A captivating and deeply insightful talk on the Pakistan-China nexus was delivered by Prof. Christine Fair of the Georgetown University on 9th September at MCCIA.  The talk was focused on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the full range of activities that have been taking place there till date.

Prof. Fair introduced the audience to the territory through a map that displayed information of the CPEC road routes used as trade corridors by China. She detailed the rationale behind China’s approach to Pakistan by revealing China’s strategic hegemony in the region.

China has always had its problems with the Afghan weavers in Xinjiang. The weavers have sanctuaries in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and they share connections with Al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and the Pakistani Taliban, putting China in a vulnerable spot. One of the Chinese goals with the CPEC is hence to coerce Pakistan to put pressure on the weavers by making Pakistan dependent upon their investments. China’s view is that they can provide security in South Asia, by bringing in economic integration in Pakistan.

Operationally speaking, of the 46 billion that China has allocated for CPEC, 35 billion is directed towards Energy projects. Currently there are about 21 energy projects in the pipeline, aimed at generating 17000 MWs of energy and these projects will be financed separately, owing to Pakistan’s circular debt problem.

“Much of CPEC is not about building a new road. It is about consolidating or expanding roads that are already there”, said Prof. Fair. Illustrating the CPEC route from Gwadar in Pakistan to Kashghar in China, she then explained that for Gwadar to be maximally profitable, the shortest route to Kashghar would be by connecting Gwadar to Quetta first. But this route would run through Balochistan, a region that is a huge security issue in itself.

Gwadar has been a long standing bone of contention for the Balochs. Balochs are being displaced as the majority in their own province, mainly by Pashtuns and the province suffers from a severe water shortage problem as well. The Attabad choke point in the northern Hunza Valley with its severe engineering challenges in the widening of the roads is another major issue.

The Pakistan Army has directed its efforts towards expanding recruitment from Balochistan, in an attempt to enfranchise the Baloch. But the security in the region, the political and geographical constraints and the insurgency are all critical challenges for the Pakistani Army.

Giving her view on the fate of the CPEC, Prof. Fair opined that unless the issues in Gwadar are resolved, (unless) the Balochs are made stakeholders in the process and the engineering challenges at the Attabad choke point are conquered, the success of the CPEC project will remain a distant reality. From a hawk eye perspective, the CPEC currently appears to be China’s attempt to colonise Pakistan.