CPEC & Pakistan: Central Asian Connectivity

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Connectivity is the name of the game of the century. Every coun­try wants to increase connectivity and Pakistan too is desirable of this. After all, connectivity and mobility facilitate prosperity and well-being of the region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has added greater vigor and vitality to the region and Pakistan is proud to be part of this project which falls under the wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is seen as greatly contributing to the socio-economic environment of Pakistan. She went on to say that both geographically and historically, the only logical routes for the Central Asian States to the sea are through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The launch of CPEC has provided an opportunity to en­hance this connectivity.

There is a need to work hard on the nine special economic zones which she called en­gines of growth. Combined with investment in socio-economic sectors. CPEC provides opportunities to both friends and neighbors and can act as catalyst for economic change in the region. It must not be forgotten that Central Asia has been connected to Pakistan for centuries, and due to its location, the country provides the shortest route to the Arabian Sea. So, in essence, through CPEC the countries part of it are building on the links of the past.

CPEC is ensuring nearly regional connectiv­ity with immediate neighbors, Afghanistan, Iran and India is going to be crucial if the country’s socio-economic development has to proceed meaningfully. In other words, economic and social dividends from CPEC cannot accrue unless border control and management procedures are revamped for prevention of extremism, illegal human and arms traffic, smuggling of goods and narcot­ics and, on the other hand, borders gainfully utilized for promoting trade, business, invest­ment and commerce.

Russians are also keen for a settlement in Afghanistan and opening up with Central Asia while Indians and Iranians may be waiting in the wings for benefiting from the project at an opportune time. The US under President Trump wants to extricate itself from the long debilitating Afghan war, following some workable settlement with Afghanistan and regional powers too.

Countries joining the CPEC project need to further develope their respective national policies, because while geographical con­nectivity and economic development are important, a linkage of their national policies will help peace, stability and prosperity of the region ten folds. Connectivity is both physical and conceptual. There is also a need to focus on introducing digital solutions in the area, as is the need for creating more centers and forums for Central Asian studies. All speak­ers agreed that through opportunities of transport that CPEC will provide, it will not only become a network of connectivity, but also an energy generator and trade booster among many other things. Using both inland and sea routes, regional players have an ideal opportunity to transform geo-political competition into geo-political cooperation.

Leaders of both China and Pakistan have shown a political will to connect the region in multiple ways. Hence, CPEC is a gambit of connectivity to bring prosperity to the entire region. The current level of trade in the region is not high and could receive a boost through both BRI and CPEC. However, an enabling environment is key, as is addressing the human resource in the region. Another factor is peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, which if achieved, would give an added boost to the prosperity and development of the region .

Interstate relation models are jostling and competing with each other, the Chinese model emphasizes common development. At present, it encompasses more than sixty countries. The instability in Afghanistan is a major impediment as are strict visa regimes, lack of air connections, and of course, the language barrier. These must be addressed immediately in order to achieve the full po­tential of the CPEC project. Pakistan needs to abandon short term security driven policy frameworks for connectivity for a long term approach that privileges domestic economic interests and commerce.

In this context, Pakistan’s inclusion in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has further enhanced its regional connectivity and economic prospects. Pakistan’s strategic location would make it a regional hub of trade and commerce to Central Asia and SCO member states.

Contemororay global and regional politics revolves around geo-economics and in this context, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is presenting revolutionary opportunities for regional countires to build strong economic, trade and commercial ties. CPEC ushered a new era of growth in Pakistan and made an attractive destination for foreign direct investment.

Moreover, Pakistan and the Russian Fed­eration are connected by a deep historical and cultural affinity, geographical proximity, and a convergence of strategic and economic interests. It is indeed an honour for me to receive this highly prestigious award from Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs for strengthening the understanding and bonds between two great nations. The shifting stra­tegic landscape of global and regional politics demand that both countries should enhance their bilateral and regional engagement for the stability of the wider region, she said.

There is a tremendous amount of unex­plored economic, trade and defence potential that needs to be capitalized for the benefit of two nations and the larger regional wellbeing. The strategic significance of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and urged the re­gional countries to gain maximum economic benefits from this transnational project.

At the same time, Pakistan-Azerbaijan bilateral relations transcend geographical boundaries and distance, characterized by shared values and common outlook on various regional and global issues based on confidence, mutual trust and respect. Both share common regional and global challenges and threats in the current geopolitical trends and need greater cooperation to maximize each other’s potential to overcome them. Both countries need to increase people-to-people contacts through tourism and initiating direct flights. Pakistan-Azerbaijan trade is miniscule compared to its potential and needs to be improved through greater interaction between their Chambers of Com­merce and Industry. Terrorism and drug traf­ficking is a common challenge. Pakistan and Azerbaijan should develop joint mechanisms to deal with these mutual threats.

There is need of exploration of an important part of Azerbaijan-Pakistan relations, which present numerous opportunities to both countries, especially for their think tanks to work together and increase knowledge about each other. Pakistan is a strategic, brotherly country and the government and people of Azerbaijan are always ready to improve and strengthen relations.

There has been a 23% increase in trade between both countries, and visa procedures for Pakistanis had been eased to facilitate travel and tourism, and in the near future, direct flights between both countries are also being planned. Energy projects and scholar­ship programmes for Pakistani students were also being implemented.

Located between the East and West, North and South, Azerbaijan is fast becoming an important transport and trade hub. Azer­baijan has a multilateral, balanced, proactive and independent foreign policy. This is why the country is member of the Non-Aligned Movement and not a part of any military forum. Given its balanced foreign policy, Azerbaijan’s trilateral relations with Pakistan, Turkey are equally important which are project-oriented; and also help to discuss and resolve regional problems through diplomacy and peaceful means.

Pakistan was one of the few countries that did not close eyes to the injustice, openly con­demned the aggression and spoke about the true nature of events in Nogorno-Karabakh without any ambiguous statements and messages. Azerbaijan is also aware of how international institutions and great and re­gional powers approach Pakistan in a double-standard manner. We see how Pakistan tries to survive in a very complicated geography. Azerbaijan has always supported the position of Pakistan in international affairs and UN Security Council resolutions regarding the Kashmir problem; and will always be com­mitted to this position.

There is a growing need for security and strategic cooperation; as well as via energy and pipeline politics which is now more of a reality. In the changing geopolitical milieu, Pakistan and Azerbaijan need to further strengthen their ties, especially in the defence and trade sector and forge more sustainable relations with each other.

Pprospects and challenges of connectiv­ity between CPEC and the Economic Co­operation Organization (ECO), have huge potential for creating direct or multimodal transport connectivity, which could enhance regional economic integration in a globalised environment. Pakistan has always been sup­portive of connectivity-related initiatives for achieving regional cooperation, be it ECO or CPEC.

Lack of capacity and strong political will on part of ECO member countries is weakening this Organization otherwise ECO has the potential of becoming a strong and viable economic bloc if it connects with BRI and CPEC; member states strengthen its Secretariat; increase funding; re-negotiate the ECO trade agreement and turn it into a Free Trade Agreement; focus on multilateral agreements; and increase networking of the ECO Bank with other IFIs.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in January 2019.

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