The red carpet treatment given to the Chinese president, with both the president, prime minister and the entire federal cabinet and services chiefs present at Islamabad Airport to receive him in person is a clear testament to the important that Pakistan gives to its relationship with Beijing. Indeed, this was reflected in the 20-point Joint Statement issued during President Xi’s visit by the Governments of China and Pakistan with the latter saying that its relationship with Beijing was the “cornerstone” of its foreign policy.
The crowning glory, so to speak, of this visit is the 46 billion dollars worth of agreements that the Chinese signed with Pakistani counterparts. This means that in the coming years, Pakistan stands to gain this massive amount in investment by the Chinese, and much of it will be in the form of massive infrastructure projects designed to improve Pakistan’s deteriorating roads and highways network and to augment its energy output, which in recent years has fallen miserably short of demand (and thereby causing chronic power outages and a dent in potential GDP growth). Of course, the investments in the power sector will depend on large part on Islamabad’s willingness to carry out meaningful reforms in it, in particular taking measures to permanently reduce the massive circular debt that keeps ballooning to unmanageable levels every few months.
Most of the projects relating to roads and highways will be concentrated on the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, linking Kashgar in China’s southwestern Xinjiang province with a warm water port in the Indian Ocean, by way of Gwadar. This distance of some 3,000 kilometres will mean that roads and highways along its route from southwestern Balochistan, along the coast, north through parts of Sindh, across Punjab and then linking it with the Karakoram Highway will see a clear and tangible improvement, and this will greatly benefit Pakistan’s economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process.
We have already heard that Pakistan has decided to create a specialized military unit to provide security for the Chinese engineers and related staff who will be arriving as part of this major initiative and though that may have some repercussions in Balochistan, it does show Islamabad’s seriousness of commitment to establishing the Pak-China Economic Corridor in as short a time as possible.
Impact on the region
President Xi’s visit should also be seen — and the timing is surely not without coincidence — in the light of US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India during which time Islamabad must have felt left out, despite its own longstanding, though tempestuous, relationship with Washington. Now with all these projects in the bag and with the President of the world’s largest economy (China recently overtook America by at least one credible estimate) fully backing its economic progress and its fight against militancy and terrorism (the Joint Statement also made a clear reference to Pakistan and China jointly fighting ETIM — or the East Turkestan Islamic Movement), Pakistan will feel content in securing its interest, with its long-standing and most dependable ally. For its part, New Delhi will feel a sense of unease, especially given that the Chinese will now have access to a warm water port in the Arabian Sea and its naval vessels will be able to find a home not far from the Indian peninsula a few hundred miles to the east.
As for the impact of Pakistan’s relationship with the US, which is known for its ups and downs, Islamabad will have sent a much-needed signal to Washington that it (Washington) isn’t the only player in the region. This will give Pakistan added leverage for its own relationship with the US, especially on Afghanistan and India.
The writer tweets @omar_quraishi