Even though China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would take a couple of years to become fully operational, it became nominally functional on October 31, as first caravan consisting of 150 to 300 shipping containers began their journey from China to Gwadar; an important milestone has indeed been met. First convoy loaded with Chinese goods rolled into the Sost dry port in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Sost is a village in Hunza. It’s the last town in Pakistan on the Karakoram highway before the Chinese border. One thousand Chinese containers would pass through the Karakoram highway in Gilgit-Baltistan every week.

Two weeks earlier, the first Chinese ship had docked at Gwadar port—a vital nodal point of CPEC. The corridor is about 3,000-kilometre long, when fully complete, it would comprise of highways, railways, pipelines and communication related fiber optics that will connect Western part of China to the rest of the world through Gwadar port.

China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) initiative has grabbed international attention. It has a liquidity backing of 40 billion dollar by the Silk Road Fund and 100 billion dollar by the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Other Chinese and non-Chinese banks shall also chip-in funding for various projects. OBOR is a century long project costing over a trillion dollars. Its initial activities will be geared towards building basic infrastructure. Beijing is planning six economic corridors along the OBOR route: China-Mongolia-Russia; New Eurasian Land Bridge; China-Central and West Asia; China-Indo-China Peninsula; China-Pakistan; and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar.

China has overtaken traditional donors to South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Since 2009, China has become Sri Lanka’s largest donor. China’s financial assistance to Pakistan is also substantial. In 2014, there were 12 other countries that were investing more in Pakistan in terms of FDI than China. Now the flow of Chinese FDI in Pakistan has reached the number one spot. Current financial assistance based entry of China to South Asia has some similarities with the FDI based entry of Japan to East Asia in the 1980s.

The flagship project of OBOR is the CPEC. While other projects are at various stages of planning, CPEC has become operational. CPEC has fascinated a number of countries from South Asia, Central Asia and beyond. It is being perceived as a catalyst for economic activity, benefiting around three billion people of three continents. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran have also expressed their intent to invest in CPEC. Almost all central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, wish to join CPEC to connect with the outside world through Gwadar port; this option provides these semi landlocked countries access to an around the year operational port. This route is the shortest, secure and most economical.

The first CPEC convoy, was received by G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman and the commander of the Force Command Northern Areas. “This is going to be the fate changer for our country,” said the G-B Chief Minister. “We will thwart conspiracies being hatched against CPEC,” he said in a veiled reference to India which has publicly opposed the project.

From Sost onwards, shipping containers would be escorted to Gwadar in smaller convoys. First such convoy of forty-five containers left Gilgit for Gwadar on the same day.

Personnel of army, police and special CPEC force are providing foolproof security to the convoy. Earlier this year, Beijing had donated 25 vehicles equipped with modern security gears, to the G-B government, for the security of convoys coming from China. The G-B government has also installed 285 high-resolution closed-circuit cameras with night vision capability to keep an eye on miscreants. A Special Security Division (SSD), consisting of nine composite Infantry Battalions and six Civil Armed Forces (CAF) Wings, has been constituted at a cost of Rs21.57 billion, this force shall provide security to the Chinese nationals. This security cover is in addition to the security effort that will be generated by provinces within their respective areas.

There are fears that Indian spy agency RAW could ferment trouble through different strategies and launch disruptive activities. India has declared this project as unacceptable and has set-up a 300 million dollar fund to sabotage CPEC. Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is personally overseeing this nefarious activity. India has also poured in huge funds to create mistrust amongst provinces on the issue of sharing the benefits of CPEC. Some of recent terrorist attacks in Balochistan have been linked to Indian intent of disrupting CPEC. India is also trying to raise a separatist entity in the G-B province to create an impression of indigenous disapproval for the corridor.

India is forgetting the reality that G-B people have been living happily with Karakoram highway since the 1960s. As the inaugural convoy drove through Danyor town in Gilgit, residents lining both sides of the road enthusiastically welcomed the containers by waving to the truckers and chanting slogans. Government of G-B is planning to introduce an ‘environment tax’ on transporters doing business under CPEC. “We will legislate to levy the environment tax,” CM G-B disclosed.

It was an important day for both Chinese and Pakistani people since trade activity under the CPEC has officially started. The federal government has approved projects worth Rs72 billion to provide GB with infrastructure and modern technology. The Shuntar pass, Babusar road and Gilgit-Skardu road would be constructed under the CPEC.

CPEC could create more than 700,000 direct jobs, along the route over the next 15 years. It is an inclusive development programme focusing on benefiting lesser developed regions of Pakistan through setting up of Special Economic Zones. Province wise allocation of CPEC projects is: Balochistan 16, KPK 8, Sindh 13 and Punjab 12. Six projects have been allocated to Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

Evolution of CPEC is a “game-changer” for Pakistan, CPEC related cash inflow roughly equals entire foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country since 1970. This ambitious effort will effectively re-create the ancient Silk Road that for centuries linked Asia to the rest of the world. This trade route would revive Pakistan’s economy and boost employment; and for China CPEC will provide it a new trade route to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The involvement of China in construction and running of the Gwadar Port and its funding of CPEC are a firm guarantee for successful implementation of these projects; and now there are clear signs of the dream coming true. Chinese are known for vigorously pursuing projects and accomplishing them within the stipulated period and cost. Another point is that Chinese want to do trade through the Corridor and for this purpose they want operationalization of the route in the shortest possible time. At the first this could be done at the earliest by upgrading the existing infrastructure and providing missing links of various highways and motorways, later additional routes would supplement the effort.

There are three routes under CPEC umbrella, and all of them have their own worth and value for the people of Pakistan. However, one must understand that ultimately the route that serves economic interests of the investor is the priority route. It is regrettable that some elements have been hurling baseless accusations and want all the three routes to cover a wish list of areas, but such proposition is not economically viable.

Pakistan cannot afford to become complacent with the arrival of the inaugural convoy and the ship, it is just the beginning and a lot of miles are yet to be covered to make the CPEC fully operational. Federal government needs to build trust amongst the federating units and narrow down differences of opinion. Moreover, vigil must be maintained on the activities of foreign intelligence agencies, and our counter intelligence agencies must implement proactive measures to nullify hostile acts before they are committed.


             The writer is a freelance columnist.