The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion dollar project was introduced in 2013 and quickly dubbed the flagship extension of the Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistanis hoped that this new development program will bring change and turn the country into a regional hub.
The investment has helped Islamabad improve debilitating national transportation and power sectors and build trade routes connecting landlocked western China to the strategically located Pakistani deep-water Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan has extracted many benefits from the projects they have created nearly 200,000 direct local jobs, built more than 1,400 kilometres of highways and roads, and added 8,000 megawatts of electricity to the national grid, ending years of blackouts caused by power outages in the country of 230 million people. Prolonged daily power cuts crippled economic activity and undermined industrial production, reported VOA.
Officials in both countries say that CPEC has attracted more than USD 25 billion in direct Chinese investment, which is expected to increase to USD 62 billion by 2030, when all CPEC projects, including several industrial zones, are scheduled to be completed.
But recently, Chinese interests in Pakistan have come under militant attacks. On Wednesday’s ceremony, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the CPEC, the Detractors said highlighted strains over security and other issues stemming from the economic undertaking.
“China hopes that Pakistan will resolutely and effectively crack down on various terrorist organizations in the country and ensure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in Pakistan,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Prime Minister Li Qiang as telling his counterpart Shehbaz Sharif in a meeting the two held in Paris late last month.
In his talks with Sharif in Beijing last November, Chinese President Xi Jinping also emphasized the need for Pakistan to protect Chinese personnel and projects.
“They [Chinese] believe this security issue is becoming an impediment in taking CPEC forward,” Senator Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the defence committee of the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, told VOA.
In July 2021, a suicide car bombing in northwestern Pakistan killed nine Chinese nationals and three Pakistani co-workers. The victims were working on the Chinese-funded Dasu hydropower project. There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, as per VOA.
Pakistani investigators suspected at the time that militants linked to the anti-China East Turkistan Islamic Movement were behind the deadly bombing. Authorities have since not shared details of their investigation into the attack.
In April 2022, a female suicide bomber blew herself up near a van in Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers and their local driver. The foreigners taught at the Confucius Institute in Pakistan’s largest city.
The Baloch Liberation Army, an outlawed organization operating out of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, claimed credit for plotting that attack. The natural resources-rich province houses the Gwadar port and several other CPEC projects.
The rising number of attacks has prompted China to ask its citizens and diplomats in Pakistan to strictly limit their movements and not visit the northwestern city of Peshawar, and Baluchistan’s capital, Quetta, highly placed sources told VOA on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with the media.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s economic troubles have deepened in recent years, with some critics blaming CPEC investments as a main contributing factor. The Sharif government fended off the risk of an imminent default by securing on Friday a short-term USD 3 billion IMF bailout agreement, subject to the approval of the fund’s board later this month, reported VOA.
“CPEC has failed to live up to its hype, and there’s been a whole lot of hype about it. We have seen some significant projects, especially energy infrastructure, go online,” Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at Washington’s Wilson Center, told VOA in written comments.
“But in recent years, a combination of Pakistani economic stress and Chinese security concerns have slowed down CPEC’s momentum. Despite the continued soaring rhetoric from both capitals, the corridor’s progress has taken a major hit,” Kugelman observed.
Pakistan owes more than USD 1.26 billion (350 billion rupees) to Chinese power plants. The amount keeps growing, and China has refused to defer or restructure the payment and CPEC debt repayments. (ANI)