From a regional to a global player: Pakistan’s evolving metamorphosis

The month of August holds special significance for the people of Pakistan. This is a month when Pakistan won its independence in 1947 and appeared on the world map as a sovereign state on 14th August. A young nation state with a firm resolve to move forward in the face of all and any adversity. From losing its Eastern wing to becoming a responsible nuclear power, the country has had its fair share of highs and lows. Quite often the month of August comes enwrapped in the need to reflect, contemplate, and review how the country has been faring so far.

Indeed, it has come a long way from where it started 7 decades ago and continues to exhibit resilience. Today despite facing a myriad of challenges, it has been able to gradually evolve to offer a plethora of strategic opportunities not just to the regional states but to a much wider international canvas.

Other than some of the natural advantages by virtue of its geographical location, this   owes in large part to the prudent initiatives that Pakistan’s leadership has taken over the period of time, the most remarkable of which is the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative i.e. CPEC. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has essentially enhanced Pakistan’s potentialities and is helping it metamorphosize into a global player from being a regional actor.

This claim has its roots in the fact that first and foremost CPEC is all about connectivity. It is a framework for regional connectivity. Although the nomenclature alludes to it being a bilateral project, which it sure is at the moment but eventually will be encompassing a cross-regional vector positively impacting several other states in South, West and Central Asia as well as Europe and Africa.

These geographical linkages will be made possible through infrastructural development with improved roads, rail and air transportation system, installing optical fiber cabel, people to people contact, enhancing understanding through joint academic ventures, cultural and regional activities, promoting higher volume of trade, investment and business opportunities through export oriented Special Economic Zones, and ensuring and enhancing sustainable energy production.

So, by virtue of all this Pakistan has assumed a pivotal position across the regions with potential for building well connected, integrated regions of shared destiny, harmony and development.  However, for this to eventuate or materialize, the pre-requisite is to create a domestic environment conducive enough for the prospective investors and stakeholders. And this is what Pakistani leadership is diligently working on and has managed to address a number of deficiencies such as generating employment opportunities for local population, mitigating provincial grievances by launching developmental projects in all provinces of Pakistan and hence propitiating to a large extent.

A quick snapshot of the progress so far reveals that all the projects are going as per schedule, within the agreed framework. With regards to the problem of unemployment there are high hopes that over all 88 CPEC projects will widely benefit Pakistan with generating 2.3 million jobs by 2030. In past 6 years, the CPEC has already created 75,000 jobs for Pakistanis. Even during the pandemic, nearly 47,000 workers reported to have been working hard to ensure continuity of various CPEC projects. Majority i.e. 83% of these workers i.e. 40,000 are Pakistani citizens, working in the capacity of labourers, engineers, and technicians. Only 7,000 are Chinese labourers which makes 18 % of total CPEC workforce. The local businesses are also benefitting by providing raw materials and serving as transporters in the ongoing projects.

Similarly, the 19 fully completed projects out of total 88, points to the steady progress. Around 28 projects are under implementation which focus on enhancing energy generation capacity of the country. This include construction of wind, solar, and hydro power plant along with setting up of export oriented Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and another 41 projects have been planned. While 28 projects which are under implementation include projects like wind power plant, solar power plant, hydro power project and construction of special economic zones. These power plants are expected to ensure energy supply security adding 2.5% to the GDP. Gwadar is also on its way to practically becoming hub of economic activity with coal power plant issue having been resolved, 300 MW of electricity will add to the grid. 1.2-million-gallon daily water supply has also substantially addressed the water shortage issue. Gwadar airport is also under construction in Gwadar even during the ongoing pandemic.

Simultaneously, Pakistan has been focusing to improve the overall image by promoting tourist industry as part of CPEC projects. only last year in December the country was ranked as the best international holiday destination for the year 2020, according to a New York based luxury and lifestyle travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveler. The same year British Backpackers Society also declared it the world’s third most exciting adventure destination. So, it shows that this remarkable country is finally getting the focus it deserves for its exquisite landscapes, green plains, and towering mountains. Similarly, Maritime tourism is another buzz word that comes under the ambit of CPEC projects. And CPEC surely has enhanced the tourism scope by making travel shorter and easier.

This also points to the fact that the world acknowledges Pakistan’s efforts towards improving domestic security situation. This affluent amalgamation of tangible efforts on one hand and portraying soft and positive image of the country on the other hand is what makes Pakistan a success story today.

The world is keenly observing the CPEC unfolding in Pakistan and whether it is a traditional partner or not, they would like to benefit from the series of infrastructure projects. China is set to have the most reliable and cost-effective land-based corridor providing it direct access to the Indian Ocean and to the world. Russia and the landlocked Central Asian states, keen on having access to warm waters, will find a great opportunity for trade and commerce in the broader Indian Ocean Region and ASEAN. In Africa, China is already actively involved in the infrastructural development projects, out of which four eastern corridor projects may conveniently be connected to the CPEC passing across the ocean into the Gwadar. EU is already China’s major trading partner and CPEC may be used to conduct bilateral trade with reduced distance and cost. Hence, with all these previously uncharted trade routes fast becoming a reality, Pakistan will assume a status or irreplaceable transit route empowering it to leverage its crucial geostrategic position in pursuit of its national interests.

Hence, we can foresee a pattern where a number of civilizations – including Europeans, Russians, Turks, Arabs, Iranians, Chinese, and Africans – are in a process of coming together. This is being made possible through BRI vision of global connectivity, manifested through CPEC. Once the CPEC materializes and gain worldwide attention, Pakistan would naturally gain prominence, providing the country with an opportunity for leadership responsibilities expanded into the Afro-Eurasian region. So, this whole project carries real potential of transforming Pakistan from a regional to a global actor within the next decade.

However, obviously, all of this will not be seen by the ill-wishers i.e. the US and India positively. They have been employing all possible tools to hamper the progress. From alleged surgical strikes to imposing claims over Gilgit Baltistan, as well as resorting to proxies, all options are being explored with the soul aim of sabotaging the project, creating political domestic unrest, causing doubts about the intents, raise the economic and security cost of doing business by spiking fears about the route safety and intimidating the potential companies and investors. However, both China and Pakistan had already been quite vigilant and there is around 32,000 security personnel force consisting of Frontier corps and police and around 1.3 billion dollars have been allocated for the security of CPEC projects.

To sum it all, it is pertinent to infer that with the help of CPEC Pakistan has already embarked upon a journey towards economic regionalization in the globalized world, taking up a central stage in multipolar world and is being driven by three main factors i.e. sustainable peace, development, and win-win model for regional actors and beyond.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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