CPEC and Human development: Opportunities for Pakistan
China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of infrastructure and regional free trade areas. BRI covers 68 countries, with roughly two-third of the world’s population, over 40 per cent of world GDP and three-fourth of global energy reserves.
As part of the BRI, China and Pakistan have started China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In turn, CPEC provides unique opportunity for Pakistan to boost its strategic and economic position. It has the potential to transform Pakistan into a regional hub for trade and investment. It can also help Pakistan to join the ranks of ‘top ten’ economies in the world by 2050. However, in order to benefit from this unique opportunity – Pakistan must transform itself as a knowledge economy and develop its human resource.
The knowledge economy refers to the use of knowledge to create goods and services. More particularly, it means producing highly skilled workers in the country. For the development of its human resource, Pakistan should invest in equipping its youth with the highly technical skills. Currently, 64 per cent of the nation is younger than 30 years of age, while 29 per cent of Pakistan’s population is between 15 and 29. This abundant human resource can be developed as an asset if the country can provide them with the right skills and training.
As part of the CPEC, the infrastructure development, creating the special industrial zones and the development of service sector will require highly skilled workers. Currently, Pakistan lags behind other countries in terms of providing technical education to its youth. Similarly, the literacy rate in Pakistan is also very low compared to other developing countries. According to the UN estimates, over 50 per cent of the country aged 15 year and above are illiterate.
In order to catch up with its regional partners and to reap real benefits from the CPEC, Pakistan should start training its youth by building large infrastructure of technical education and training centres. This will not happen without making education top priority and increase its budget. Presently, Pakistan has one of the lowest education budgets in the world, spending just 2 per cent of its national GDP on education.