Proposed Sino-Pakistani trade route misses areas in need
By Farman Nawaz Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-30 19:48:02
Before discussing reservations about one aspect of this economic corridor, it would be better to draw attention to the first requisite of some other famous economic corridors and pipelines of the world.
Afghanistan and India boosted their trade a few years back, and took the shortest trade route, named Wagah, using Pakistani roads. It was Pakistan’s inflexibility that forced India and Afghanistan to think about alternate route through Iran. That proposed route connects Iran’s Chabahar Port with the Kandla Port of Gujarat in western India.
From the north Iranian border, the Delaram-Zaranj Highway was planned to be used for route. It was the shortest possible way from Iran to Afghanistan. Almost the same route was suggested as an alternate route for NATO supply lines.
In the same way, the outline of six Central Asia regional economic cooperation corridors also reveals that shortest routes are usually selected for these roads and pipelines. The China-Turkmenistan pipeline is also more or less a straight route.
But now when we come to the highly anticipated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the proposed route takes a strange turn and tells a strange story about its priorities.
It starts from Kashgar and ends at Gwadar. The previous trade route used for 5,000 years from China to Gwadar passes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and central Balochistan provinces in Pakistan.
It does not follow the shortest route from China to Gwadar, as it almost entirely avoids KPK. The region is being totally ignored in these trade routes which will bring a wealth of economic blessings.
The war on terror is fought on the soil of KPK, but this area is being deserted by the economic opportunities its neighboring regions enjoy.
Punjab and Sindh will see themselves become major players in Sino-Pakistani trade, but will do so while seeing their KPK and Balochistan neighbors utterly abandoned.
It seems that China is not using this corridor to develop Gwadar, but to sell its goods across the Punjab and Sindh regions.
The twisting route and its illogical length are not rational.
One reason could be the law and order situation in KPK and Balochistan, but it must be kept in mind that this same lawlessness could spread to Punjab and Sindh too.
When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in China in early July, a blast in Lahore showed that this corridor is not safe from harm.
If NATO supply containers are not safe, then how can Chinese convoys believe they will travel safely to Kashgar?
It is naïve to believe that terrorists will respect trade barriers.
Upon seeing an opportunity to disrupt commerce in new areas, will they not seize it?
China is working on the principle that its own underdeveloped border areas with Pakistan will be those that stand to benefit the most from this corridor.
The same corridor is expected to be used by Russia, other Central Asian countries and even India.
But the most deserted region of this area on the Pakistan side is KPK, which is being totally ignored by this project. How can this region be stabilized if the US continues with drone attacks?
Those living in this area face decreasing economic opportunities, increasing terrorist attacks and controversial drone strikes, all while being exposed to fundamentalism and extremism.
The sharp bend in this route toward Punjab is a denial of justice in this war-torn land.
Still this project is not finalized, and an alternate route can be passed through this region connecting the southern districts of KPK with Gwadar. This corridor can change the destiny of this deserted land.
Respective higher authorities must think again about making possible amendments to this route.
The author is a Pakistani columnist and runs an Urdu Weekly newspaper in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org