Role of China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan’s national security

CPEC must be secure first

The China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC) has become a “game-changer” for both the Chinese and Pakistani economies. A major trade route used throughout their relationship, both see it as an opportunity for their own economies. In particular, Pakistan seeks to address issues with economic development, energy access, and social welfare, China to extend its global trade perimeter and construct future energy and commerce routes to expeditiously increase its economic footprint.

CPEC helps to regionalize the global economy. It laid the groundwork for cooperation, prosperity, and harmony. CPEC is a step toward a brighter tomorrow. As a result of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit to Pakistan, the idea was finally put into practice. On 5 July 2013, the two countries signed a landmark agreement establishing the CPEC. In the same year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited China and inked eight agreements, and in 2016, went again and signed 19 new agreements. In April 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Pakistan, with the signing of 51 agreements worth $46 billion, many related to CPEC. China’s original CPEC investment in Pakistan of $46 billion has grown to roughly $54 billion now. This exceeds the aggregate of all other FDI. Therefore, Pakistan has received far more help from China in recent years than from the USA.

Security has been identified as a key barrier to CPEC’s success. There are both internal and external problems. CPEC is critical to Pakistan’s safety and stability. The internal and external security threat is a challenge for CPEC’s full implementation. Internal security is an issue in both China and Pakistan, although Pakistan is hit worse by extremism and terrorism. From Xinjiang to Gwadar, a wide variety of terrorist groups are active, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Tehrik Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar e-Tayyaba, Lashkar e-Jhangvi, Daesh, the Baluchistan Liberation Front, and the militant wings of various political parties.

Several groups are working to prevent the CPEC project. This project may be delayed due to internal security and political turmoil in Pakistan. The security situation in Gwadar has been exaggerated, unfortunately, by those pushing their own objectives. The country is now fighting a separatist uprising in Baluchistan. The Baloch Liberation Army has rebelled to win independence.

Despite Gwadar port being touted as a game-changer for Baluchistan’s economic development, concerns have been voiced by its residents. They are concerned that the influx of Chinese and other non-Baloch into Gwadar would cause them to be outnumbered and prevent them from reaping CPEC’s benefits. In an effort to calm them, political leaders and security officials have repeatedly promised that CPEC would provide better economic opportunities. Assuring current inhabitants that they would not be forced to migrate is essential in dispelling the fear that such expansion will only benefit the already wealthy.

Balochistan has been a hotbed of interethnic strife and bloodshed owing to political and economic issues. Militant leaders and the province’s political leaders have voiced their displeasure with its current state of development and resource management. Even after achieving independence, they have fought against federal development programmes. Also, rarely, they have bombed communication and public infrastructure and abducted Chinese labourers.

India has a vested interest in CPEC’s failure. That China and India both have been vying for control of the region and security, especially concerning maritime interests in the Indian Ocean, supports this. With its importance to CPEC, Gwadar has been thrown into the spotlight of rising security concerns in the area. The situation has become more precarious due to India’s sponsorship of a port in southwestern Iran rivalling Gwadar.

CPEC is expected to foster domestic and international economic development and stability. To ensure the CPEC’s security, many measures have been taken, from bilateral pacts to regional and international cooperation. As tensions rise between Pakistan and India, military trade between China and Pakistan is increasing, and protecting CPEC from terrorist acts is a top priority for both. Yet the swift response of the security forces in repelling attacks shows that Pakistan has the will to oppose any terrorist threats

India needs Chabahar to have a direct marine connection with Central Asia and Afghanistan, both of which are landlocked nations, so it may avoid going via Pakistan. To the extent that Chabahar is developed, it will provide a competitor to the Gwadar-connected CPEC route for transporting energy and commercial commodities from the Gulf area to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

For decades, Pakistan has been struggling with an Islamist uprising that gained momentum in the latter years under Musharraf. The TTP was in charge of the uprising. It has been held accountable for assaults on Chinese labourers in Pakistan. Chinese experts are concerned about the security of Chinese tourists in Pakistan. Chinese authorities are especially concerned about radicals in Xinjiang who could collaborate with Islamist insurgents in Pakistan. Zarb-e-Azb was launched by the Pakistani military in 2014 in response to terrorist attacks on Karachi’s airport. Despite a considerable drop in terrorism-related violence in 2016, 2019 has seen an uptick in occurrences in Balochistan, where separatists still have some subversive capabilities. Chinese investors’ fears have been heightened by recent attacks on security personnel on the Makran coastal highway by the Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar and the Pearl Continental in Gwadar by the BLA in May 2019.

Numerous military operations against terrorist organizations have greatly bolstered Pakistan’s domestic security. There are still significant security challenges to be overcome to ensure the successful completion of huge development projects falling under CPEC. Although a dedicated security force has been formed, the difficult terrain in Southern Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan remain major worries. The federal government formed the “Special Security Directorate,” an army-led command, to specifically handle security threats to the CPEC in response to major concerns about the best way to secure CPEC and its personnel. The Pakistani government has used counterinsurgency tactics to combat the TTP and ETIM. However, further steps might be taken to increase safety.

It would seem that Pakistani national security organizations are now more concerned with internal politics than with eliminating terrorist threats. Increasing the number of security guards at a construction site, roadway, or structure is not the only way to show dedication. It also requires decision-makers to settle fundamental concerns at the policy level and then craft a workable strategy for implementation. In this aspect, Pakistan has completely failed. Pakistan’s 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to tackle terrorism and extremism is a prime illustration. The TTP in Pakistan was an intended target of the NAP. The Afghan Taliban, purportedly Pakistan’s allies, have allowed the country to restore contact with the organization, which has set up safe havens there. Pakistan’s first National Security Policy (NSP), established very recently, calls for “dedicated political debate to establish a broad consensus on homeland safety that transcended deep divisions and is untainted by shifts in the national political landscape.” Pakistan’s national security worries are alleviated as a result of the programme.

Though Gwadar port holds enormous potential for the development of Baluchistan’s economy, locals there are divided about its safety. Balochistan’s political leadership and security officials have repeatedly told the public that CPEC would be to the region’s economic advantage. People there are hostile to the federal government and have kidnapped Chinese workers as a form of protest. Getting the people of Baluchistan on our side is crucial to the success of the CPEC project. They need to allow for the comfort of being rather than being afraid. Baluchistan should also beef up its national security to prevent any untoward incidents.

A significant breakdown in CPEC may be directly attributed to India, Pakistan’s long-standing geopolitical foe. The situation has become more precarious due to India’s sponsorship of Chabahar, an alternative to the CPEC route. As a result, India would make every attempt to halt the CPEC initiative. Pakistan needs to deploy national ministries or military to the area around the CPEC corridor. It would ensure Pakistani defence against Indian aggression.

In addition to being a huge threat to the CPEC project, the TTP is also a big obstacle. Chinese citizens first experienced a great deal of anxiety, but the 2014 operation was effective, and the number of terrorist strikes dropped dramatically in 2016. Chinese businessmen were already wary of Balochistan before the assault in 2019, but the situation is worse now. While the government of Pakistan has made beginning steps to combat terrorism, more long-term solutions are required.

The federal government formed the “Special Security Division,” an army-led command, to specifically handle security threats to the CPEC in response to major concerns about the best way to secure CPEC and its personnel. It would seem Pakistani national security organizations are now more concerned with internal politics than with eliminating terrorist threats. For fast and effective response against potential threats to CPEC officials wherever they may be in the country, it is necessary to establish a distinct CPEC security cell command centre in Islamabad.

For CPEC to proceed as planned, several intricate internal and external difficulties need to be resolved. Security-related hurdles remain despite assurances from the Pakistani government and armed forces. Practical and not security concerns may slow down the project’s progress due to its massive scale, Islamabad’s tense relations with India, Nepal’s unpredictability, and poor relations with Iran.

The security situation is expected to deteriorate as the Project advances, largely due to the increase in jealous neighbours and external intervention. When it comes to countering the threats of extremism and terrorism, only a comprehensive approach will do.

CPEC is expected to foster domestic and international economic development and stability. To ensure the CPEC’s security, many measures have been taken, from bilateral pacts to regional and international cooperation. As tensions rise between Pakistan and India, military trade between China and Pakistan is increasing, and protecting CPEC from terrorist acts is a top priority for both. Yet the swift response of the security forces in repelling attacks shows that Pakistan has the will to oppose any terrorist threats.

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Moazam Ali
Moazam Ali
The writer is a student of Strategic Studies at the National Defence University in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]

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