The CPEC’s catch-22 situation

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, has stories to tell because of the country’s and Pakistan’s history of trials and tribulations. The phrase “the operation was successful, but the patient is in coma” is an example of an idiom that has been altered. Coma is equivalent to a disabled state.

This is a sign of what is happening in the area because the $60 billion strategic construction and connectivity project is still lagging. It has failed to gain traction in the sense of igniting interest in growth. One example is the feeling of exclusion in Balochistan, which is supposed to be the CPEC’s theatre. Many feel a sense of déjà vu as China descends to connect with the southern states in search of warm

Thus, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and CPEC are meant for investment in ports, roads, railways and airports, as well as power plants and telecommunications networks across the region. There is a catch-22 situation, nonetheless, as Pakistan reorients its policy perspective in relevance with Chinese wishes to make it a supra-regional success.

Building of infrastructure coupled with laying of industrial special economic zones makes it a win-win equation. But there are inherent bottlenecks and impediments all the way. The first is Afghanistan and the second is, of course, India. Until and unless, Islamabad strikes a chord of regional unanimity with these two western and eastern frontier neighbours, accordingly, nothing will move on.

The regrouping of terror elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan once again slipping into terror trap, as well as the fissures on the western frontiers of Chaman, hint at the emerging vulnerabilities in the security domain. CPEC, nonetheless, is captive to how Pakistan goes out to facilitate Kabul and Delhi, enabling them to become equal trading partners as Beijing goes on to re-enact the ancient Silk Route in the 21st century.

CPEC today has the potential to address the economic vibrancy of more than 100 states in four continents. Islamabad, moreover, is in a fix as it reportedly is sinking in a debt trap with China and its commercial banks, which many believe is not viable for its economy in the long run. The magnitude of loans runs into billions, in the realms of energy, infrastructure and communications. Last but not least, the economy has nosedived and is on the brink of collapse, with dollars trading at two indices and remittances shrinking to the core.

CPEC compulsions are changing the format of doing business with the emerging superpower. Memorandum of Understanding to trade in yuan and rupee poses a strategic international economics challenge, and crosses swords with Washington. Pakistan is also dovetailing a similar deal with Russia in rubles. Thus, the evolving China-Pakistan relationship is the beginning of a new regional order, which conveniently puts Islamabad in the Beijing camp.

This understanding, however, comes at the cost of alienating Pakistan from its neighbours, especially India, Afghanistan and Iran. It is primarily owing to conflict of interest. The sea port of Gwadar is at odds with Iran’s Chabahar port, and likewise Islamabad’s not being on the same page with India puts it in confrontation with the Chinese in the long run.

So is the case with Afghanistan that does not see through the same prism while dealing with Pakistan and is more tilted towards India. Pakistan, while being a strategic partner with China, must reorient its outlook and rewrite its foreign policy with Iran, India and Afghanistan. Dealing with them and sharing the bounties of geopolitics is a must to further geo-economics. Playing the China card will not work in the long run, as these three neighb

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