Col (Retd) F. Maqbool Afridi - 1. The vibrant Chinese economy, manifest and multifaceted, is outreaching to venture into geographical locations still somewhat remote and outlying. One such option would be the Sea-Silk Road, announced by the Chinese President in a recent visit to the Maldives. Another option awaiting completion would be the repose of vast potential called the Gwader – Kashgar Trade Corridor. China is spending billions of dollars on development of her western part of the country i.e. Kashgar / Xinjiang province which is far from her ports in the east. China is planning to connect it with Gwadar Port being the shortest access to the sea.

2. Secondly, China wants continuous flow of oil from Africa / ME through Gwadar Port, which can be potentially blocked at the Strait of Malacca. At the same time, China is interested to increase her influence & economic activities in the countries west of it till Europe by reviving the old Silk Route. Being part of her futuristic economic policy and to develop Xinjiang, China is keen to develop Gwadar - Kashgar Trade Corridor incorporating road, rail, oil & gas pipelines etc. For this, $45 billion have been announced by the Chinese Government; $33 billion for power projects and $12 2 billion for the infrastructure. So far a meager amount of $1 billion has been allocated to Gwadar city for the few early harvest projects (EHPs), which have to be completed by 2017. It is worth mentioning that the Government is accruing large Chinese investments in the name of Gwadar - Kashgar Trade Corridor, but unfortunately, other trade corridors/ roads infrastructure are being developed which have nothing to do with it, like power projects and roads infrastructure being developed in other provinces etc. As a matter of fact, the government should first develop the projects directly linked with the trade corridor for which the amount is allocated. Thereafter, other distracting projects could be dealt with later on. In case this is disregarded, it will prove to be another Sui gas issue, in which the whole country was supplied gas but not the province producing it. 50 years later, an apology and due repressions had to be dispensed to mollify the aggrieved province.

3. The government is making the issue further controversial for not disclosing the exact alignment of the trade corridor and is reluctant to publish it. It is pity that so far the alignment of trade corridor is not announced and neither is developmental work initiated and pursued on it. However, the focus has been shifted on to the Lahore – Multan – Sukkur Motorway and already taken in hand. It is an indication of the Government’s intention of developing the trade corridor through Lahore (Punjab) at the expense of the KP. The announcement of the Government that whole of Pakistan is actually the trade corridor to profess and justify its route via Lahore – Multan – Sukkur – Ratodero (Sindh), which amounts to fooling the people and other provinces.  Merely changing the name from Gwadar - Kashgar Trade Corridor to Pakistan - China Trade Corridor should not alter the original route lying through Balochistan and KP. The trade corridor via Lahore – Multan – Sukkur – Ratodero - Gwadar is neither viable nor justified. It is not cost effective in short as well as in the long run. It will unnecessarily lengthen the route of trade corridor by hundreds of miles. The transportation of goods from CARs / Afghanistan through Khyber Pass and from China through Khunjerab will have to come up to Hassan Abdal. The same will move towards east to Rawalpindi and Lahore. Then it will be transported towards south to Multan – Sukkur - Ratodero (Sindh). From there, it will turn west to reach Gwadar, making an unnecessary long detour to reach the sea. This in essence alludes to the ulterior motives of the Party in Power. Not to forget, this route will be blocked for weeks due to the foggy season of Punjab during winters. Imagine the melee of thousands of container borne vehicles left stranded on the motorway.

4. Of the many options for the route joining Gwadar with Kashgar should be based on the principle of saving time and money - the basic principle of trade & business (approximate 15pc is the cost component of transportation of the product). Secondly it should be completed under the EHPs so that Gwadar Port is made operational and commercial activities take off in the shortest possible time.

5. The alignment of the trade corridor should not be made bone of contention by the government / provinces / political parties for their vested interests. It will hamper the early development of the corridor else becoming a political issue like Kalabagh dam and shelving it. It is suggested that the whole project shall be reviewed by the experts/ economists of all the provinces and then presented to NA/PM/CMs etc. The amount and the projects shall be so distributed that every province is benefitted in short as well as in long terms along with integration & cohesion of the provinces/ country. The corridor shall be developed in EHPs and named “National Golden Trade Corridor” or “Pak China Golden Route” because of its potential for transit trade and being used by CARs/ ECO besides China. Keeping in view the geography of the country, urban cities/ population, the layout of River Indus and our ports, the preferred trade corridors options are:

a.  Western.    Gwadar – Turbat -  Kharan – Quetta – Zhob - D I Khan/Tank - Kohat – Peshawar -  CARs / China.

b. Eastern Karachi – Hyderabad - Sukkur – Multan – Faisalabad /Lahore – Hassan Abdal – CARs / China.

6. The advantages of “Western” are:

a.  It is short, less expensive and can be developed soon as half of it is already constructed / developed.

b.  It will be feasible to lay parallel railway track, gas & oil pipelines etc.

c. It will help in development of remote areas of Balochistan, KP and FATA which is deprived of prosperity, primarily due to lack of communication infrastructure.

d. It will help in combating WOT/ extremists/ separatists by having job opportunities for the unemployed youth of the area at their door step.

e.  It will help in transportation of raw material from the mineral rich areas of Balochistan and KP to Gwadar in shortest span of time.

f. It gives shortest access of Gwadar Port to all the trade corridors generating from China, CARs and ECO.

g. It is shorter route than the Iranian routes to reach out to CARs / ECO and Western China.

h.  It will shed away the negative propaganda of victimisation of smaller provinces by the establishment / big province.

i. It will be cheap and easy to purchase land of undeveloped area of Balochistan & KP for the trade corridor as compared to the agricultural land of Punjab / Sindh.

j.  Balochistan & KP will get the transit fee of oil & gas pipelines and taxes being applied on the transport from time to time.

k. From defense point of view it is safe from our arch enemy India who can sever the road at Rahim Yar Khan Sector (Option 2 – Eastern), thus dividing the country into two parts.  

7. Both the corridors shall be linked through lateral arteries at appropriate places for shifting / transportation of the goods from one city / destination to another. There will be need for more trade corridors due to enhanced economic activities on each corridor provided we have prudent economic policy. The same shall be developed as and when required but the government shall plan the trade corridors in totality. Besides China we have viable and centuries old trade corridors (via Torkham, Ghulam Khan & Chaman) with CARs through Afghanistan. We can also have a Trade Corridor with ECO i.e. via Iran – Turkey to reach out to Europe. Our Trade Corridors can act as a conduit between Asia & Europe, between Asia & Africa, between Asia & ME, between

South Asia & Central Asia and between developed countries & Central Asia. Russia must be encouraged to use our trade corridors via CARs for her round the year trade with the world. The US can have an economic policy for CARs/ECO using our trade corridors which will be mutually beneficial. Even US & Russia can help us in developing trade corridors with CARs/ECO. The development of trade corridors with India incorporating CARs & Afghanistan is a viable option but needs to be analysed at an appropriate level for political reasons.

8. There is a dire need to have selfless democratic leadership, and it’s their obligation as well as test to develop the Gwadar Project in consonance with the provinces especially Balochistan and KP, while keeping in mind the past follies regarding the mega projects. The reviving of the country economy is linked with the development of the Gwadar Project. It is reemphasised to allocate major share of the funds to Gwadar - Kashgar Trade Corridor and Gwadar city infrastructure and social sectors. The Gwadar - Kashgar Trade Corridor (Option 1 - Western) shall be included in EHPs to make the Gwadar Port operational. It will develop the undeveloped areas of Balochistan and KP and will be the economic essence for national unity. Concurrently, all trade corridors should be developed to revitalise the country economy.

In case “Option 1 – Western” is delayed and not developed on priority it will give birth to negative propaganda against the federation. At the same time it will have negative repercussions and will lead to the conclusion of the sinister designs or incompetency of the establishment and of the ruling party PML (N), to the detriment of national cohesion.