The Road Ahead for the CPEC


The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), considered central to China–Pakistan relations, is a 3,000 km development megaproject which aims to connect Gwadar Port in south western Pakistan to China’s north western autonomous region of Xinjiang, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. Subhan Jadhav highlights different dimensions of this “flagship” project

The relationship between Pakistan and China has been labelled as an ‘all weather friendship,’ ‘deeper than the oceans’ and ‘higher than the Himalayas.’ Over the years, this deep-rooted relationship has become a strategic partnership facing numerous geo-political and geo-strategic changes. Generally, it is observed that domestic, regional and international developments continuously affect state-to- state relations. But these changes never disturb the Pak-China friendship as they faced no ups and downs despite drastic shifts in the global setup. The foundation of this relationship is centred on a wide range of common interests and goals.

Pakistan enjoys a long-lasting, multi-dimensional and deep rooted friendship with China. These enduring ties of friendship are underpinned by mutual trust and confidence. A close identity of views and harmony of interests are the hallmark of this bond. The cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy is Chinese friendship as Pakistan views this fabulous relationship beneficial not only in time of peace for progress and development, but also in crises and conflicting situations to manage them.

Enduring History of the All-Weather Friendship

The China-Pakistan partnership started way back in 1950. Pakistan was the first Muslim country to recognise the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The partnership gathered momentum after the 1962 Sino-India war. Islamabad gave away 5180 sq km of India’s disputed Kashmir territory to China. In response, China’s Premier Zhou Enlai is reported to have assured Pakistan that “China was prepared to put pressure on India in the Himalayas for as long as necessary.”2 This was followed by Chinese diplomatic support to Pakistan in the UN over the Kashmir issue.

The 1971 India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh marked another significant juncture in Sino-Pakistan relations. Again China supported Pakistan, albeit in a more restrained manner than in 1965, and vetoed Bangladesh’s application for recognition as an independent country at the UN General Assembly as China considered it to be a province of Pakistan. China used its first veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council over Bangladesh. China’s changing policy towards the two countries was in evidence in 1998 when India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, during the Kargil war in 1999 and after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 – in all three scenarios China held its position of neutrality3.

CPEC – A Flagship Project

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a massive project comprising a 2,000 km route, connecting Pakistan’s Chinese built port of Gwadar with Kashgar, in Xinjiang, rail links, special economic zones, dry ports and other infrastructures to be completed in Pakistan primarily with the help of Chinese soft loans. The main cornerstone of the project is the Gwadar port and the trans-Pakistan pipeline, both later endorsed by the Musharraf regime. Partly following the route of the Karakoram Highway, the CPED is meant to provide China with a new energy supply route and also enhance trade and cooperation, thus redefining Pakistan as an energy corridor between South Asia, China and Central Asia. The Gwadar port, in particular, will eventually give China an entry point into the Arabian Gulf, thus widening its geopolitical influence and, possibly, military presence in the region.4“China will provide about $34 billion in investment for the energy projects. Concessional loans will cover nearly $12 billion of infrastructure projects,”5 said Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning and Development.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called the corridor a “flagship” project to strengthen China’s connectivity with neighbouring countries.6China cemented its “all-weather ties” with Pakistan by agreeing to build a strategic $46 billion economic corridor as part of the fifty-one deals signed, including $5.90 billion for road projects and $3.69 billion for railway projects, all to be developed by 2017. A $44 million optical fibre cable between China and Pakistan is due to be built, including $622 million for projects related to the deep water, strategically important Gwadar port, developed by China7and $34 billion for energy sectors. Khwaja Asif, Minister for Power and Energy said, “Pakistan will not be taking on any more debt through these projects.8”

Challenges Ahead

Pakistan has long contended with ethnic challenges in the Pashtun areas of the frontier, West Pakistan, and Sindh. It is also faced with a complex, urban, low-intensity conflict in Karachi. In recent years, it has confronted a complex insurgency organised under the banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.9

Baluchistan Insurgency

Pakistan’s Balochistan province has been riven by insurgency for decades and is the site of daily violence and killings10. Gwadar and Ratodero, which pass through a large, sparsely populated territory of Baluchistan, also experience active insurgency. From 2007 to 2014, 1,040 terrorist attacks – 23 percent of the total reported from Baluchistan – occurred in Awaran, Gwadar, Kech, Khuzdar, Lasbela, and Panjgur districts, which are on the route of the CPEC.11

Sectarian Conflicts

The Northern Area also faces sectarian violence and terrorism. Since 1988-2010, 117 sectarian murder cases were registered, 74 were challenged, 15 cancelled, 10 remained untraced and 15 are pending investigation12. Musa Khan Jalal Zai, author of ‘Dying to Kill’, maintains three major communities occupy the Northern Area – Sunni, Shia and Ismailli. The cities are tense, but the villages are divided according to sect, and everybody is buying weapons. There are no longer any mixed localities. Populations are moving to create a region where sects live with a siege mentality.13In 2013, three Chinese tourists were killed by the Pakistan Taliban in the mountainous region of Nanga Parbat (the Diamer-Gilgit-Baltistan region), which presented a huge embarrassment for Pakistan’s authorities14

Political Instability

Political instability includes frequent regime changes, and formal rule changes, including repeated amendments to the constitution and other national law and policies. An effective national counter-terrorism policy, underpinned by broad political consensus, will address the problem of terrorism explicitly. Legitimacy and durability of policy are vitally important if the Pakistan state and society is to successfully address the existential challenge posed by terrorism.15


Currently, there are about 10,000 Chinese in Pakistan working for 120 companies engaged in different sectors like mining, energy exploration and infrastructure building, and China has expressed concern for their safety.16 So the Sharif government and the Army have promised Chinese President Xi Jinpingto create a new special division of the Pakistani Army to protect Chinese people in Pakistan. According to Bruce Riedel of Brookings, the “Special Security Division” will total 10,000 troops and will be commanded by a two star general. Half the men will come from the Special Services Group, Pakistan’s elite commando force. The force will have its own organic air support.17

References available upon request

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.