Central Asian, East African gateways
Central Asian governments are interested in linking with CPEC, but also wary of security risks. China hosted an international summit in Beijing in May devoted to the One Belt, One Road project, referring to overland and maritime routes across the Eurasian landmass. One of the most significant moments of the summit was the meeting of the Chinese and Pakistani leaders, resulting in newly signed agreements adding $ 500 million in the deal to the $57 billion pledged for CPEC.
If Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan invest in CPEC project, a network of rail, road, and energy infrastructure linking Pakistan’s Gawadar port with western China will directly benefit them. Pakistan’s economic future is linked with China, Central Asian States and East Africa. Tajikistan is gateway to Pakistan in Central Asia while Kenya is gateway to Pakistan, China and Central Asian States in East Africa. From Central Asian States Pakistan can meet its energy requirements while from East African countries Pakistan can capture huge economic market through Mombasa port of Kenya . Involvement of Central Asian States in CPEC will ensure unprecedented energy and economic revolution in South East Asia and Central Asia while ahead of Gawader through water this entire region can connect itself with East Africa via East African gateway of Kenya.
CPEC, formally unveiled in April 2015, has been highlighted as a flagship project under the OBOR initiative. CPEC has become the foremost bilateral initiative between China and Pakistan, entailing a budget above $57 billion. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as an effective tool would greatly boost the economy of Pakistan. For China, the project would ease its mutual connectivity problem with the Persian Gulf region, East Africa, Europe, as well as the Central Asian region. We will have to follow Chinese steps of capturing economic markets elsewhere. By penetrating China Pakistan will find gigantic potential market of 1.35 billion Chinese consumers. The entire Central Asia is on foot step and Entire East Africa is in its approach. Pakistan can benefit a lot by just holding land locked countries of Central Asia and East Africa. China too needs its shortest and easiest approach to Gawadar. This deep port of Gawader will provide a port to China, Afghanistan and Central Asian States. Tajikistan will remain the first beneficiary of Central Asian States.
As a landlocked but resource rich region, Central Asian countries have always looked to access regional markets, including Pakistan, China and the countries of East Africa. CPEC could serve as a strategic opportunity for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to transport their goods and market them more competitively to regional and global markets. Pakistan also desires to access the rich resources of Central Asia via Afghanistan to meet its energy needs, as well as transport goods to Central Asia.
China has been a key driver of infrastructure investment and construction in Central Asia since the mid-1990s. Chinese state-owned companies have built highways, railways, bridges, and telecommunication systems in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. China’s economic strategy in South and Central Asia is based on the assumption that building up economic prosperity in the region will help alleviate the threat posed by local radical Islamist groups.
With this economic revolution in China, Pakistan, Central Asian States and East Africa extremist groups will vanish rapidly. Such groups grow and flourish in poverty and deserted regions.
CPEC would be a natural extension of strategy of vanishing extremism in different countries. By connecting Central Asian countries with CPEC, China intends to cultivate new markets with significant growth potential in the region and evolve goodwill with neighboring countries and eventually extend economic revolution to East Africa through grand opening of Mombasa port . Gawader to Mombasa will not be mere port to port contact. It will be extension of economic revolution from South East Asia , Central Asia to East Africa and China will remain major role player . It is economic benefit capturing game. Let see who gets what.
In this context, several Central Asia countries have welcomed the implementation of the CPEC projects. Central Asian States enthusiasm should not come as a surprise, as these countries are allowed to use the crown jewel of CPEC, the newly modernized Gwadar deep-sea port in Pakistan, which gives access to the Indian Ocean.
Tajikistan is also eyeing access to Gwadar port first of all, as it would be a junction to connect the landlocked Central Asian States with rest of the world. However, there is currently lack of significant connections, whether roads or railways, between Dushanbe and Islamabad. Ultimately, Tajikistan may provide a road linking Pakistan with other Central Asian countries through Murghab province in Tajikistan. But that will require the construction of a new highway, due to the latter’s mountainous location. Three new highway projects linking Pakistan and Tajikistan to the broader CPEC framework are near completion. The participation of energy-rich Uzbekistan in the CPEC project has the potential to double Pakistan’s energy output for the next decade, ensuring the country with permanent access to electricity.Kazakhstan is also seemingly eager to launch joint projects under CPEC.
CPEC promises a lot of benefits for involved countries future economic growth, the regional security issue remains a major concern for China and Central Asian countries. The main stumbling block in deepening multilateral relations between Central Asia, China, and Pakistan is the worsening situation in Afghanistan. As is Somalian distorted situation in East African region. Somalian circumstances have troubled Kenya shadowing its peace and economy.
The exchange of goods and energy from Central Asia to Pakistan is highly dependent on the normalization process in Afghanistan, since the shortest route for Central Asian countries to connect with Gawadar port in Pakistan would require traversing Afghan soil. In fact much of the infrastructure investment of CPEC is slated to run through Pakistan’s most insecure and politically fraught provinces Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and Gawadar port is located in Balochistan. Pakistan will have to seal its borders and ensure security, political stability and excellent governance to justify hold of international markets ahead.
The writer is political analyst and author based in Islamabad.