After 10 years, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) became one of the most important international projects of the world. It has brought many opportunities for countries from all over the world. Pakistan is among these states which have benefited and will benefit from the BRI. By several projects, Pakistan will continue to be one of the most significant partners of the BRI and China.
In the lights of these as The Belt and Road Initiative Association for Economy and Culture, we talked about the BRI and its benefits for Pakistan with Mr. Khalid Taimur Akram, the Executive Director of Pakistan Research Center for a Community with Shared Future (PRCCSF).
1- This year, the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be celebrated. Looking at the last 10 years, how would you evaluate the Project?
The BRI is a massive infrastructure and development project launched by the China in 2013. The initiative aims to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa through a network of roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure projects.
Since its launch, the BRI has seen the implementation of numerous projects across the world, ranging from ports and highways to power plants and railways. While it is still too early to assess the full impact of the BRI, it is clear that there have been some reported successes.
Firstly, it has increased the connectivity. The BRI has helped improve transportation infrastructure and connectivity between countries, making it easier for goods and people to move across borders. This has led to increased trade and economic growth in some countries. Also, it has created many job opportunities in the countries where projects have been implemented. For example, in Pakistan, the BRI has been credited with creating over 75,000 jobs in just one year.
On the other hand, we can see the positive impact of the BRI in energy projects. The BRI has funded several energy projects, including coal-fired power plants, hydroelectric dams, and solar power projects. This has helped increase access to energy in some countries and reduces their dependence on fossil fuels.
In addition, it has helped to reduce the poverty in the participant countries. Some BRI projects have been aimed at reducing poverty in developing countries. For example, in Sri Lanka, the BRI has funded a water supply project that has helped improve access to clean water for over 600,000 people. And finally, the BRI has facilitated cultural exchanges between countries and helped promote understanding and cooperation between different cultures.
Although the BRI has faced criticism and controversy, BRI is on high pace towards the success.
2- So far over 150 countries and 32 international organizations became part of the BRI. Pakistan is one of them. How would you evaluate Pakistan’s participation to the BRI?
Pakistan has been a key participant in the BRI, and its involvement in the initiative has been significant. Pakistan has received substantial funding from China under the BRI for infrastructure and energy projects, including the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
There are some factors to consider when evaluating Pakistan’s participation in the BRI. One of them is improved infrastructure. The BRI has helped Pakistan improve its infrastructure, particularly in transportation and energy sectors. The construction of the CPEC has led to the development of new highways, railways, and ports, which are expected to boost economic growth and increase trade.
The other one is job creation. The BRI has also created job opportunities in Pakistan, particularly in the construction sector. The CPEC alone is expected to create over 2 million jobs in the country. And finally, it is clearly seen that the BRI has the potential to provide significant economic benefits to Pakistan, including increased foreign investment, improved trade, and enhanced regional connectivity.
3- The BRI has transformed Pakistan’s economic landscape. Also, BRI projects have benefited the Pakistani people through job creation, improving livelihoods, eradicating poverty. So that shows us that BRI is not just an economic-based Initiative. What would be your comments for that?
The BRI is not just an economic-based initiative, as you said. While the primary goal of the BRI is to improve infrastructure and connectivity to promote economic growth, the initiative has also had broader social and developmental impacts.
In the case of Pakistan, the BRI projects have not only created jobs and improved livelihoods but have also contributed to poverty reduction and human development. For example, the construction of the CPEC has helped improve access to electricity and clean water in some areas, and the development of the Gwadar Port is expected to create new opportunities for trade and economic growth.
Moreover, the BRI has facilitated cultural, and people-to-people exchanges between participating countries, promoting greater understanding and cooperation between different cultures and regions. Therefore, the initiative has the potential to bring significant benefits to participating countries.
4- One of the most important projects of Belt and Road Initiative is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). What do you think about the benefits of this project for your country? Also, what other projects can be important for these two countries?
The CPEC is a major infrastructure and development project under the Belt and Road Initiative that aims to connect China’s western region with Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar. The Project involves the construction of highways, railways, and energy infrastructure, among other things. I have already mentioned some of the benefits of the CPEC for Pakistan.
Also, other potential projects between China and Pakistan could include, for example, agricultural benefits. Pakistan is an agricultural country, and China is a major importer of agricultural products. Therefore, there is potential for increased cooperation in the agriculture sector, including joint ventures and technology transfers.
In addition, there are chances for education and human resource development. There is potential for increased cooperation between China and Pakistan in the education sector, including joint research and exchange programs, which can help develop human resources and enhance people-to-people ties.
Finally, there are potentials for tourism. Pakistan has a rich cultural heritage and scenic beauty, and there is potential for increased tourism from China, which can help promote cultural exchange and economic growth.
Overall, there is significant potential for increased cooperation between China and Pakistan, both under the CPEC and through other projects in different sectors.
5- Given the global economic situation, what can be said for the future role of the Belt and Road Initiative and of course for Pakistan-China relations?
The future role of the BRI and Pakistan-China relations will depend on several factors, including global economic trends and the geopolitical landscape in the region.
Despite challenges and criticisms, the BRI is likely to continue to play a significant role in promoting connectivity and economic growth in the participating countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the global economy, but it has also highlighted the importance of infrastructure development and international cooperation. Therefore, the BRI may become even more important in the post-pandemic world as countries look to recover and rebuild their economies.
For Pakistan-China relations, the CPEC and other projects under the BRI are likely to continue to be a key focus. These projects have the potential to significantly benefit Pakistan’s economy and contribute to regional connectivity. However, it is also important to address challenges. Moreover, China and Pakistan may continue to deepen their economic and strategic ties, particularly in areas such as trade, investment, and security cooperation. Both countries have expressed their commitment to further strengthen their relationship, and this may lead to new opportunities for collaboration and partnership in different sectors.
The future of the BRI and Pakistan-China relations will depend on a range of factors, including geopolitical developments, economic trends, and domestic policies. However, there is potential for continued cooperation and partnership between China and Pakistan, which can bring significant benefits for both countries and the wider region.
Khalid Taimur AKRAM
Khalid Taimur Akram is a specialist in the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Region. He comes to the forefront with his studies on analysis related to the fight against terrorism. He retired from the Pakistan Army, where he served between 1993 and 2015, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is currently the Director of the Pakistan Research Center for a Community with a Shared Future.