IN principle, the Pakistan-China economic corridor is a good idea, but its implementation has significant question marks hanging over it. The idea envisages a road and rail network that connects Pakistan’s deep water ports in the south — Karachi and Gwadar — with the city of Kashgar that serves as China’s big hub of regional trade activity. Karachi and Gwadar provide the nearest deep-water port options for Kashgar, which is slated to become an important city connecting the entire Central Asian region with Russia and the Middle East. Coupled with the other projects that have also been announced, including two nuclear power reactors in Karachi, numerous projects in the power sector, an international airport in Gwadar, an overland high-speed fibre optic link to Rawalpindi, it becomes clear that the infrastructure is being laid down to pull Pakistan into a tighter embrace with China. Last week, a highly placed Chinese official told a gathering in Urumqi that a study on a direct rail link from Gwadar to Kashgar has been initiated, despite a “hostile environment and complicated geographical conditions”.

The project needs more transparency and a clearer idea of who exactly is in charge of its implementation on the Pakistani side. It also needs to become clearer how the security challenges of Balochistan will be tackled, since the formation of a 10,000 man strong Balochistan Constabulary announced at the last Ecnec meeting is likely to prove very inadequate to the task. In a recent Senate hearing, Planning Commission representatives — who are trying to integrate the corridor and their own Vision 2025 — were unable to give a consistent and satisfactory answer as to why the route of the road link had been changed from what was provided earlier. Also, the Vision 2025 task force had suggested that Havelian should serve as a dry port for the rail link, which should run from Peshawar to Karachi. But now we hear that plans for a rail link all the way to Kashgar are ready for implementation. The corridor is the most promising development unfolding on our economic horizon, and the enormity of the vision that stands behind it is to be admired. But the details require sound management before that vision can become a reality, and thus far it appears that the government may be approaching the enterprise in a manner that is far from steady.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2014

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