I was in Beijing recently, where the Chinese government had organized the second session of the Belt and Road Forum. It was attended by prominent leaders from around the world, think-tank representatives etc. Prime Minister Imran Khan was honoured to lead the high-level Pakistani delegation.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), formerly known as ‘One Belt One Road’, is China’s biggest development project, linking more than 66 countries to ensure economic cooperation. According to the World Bank, this project can be very beneficial to connect two-thirds population of the world.
The mega project, announced by the Chinese president six years ago in 2013, is now becoming a reality very rapidly. The initiative is actually a strategic attempt to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future. Following the ancient Silk Road, the BRI project aims to connect China with other regional countries through a network of roads and rail tracks. Similarly, the Maritime Silk Road focuses on sea routes in order to foster collaboration in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Africa.
The most important part of the Belt & Road project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This development project, worth $62 billion, is expanded from the Chinese borderline area of Khunjerab to the Gwadar Port. The project is supposed to guarantee the socio-economic development of millions of people living in this region.
According to a report published in Jang, Pakistan is the only country to get maximum benefits from this One Belt, One Road project. CPEC had kept the momentum of rapid growth from last five years and helped to improve the micro economic situation of the country. China has supported Pakistan to tackle the economic challenges and energy crisis. Even, this fact has been acknowledged by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his recent speech in Beijing.
In the international scenario, Pakistan is considered a close ally of China. The CPEC project is transforming Gwadar into the world’s most important economic hub. Special Economic Zones are also scheduled to be established in the next phase of the CPEC project. However, I feel that Pakistan did not receive due importance during the Belt & Road Forum. India is a strong opponent of the One Belt, One Road project since day one and one of the reasons behind Indian resistance to this great mega project is the passage of the CPEC route through the Gilgit-Baltistan region. This year again, India boycotted the One Belt, One Road forum. Ironically, during the session of BRI forum, a project map, attributed to a Chinese ministry, went viral on social media where Pakistan’s name was not mentioned but India s’ name was highlighted in a prominent way.
It is a matter of serious concern for every patriotic Pakistani citizen to see Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Indian territory on the map. Understanding the sensitivity of the issue, I immediately identified this to my top leadership and suggested that we needed to record an official protest at the highest level.
The Chinese president, during the media briefing after the concluding session, informed that cooperation agreements worth more than $64 billion were signed during this BRI forum, but according to a report published in Jang, there is not a single project directly with or for Pakistan. According to the newspaper, analysts are of the view that Pakistan was deliberately ignored during the recently-held Belt & Forum because China is more interested to develop close relationship with India in the perspective of its economic interests.
China is achieving the status of a global superpower due to its successful economic policies and hard work, but there was a time when world access to Beijing was not possible without the Pakistani national flag-carrier, PIA. In the past, we also cooperated with China to connect with the US and the West. Today, CPEC is the most important project under the Belt and Road Initiative.
We want to enhance bilateral cooperation with China in the fields of infrastructure, railway and IT sector; and agriculture, education and health are also included in the priorities of present government. However, to achieve respect and dignity in the eyes of the international community, it is also very necessary to play a very proactive role at the diplomatic front.