Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived at Gwadar on July 5, 2021. He was accompanied by a delegation of Ministers and Ambassadors from friendly countries including Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait etc. The visit was planned to inaugurate multiple projects and sign agreements. The important projects, which were inaugurated, are: Gwadar Expo Centre, Gwadar Fertilizer Plant, Gwadar Animal Vaccine Plant, Henan Agricultural Industrial Park, Hengmei Lubricants Plant, Gwadar Free Zone Phase-Two. Federal Minister Asad Umar claimed that Gwadar Free Zone Phase-Two is 35 times bigger than the Phase-One free zones. Two implementation agreements of: 1) 1.2 million gallons per day desalination plant; and 2) solar generators grant from China for South Balochistan, were also signed.
It is a well established fact that investment in the industry always brings jobs, especially for the local community. Thus, it is hoped that establishment of new industries and business facilities will be accompanied by hundreds and thousands of jobs for the local people. There is no denying the fact that Balochistan is in dire need of industry, business and jobs. Job opportunities in Balochistan are scarce. Besides, establishing agricultural and livestock related industries will assist Pakistan to realize the potential of the agriculture sector. The projects will contribute in improving the agricultural and livestock sectors of Pakistan through the provision of quality and timely input. The animal vaccine plants will be helpful in controlling diseases among animals, which are hampering our export of meat and dairy products. Through effective control of diseases, Pakistan will be able to enhance the export of meat and dairy products. These projects will also play a pivotal role to curb poverty among the locals by providing them decent livelihood opportunities. Agricultural and livestock projects will help to combat poverty not only in Balochistan but also in other parts of the country.
The Prime Minister also spent quality time with the Chinese workers and investors. He assured the Chinese brothers that Pakistan will do everything to facilitate the smooth functioning of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and non-CPEC related projects on a priority basis. Pakistan will also try to provide foolproof security. The visit boosted the confidence of the Chinese workers and investors. It is hoped that it will lead to more investments in Pakistan, especially in the special economic zones and free zone of Gwadar.
The visit signifies the importance of CPEC for Pakistan. There is no denying the fact that CPEC is opening up multiple doors for Pakistan in numerous areas. Gwadar Port is emerging as a new hub for connectivity and transit trade. A good number of countries are showing interest in joining CPEC and benefitting from Gwadar Port. For example, during the recent visit of Prime Minister to Uzbekistan, both countries signed many MoUs and agreements. The MoUs and agreements are:1) Protocol on exchange of pre-arrival information on goods moved across the state border; 2) Cooperation in the field of military education; 3) Agreement on simplification of visa procedures for businessmen and tourist groups; 4) MoU between Pakistan’s Foreign Service Academy and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan; 5) Cultural exchange programme 2021-2026; and 6) an MoU on tourism.
However, the most important agreement was on transit trade. It was a much awaited agreement as both countries were working on it for a long time. The transit agreement will pave the way for the connectivity of Uzbekistan with the world. The agreement will also provide a basis to sign similar agreements with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, etc. Through the multiple transit agreements with Central Asian States, Pakistan will be able to explore the potential of the Central Asian market.
Middle Eastern countries are also exhibiting great interest to join CPEC and Gwadar project. In recent months H.E Nassar Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi, Ambassador of Kuwait to Pakistan has been doing quiet diplomacy to enhance the bilateral economic relations of both countries. He visited Gwadar with Prime Minister of Pakistan and also held meetings with the CPEC Authority. The top leadership of Kuwait is very enthusiastic to enhance bilateral relations in diverse fields. Kuwait is looking to invest in oil, refinery, energy, agriculture and human resources etc. Both countries are in advance stages to establish a high-level bilateral forum for strengthening the bilateral relations. With a proper and wise strategy Pakistan can attract billions of dollars from Kuwait, especially for agriculture and special economic zones. Kuwait is more than willing to invest in agriculture and livestock, which is direly needed in the context of Pakistan. Kuwait is also very keen to import food commodities and products from Pakistan. It would be a win-win proposition.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is another potential candidate to invest in CPEC and Gwadar. ASEAN countries are exhibiting keen interest in joining CPEC. The cooperation can be built on the principle of win-win cooperation. By investing in CPEC, ASEAN countries will be able to strengthen their reach to Afghanistan, and Central Asia etc. CPEC will also offer an opportunity to ASEAN to enhance their competitiveness in the European Union market. As presently EU is the largest trading partner of ASEAN. According to the data, total export of ASEAN to EU was 120 billion euros in 2020. On the other hand, the total import was 69 billion euros. It means the total surplus of ASEAN is at 51 billion euros, which is huge. However, ASEAN can further enhance their surplus and competitiveness by investing in CPEC.
The major contributing factor for enhanced competitiveness will be through a tremendous decrease in the travel time and distance. For example, the travel time from Port Klang, Malaysia; Bangkok Modern Terminal; Pulau Sebarok; Singapore; Bekapai Terminal, Indonesia; and Port of Hanoi, Vietnam, to Hamburg Germany is 39.4 days, 43.7 days, 40.1 days, 45 days and 47.1 days, respectively. On the contrary, in the case of Gwadar, the travel time will only be 29.4 days, which will help reduce the cost of transportation and enhance the competitiveness. Pakistan will be benefiting by attracting investment from ASEAN. It will help to create jobs for the local people, which will be helpful in engaging the youth bulge. So, in a nutshell it will be a win-win cooperation.
The African region is another opportunity which Pakistan can exploit. Many African countries are willing to join CPEC, since they are already members of the Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan also launched the “Look Africa” Policy Initiative, which can contribute to further strengthening the relations. Pakistan can especially create a place in the African market through surgical instruments, sports goods and certain appliances.
In a nutshell, CPEC and Gwadar present numerous opportunities to attract investment and industry in Pakistan. Thus, CPEC has the potential to realize the dream of sustainable development for Pakistan. Howbeit, to benefit from the opportunities, Pakistan will have to focus on certain areas. First, there is a need to strengthen the institutional mechanisms and reform them according to the needs of CPEC and incoming investments. The key intervention would be to create a strong chain of command to create one window for investors and smoothen the functioning. It will expediate the implementation and boost the confidence of investors. There should be a strong role, rather than control, of the Federal government to formulate policies and execute plans related to CPEC. We can also learn from China on how this system can be erected. The center-based system is one of the key interventions which helped China grow. In the words of the late Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan, “For 5,000 years, the Chinese have believed that the country is safe only when the centre is strong. A weak centre means confusion and chaos... Every Chinese understands that. It is their cardinal principle”.
Second, there is a need for Skill Development Programs for the youth. Although the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) and other institutions are running Skill Development Programs, there is still a need to refine these programs. The Skill Development Program must be developed according to the needs of industrialization, especially the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There should also be opportunities for non-educated and madrasa students.
It is an established fact that the literacy rate of Pakistan varies between 59-61 percent, which means the rest of the population cannot even write or read their name. There are millions of students who are getting an education from madrasas. The engagement of youth will help Pakistan at multiple fronts, especially to eliminate poverty. Pakistan also has to develop its Skills Development Program for the agricultural sector. The program should focus on climate smart agriculture and modern agricultural practices.
Third, to benefit from CPEC and the opportunities emerging from China, Pakistan needs people who understand the country. Presently, a majority of the people in the system have a limited understanding of China. They try to understand China by using the lens of the West. For example, the democracy and governance system of China is entirely different from the West. The West does not like it and considers it anti-democracy. So, Pakistan needs people who can differentiate between the systems and try to understand China with the lens of China and not the West. It will be helpful to understand China’s working style and requirements.
In conclusion, Pakistan needs to move away from a rhetoric-based approach or daydreaming. There is a need to learn to take action and work hard. Speeches and talking cannot solve problems, only hard work can. In a nutshell, CPEC is an opportunity which can only be exploited by taking action, not merely talking and talking.
The writer teaches digital diplomacy, negotiation skills and conflict transformation at Foreign Services Academy. He is also the Chief Operating Officer at Zalmi Foundation.
E-mail: [email protected]
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