prestige it deserved. And another important victorious journey, on a road less traveled by, remained unknown to the countrymen of Pakistan.

Mr. Irfan Raja had probably given this talk a couple of times on various university podiums, but the disappointment in his tone was still fresh and that made us as students realize what the phenomena of a ‘failed state’ truly meant.

He then highlighted how the CPEC was not a new project of the new world but an idea that was gaining concreteness now. The previously QTTA, and now CPEC, has gained much international attention. This is the greatest milestone the Nawaz government has achieved in its three tenures. Politically the Zardari government asserts their fair share in bringing the Chinese into the democratic country of Pakistan that had previously been plagued for a decade by a dictator, Musharraf, who had the will but no means to the Gateway to Central Asia.

The gallant ambassador wanted to assert how in economic planning the governments of both Pakistan and China ignored the basis of sustenance of life – future and present – in the ‘gateway to Asia’.

And he, nearing the conclusion of his talk, linked CPEC to the fate of Fatehpur Sikri – a planned city made barren by the unavailability of water. From this, everybody in the class wondered how the engineers of today were much like that in the Mughal era; or maybe the rulers of both times were not ready to accept that their plan could not work. Either way it created a sense of disillusionment and underwhelmed the hopes of possible future economists and political scientists.

Each side then understood that in the technologically advanced world today, production of fresh water is not merely an idea but greatly in practice in the rich countries of Gulf. There was then debate over whether or not the present government is able and willing to finance this new world sophistication – facts proved otherwise. Hotels of renowned chains at Gwadar have been under construction for some time, and in the last two years the projects have been either abandoned or postponed due to the unavailability of water for the laborers.

It can be argued that water being the greatest necessity of life has been made subordinate to the greater economic prospects of it. The greatly overwhelmed government needs to understand that the practice of sound economic policing requires all facets of the matter being addressed to in detail, with necessities given the first priority. The gateway to Central Asia might create 200 million jobs and enhance cooperation throughout the country, linking one of the most remote areas to the central metropolis, establishing new societies and curbing the problem of uneven development; but this would not be possible if in the process laborers are not able to quench their thirst. And even if the port of Gwadar is established, it will not be able to meet its aims and objectives that the successive governments have used as tools for their diplomacy in the Central Asia.

As the famous saying in Urdu goes: jiski laathi uski bhens. CPEC, like most other things in Pakistan, is done as per the directions of the investor. And while it can be said that an investment/loan of $46 billion dollar for development is too much to make any war-trodden country subordinate, Pakistan needs to understand that with greater geo-strategically importance comes the greatest responsibility to maneuver the state through all possibilities. It would hence be beneficial for the sustenance of CPEC - with the aim to not let our country be reduced to that of a highway - that the Pakistani government employs its policymakers, in seeing through and addressing all the dimensions of the greatly celebrated China Pakistan Economic Corridor.