Whenever travellingin Europe, I utilize the widespread rail structure. It affords an opportunity to traverse the beautiful countryside once battle field of two world wars and unending conflicts within Europe. Post-Cold War, East and West, Allies and Axis have put bad memories behind to lay an infrastructure of communication networks through land air and water channels for a bigger Eurozone. In this northern front, the only unstable spot is Crimea where Russian interests have clashed. While NATO expands eastwards, a mini Cold War under the Russian belly continues. Its tentacles spread to Iran, Syria and Afghanistan- what I call the Triangle of Instability.

But the Southern Front dominated by Muslim countries comprising kingdoms and dictatorships is a stark contrast. North Africa to Middle East and parts of West, Central and South Asia is a reflection of poor governance, proliferation of contending Islamic ideologies and social conflicts ridden in primordialism.  Central Asia and Western China (closer to Karachi than the Yellow Sea in China) despite huge potential remain land locked. Iran’s isolation andinstability in Afghanistan have acted as barriers.Western interests want China confined to the APEC arc and to not open new highways they will have difficulty controlling.

The entire region is manipulated through military imperialism whereby USA, the West and Russia extend their influence through the provision of a security blanket to their allies. The lessons of the 1973 oil embargo are rooted deep in memory. This policy of geo-strategic dominance of the predominantly Muslim world is actually the Long War, implying a new name of the old containment.Western interests warrant that despite large hydro carbon potential and incalculable resources, the region remains pliant and dependent, or else it runs the risk of a hole in the containment ring built over seven decades. The game is played within a matrix of vulnerability and indispensability. This ensures isolation of the people from their governments keeping instability alive and dependence going. As an intended dividend, itprecludes the overland accessibility to sea-lanes that lie on Pakistan’s coastlines.

Thriving on both sides of the divide, India has quietly worked on its Chabahar Initiative to provide Europe and Central Asia an alternative, if and when Iran gets out of isolation.  It can then skirt into Afghanistan as leverage against Pakistan and China. In contrast Pak-Iran pipeline hangs in limbo.

Within this interplay of power politics, Pakistan is desperate for independent spaces. These are far and few. Pakistan has to thread the path with extreme caution and political maturity given the knee jerk arguments for CPEC.

Pakistan’s first priority should be to put its own house in order and become self-dependent. Having remained tied to the US for over six decades it is daunting. A go-alone policy will invite more problems. Effects are visible.

The history of Pakistan’s rulers at compliance and willingness to ignore homegrown potential toplease alliesand corporate cartels is a poor reflection of national resilience. Given bad governance, how would it exclusively undertake the onerous task of building a corridor infrastructure for China? The question does not imply an opposition to the concept but questions the brass tacks and politics of completing this project.

China aims to reach out to a shared world. Theoretically, the entire Indian Ocean Rim and Middle East will benefit from this project. Oil, gas, raw materials and finished goods will move upstream complemented by downstream flow of value added goods to international markets. The following questions need an answer.

In this world of trans-nationalism and globalization have other countries of the region been coopted to share some layers of this cake? Unless these layers are coopted, the project will remain vulnerable to domestic instability, international interference and compellence.

Or has Pakistan made arrangements with international manufacturers at building its own capacity at value addition?It seems the government has hastily lumped every Chinese project into CPEC. No bids have been invited from international bidders to set up industrial parks and cities astride the corridor and its feeders. The roadmap of how Pakistanis will benefit from this project is vague.

If Middle Eastern oilstands to benefit from this project, why are Arabs quietly opposing this project and fanning dissent in Balochistan?Why is Karachi becoming more violent? Has Pakistan taken major oil suppliers like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq and Iran been taken into confidence, or has China persuaded prospective suppliers to become part of the project?

Some studies also call CPEC an energy corridor for the flow of Iranian oil and gas to China and the production of over 10,400 megawatts of energy to the national grid of Pakistan. Will Pakistan’s closet ally Saudi Arabia and major donors like USA approve this?

The transit relegatesthe development of Pakistan’s huge oil and gas resources and exploitation of lignite coal in Thar. If these two resources are developed, Pakistan’s own capability in oil, gas and refinement of lignite would suffice for its domestic needs and energy starved western China. The following questions need answers.

Why is Pakistan willing to act as a mere conduit and not a major stake holder in the energy sector?

Why is the project being made unnecessarily Punjab centric?

Why is the ratio of Hydro Power in 10,000 megawatts so low?

What is the economic and environmental impact of coal fired power plants?

In order to speed work, why is the subject of Lignite as a hydro carbon not being shifted from a provincial to a federal subject?

Why is the government of Sindh wasting precious time in awarding contracts for lignite refineries to technically capable companies? And what is the entire drama over gasification about?

In due course, if oil and gas fields of Balochistan will become major suppliers, why is a route from Kohlu to KPK is being relegated?

In addition, the influence of international cartels cannot be ignored. Super tankers from Middle East will become redundant. Traffic in the straits of Malacca will reduce. Chinese vessels instead of skirting through ASEAN will get an alternate and shorter route to offload containers for transit by land.

Pakistani politicians, forever vulnerable to self-interests, will most likely succumb. Thinking only up to 2018 elections is amateurish. The project warrants at least two decades of stability. Pakistan’s policy makers have to look into the minutest details and find the right solutions.