IMPLICATIONS OF CHINA-PAK ECONOMIC CORRIDOR
By R S N Singh
Strategicstudyindia : August 22, 2013
Following Mr. Antony’s visit, in second week of July, a large body (approximately 50) of PLA troops intruded in Eastern Ladakh. Reportedly, the Chinese troops carried banners demanding India to vacate occupied territory. The frequency, timing, audacity and magnitude of the incursions have only increased. Mr. Salmaan Khurshid’s visit to China, Mr. Li Keqiang’s visit to India and then again Mr. Antony’s visit to China has therefore had no salutary effect on the Indo-China relations.
The increasing stridency of China, bordering on hostility, in the Ladakh sector is not without strategic designs. It has to be seen in the context of Chinese strategic thrust into the Indian Ocean through Pakistan by way of Gwadar Port.
Strategic Corridor: The Epoch Making Event
Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China at the same time as Antony’ visit, was a diplomatic insult of sorts. India would certainly not host the President of Vietnam and the Defence Minister of China at the same time. While the reception meted out to Antony was anything but warm, Nawaz Sharif, on the contrary received a ‘Red Carpet’ welcome. The Chinese press too devoted little time and attention to Antony, with Nawaz Sharif getting most of the media coverage.
The contrast in the agenda of India and Pakistan vis-à-vis China was pronounced. The India-China agenda, even after taking into allowance that the visit was by a Defence Minister, was perfunctory. It devolved on platitudes such as ‘peace and tranquility’, ‘favourable environment’, ‘enhanced defence exchanges’, and ‘conditions for enhancement of China and India strategic cooperation partnership’.
he China- Pakistan, strategic agenda was however of a different order. Areas of cooperation discussed included linking China and Pakistan with fibre-optic cable network, upgradation and realignment of Karakoram Highway, and hydro-power projects.
However, what was epoch making was the fact that the too signed an agreement for establishment of a ‘China-Pak Economic Corridor’, to connect Pakistan’s Gwadar port with Kashgar in Xinjiang. As per Pakistan’s premier, Nawaz Sharif, the Pak-China Economic Corridor from Kashgar to Khunjerab and Gwadar will be “the future of the country, making Pakistan a hub of transit trade in the region”.
The 2,000-kilometre road and rail link connecting Chinese northwestern city of Kashgar to southwestern Pakistani port of Gwadar is expected to cost around 18 billion U.S. dollars. The alignment for Lahore-Karachi Motorway will start from Babo Sabo Interchange on M-2 and connect with Karachi passing through Khanewal, Multan, Sukkur, Khairpur and Dadu. This is to provide inter connectivity and linkages between Pakistan Economic Corridor, Indus Highway, Motorways and Grand Trunk road. The corridor also envisages the construction of 200 km of tunnel work in Gilgit Baltistan.
On completion, it will provide China an access to the Strait of Hormuz through which a third of world’s oil and transported.
Nawaz Shariff said that once the ‘Karachi-Lahore motorway’ is implemented by the two countries, other projects would automatically gain pace and benefit the people in all parts of the country besides Azad Kashmir (POK), and Gilgit-Baltistan (part of POK). A series of SEZ are planned to be setup along the economic corridor. Such is the premium attached to the China assisted development projects, that Sharif has decided to set-up a ‘China Cell’ in his office for day-to-day supervision.
The envisaged economic corridor has in effect impelled Pakistan to move from strategic embrace of China to a relationship of ‘strategic lock-in’. This has been on the anvil for some time, in fact more so after the Singapore based PSA International, one of the world’s largest port operators, walked out despite tax breaks and the Chinese state owned Overseas Port Holding Company walked in Gwadar, which is just 330 km from Strait of Hormuz.
The Pak-China economic corridor has monumental strategic portends for India.
- It shrinks India’s option with regard to punitive action against Pakistan’s persistence with proxy war by way of cross-border terrorism. Given the strategic imperative, China will be oversensitive about the security of ‘economic corridor’ running through the length of Pakistan. In fact, the ‘economic corridor’ can be more appropriately referred to as ‘strategic corridor’, which will make China a player in the Persian Gulf. India therefore will be presented with a ‘two-front’ situation in perpetuity.
Many in Pakistan’s media have expressed reservations over the viability of the proposed economic corridor. Concerns relate to the Prime Ministers direction to develop the alternate route on priority along the Karakoram Highway connecting Chilas with Mansehra through the Babusar Top and to his suggestion to make a tunnel across the Babusar top to make it accessible throughout the year.
They also feel that the environmental and social impact on the people and on the economy has not been considered.
Concerns have also been expressed on the debt to be contracted and the high degree of security concerns especially in the areas where the economic corridor will traverse making the economic corridor ever vulnerable due to growing instability in Pakistan.
That may well be true, but India will have to calibrate its response and policy not on factors based on negative premise but on the assumption that the corridor will yield dividends as per the expectations of both China and Pakistan.
RSN Singh is a former R&AW Officer and an author of “Military Factor in Pakistan”
Views expressed are personal