China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is considered a path towards peace, stability and development in South Asia, especially since the region faces multiple facets of traditional, non-traditional internal and external security challenges.
CPEC – the flagship project under BRI – is considered a game changer for South Asia, especially when the region faces security issues, making it vulnerable and an easy target for foreign intervention. Even in the 21st century, when most European and Western countries have become developed states with prosperous economies, most South Asian countries face an economic crisis and political instability. Thus, the establishment of CPEC instigated massive opportunities to not only integrate the regional economies but also boost the weak ones.
Can CPEC Address the Security Challenges of South Asia?
Analysts across the world have argued that, once fully functional, CPEC has the potential to transform the economic outlook of South Asia. This argument is based on the project’s operational scope and areas, including infrastructural development, uplifting the energy sectors, developing and financing businesses, etc. Moreover, these projects are not confined only to South Asia but instead connect it with the Middle East, Europe and Africa – with a proposal of expanding north into Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, some projects in CPEC are related to railways and roads, which will create a trading line supported with a proper exchange channel to bolster economic growth in and around the region. Ultimately, the chances of regional integration and economic connectivity increase multifold.
Beijing’s Developmental Peace Model
China, Asia’s largest economy, has the motive to bring peace to the region for which the foundation of CPEC and BRI is laid on the ‘developmental peace model’. The phrase ‘developmental peace model’ was coined by Chinese researchers in the year 2019; Yin, a researcher, stated that developmental peace is based on the peaceful rise of China as well as international aid practices and that developmental peace aims to maintain political stability which possible when there is economic development and presence of institutions. It is important to identify that CPEC is crucial for peace as more countries in the region will become dependent on each other due to increasing multipolarity. Moreover, CPEC provides an alternative for South Asian countries to shift their dependence from the West and explore divergent options.
Importance for Pakistan and China
CPEC holds a multifaceted significance for Islamabad, Beijing and other regional capitals. For China, the project provides the country with access to the Middle East and European markets through a shorter route – both for inland transportation and sea-borne trade through the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. In the case of Pakistan, the country can potentially leverage multiple benefits, such as developing the remote areas of Balochistan, modernizing Gwadar port, renewing its infrastructure, improving the energy sector, creating employment opportunities and other associated sectors.
Although CPEC has brought various benefits to Pakistan, it cannot be ignored that the CPEC route attracted controversies along with security threats from terrorist/separatist groups operating through foreign funding in Balochistan because preferences are being given to eastern route through the province of Punjab.
Moreover, on January 25, 2022, Baloch Liberation Army attacked Pakistani security forces near Gwadar port because of their belief that China was assisting Pakistan in taking control of their resources and occupying their country. Thus, it is safe to say that CPEC is proving to be a doubled edged sword for Islamabad.
Afghanistan’s Security Conundrum & CPEC’s Viability
Both China and Pakistan are focusing on extending CPEC to Afghanistan, but chaos in Afghanistan can impact CPEC, primarily when India uses Afghan soil for attacks in Pakistan, and even India has made such claims against Pakistan. However, Afghan Defense Minister Mullah Yaqoob stated that both countries would not be allowed to use Afghan soil against each other. Although when Indian officials met with the Taliban for diplomatic relations after the United States left the country, this shows that indeed efforts are being made by countries for cooperation, and as long as there is instability in this region, foreign countries will not take the risk of investing in CPEC.
CPEC a threat to India
India indeed considers CPEC a threat, especially since its rival states are part of this project; India even raised objections that China and Pakistan will involve third countries in this joint project. Because of this stance of India, Pakistan has a point of view that India is involved in efforts to sabotage the project; former foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, commented that India has distributed $22 billion to carry out terror activities in Pakistan to sabotage as CPEC could bring prosperity for India’s rival states.
In the long term, CPEC can bring cooperation and economic stability to South Asia, especially China and Pakistan. As a result, traditional and non-traditional security conditions can be improved in the region since CPEC is based on China’s developmental peace model. However, instability in Afghanistan can create obstacles to completing the CPEC project, mainly since India and Pakistan blame each other for using Afghan soil for terrorist activities.
Moreover, India and some non-state entities, which consider CPEC a threat, continue coordinating efforts to sabotage the project. They have actively launched kinetic and non-kinetic campaigns against China and Pakistan to malign the project. This, in turn, is creating security challenges across South Asia.