A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh
A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

The Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) has entered its second phase. The first phase, which involved an expenditure of nearly US$20 billion, targeted energy and infrastructure. The second phase will focus more on socio-economic development.

Some see Pakistan-China relations only in the context of CPEC, a collection of infrastructure projects that are currently under construction throughout the South Asian country, but it is only one part of a broader bilateral relationship. This was the opinion expressed by Dr Talat Shabbir, director of the China Pakistan Study Centre, in an interview with Asia times. In addition to his role at the China Pakistan Study Centre, which is run by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), he works for various think-tanks related to CPEC and other Pakistan-China projects.

Dr Talat told Asia Times that CPEC has to be completed in two phases. The objectives of the first phase were to address issues pertaining to the energy crisis, infrastructure and terrorism, which has been accomplished. Electric load shedding is no longer an issue, terrorism is under control, and the necessary infrastructure is in place for the second phase.

As per the vision and will of the government of Pakistan, priority in this phase will be given to socio-economic development to help the Pakistani public to the maximum extent. Dr Talat said the government’s vision is better than those of previous governments, which overlooked the welfare of the common man. Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, primarily focuses on the well-being of the general public, he said. He added that Khan thinks that projects, including CPEC, have no value if the benefits cannot be enjoyed by the general public.

Dr Talat said CPEC will cost US$45 billion, but that people should keep in mind that it is still just one project and cannot change the whole game. It may not offer solutions for every problem and may not in itself eradicate poverty. But it can contribute to the overall betterment of the country. Dr Talat emphasized that achieving real prosperity will involve taking several other measures that are being planned.

Dr Talat said there is a scheme operating alongside CPEC known as the Social Economic Zone (SEZ) project. He said Pakistani and Chinese business leaders are being contacted about this project and, in his opinion, it will help to create job opportunities for people in both countries.

He said when you dream about success, those dreams should be followed by hard work, otherwise those dreams will never come true. Besides hard work, choosing the correct direction is another important requirement for being successful. To deliver results, he said, you have to have the right people in the right place.

He spoke about the importance of having a complete business plan for CPEC and said the current government has achieved that objective. He noted that if CPEC works well it would help to initiate a number of other projects that will ultimately improve the economy.

Responding to a question about Pakistan-India tensions, Dr Talat explained that India literally considers Pakistan its enemy and does not want its neighbor to prosper. He said Pakistan has documents showing that Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, has invested heavily in efforts to destroy CPEC. He said the stance of the Pakistani government is very clear in this respect. Pakistan is striving for peace and regional development. He said that peace can help to improve the living standards of people across the whole region. He said he believed that war is not in the interest of India or Pakistan. Pakistan wants better relationships with its neighbors because mutual support will facilitate development.

To conclude, I would say that the Pakistani government and establishment are undoubtedly taking every measure needed to establish peace in the region. Setting captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman free without conditions was one of the significant steps taken in this regard.

Peace is a precondition for regional prosperity. The Indian government, which has been decidedly jingoistic recently, must also understand the significance of peace. I am very sure that if India takes a step towards peace, the Pakistani government will be willing to take two steps.

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