An important mission
03 July, 2013
By Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Mian Nawaz Sharif has chosen China for his first overseas trip after becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan, during which he is likely to discuss with the Chinese leaders a whole range of bilateral ties. He will also discuss the challenges emerging as a consequence of the transformation in region's geo-political environment in the wake of the expected US and Nato pull out from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The PM has already expressed his desire to resolve the regional issues with China's cooperation.
In the arena of bilateral ties, the major focus will and should be on fast track implementation mechanism for the economic corridor proposed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013, which envisages the building of rail and road link from Kashgar to Gwadar and Karachi. Pakistan has already handed over the Gwadar Port to China and the building of the proposed corridor will open new vistas of economic prosperity to the mutual advantage of the two countries.
Needless to emphasise that China has already played a tremendous role in the economic development of Pakistan and the friendship between the two countries has not only withstood the vicissitudes of times, but has also grown from strength to strength. So Prime Minister Nawaz' visit is surely going to give a new dimension and depth to the already existing ties between the two countries, which were likened to an evergreen tree by the Chinese Premier during his last visit to Pakistan.
It is pertinent to mention that economic cooperation between Pakistan and China has witnessed an exponential expansion in the recent years. Under a comprehensive framework, Pakistan and China have bilateral economic cooperation in the form of joint economic commission, economic cooperation group, joint energy working group and a joint investment company, besides several other mechanisms.
A free trade agreement operational since 2008 has increased the volume of trade between the two countries from $7 billion in 2007 to $12 billion in 2012 with Pakistani exports to China rising by 48 percent. More than 120 Chinese companies are engaged in development projects in the oil and gas, IT, telecom, engineering, power generation and mining sectors. The Chinese are also working on a number of power projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, including the Neelum-Jhelum project that PM Nawaz is keen to complete at the earliest.
Energy is the top most priority of the present government and rightly so. This visit will provide an opportunity to the Prime Minister to seek Chinese commitment for at least two to three immediately doable projects, which can dilute the energy crisis in the shortest possible time. The proposal for upgradation of KKH Highway will also be on the agenda of discussions.
In the wake of the agreements for transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India by US and its allies, UK and France, an enhanced cooperation between Pakistan and China will be one of the top priorities with a view to maintain nuclear parity and balance of power in the region. This is utmost imperative in view of the fact that the US is trying to prop up India as a regional power, lobbying for its permanent seat in the UN Security Council, winning its admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and giving it a greater role in Afghanistan after the exit of US-Nato forces from that country. These are clearly meant to establish Indian hegemony in the region, which is contrary to Pakistan's stance of regional stability based on balance of power that discourages hegemony.
It is noteworthy that Beijing, brushing aside the objections by Washington and its allies, is already cooperating with Islamabad in the field of civilian nuclear technology by committing itself to build Chashma III and IV. Therefore, China is the only country that can help Pakistan in this area. The Prime Minister is surely to lay greater emphasis on the enhanced cooperation in this field.
Viewed in the regional context, the visit is taking place at a time when the power dynamics in the region are likely to undergo a radical change against the backdrop of USA's exit from Afghanistan. Both the countries being important stakeholders in peace in the region, especially Afghanistan, need to find a common strategy to cope with the emerging challenges and ensure that the pull out does not push it back to the turmoil of the pre-9/11 era, scuttling the common objectives of the two countries, i.e. fighting terrorism, promoting shared economic prosperity through the implementation of trans-regional projects, CASA-1000 and TAPI gas pipeline, which are dependent on peace returning to Afghanistan.
The scourge of terrorism is another area of common concern to both the countries. The phenomenon poses an existentialist threat to Pakistan and has done incalculable harm to its security situation, besides triggering an economic meltdown characterised by declining foreign and domestic investments due to the precarious law and order situation. Pakistan and China on the bilateral level as well as through the forum of SCO can mount a collective response in ending terrorism in the region.
Indeed, the Prime Minister has embarked on an important mission and it is hoped that it will culminate in productive outcomes in the area of bilateral relations and challenges faced by the region.
The writer is a freelance columnist.