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Economic Diplomacy

The Imperative of Economic Diplomacy: Leveraging BRI Projects for Pakistan’s Development

Following the general elections of February 8, 2024, Pakistan stands on the cusp of forming a new government, potentially led by a coalition of major parties, notably PPP or PML-N. Both parties have historically maintained close ties with China and have sought to leverage projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship initiative of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to drive economic benefits for Pakistan and its people. As the nation prepares for this transition, it underscores the critical importance of economic diplomacy in maximizing the potential of BRI projects for Pakistan’s development.

In an increasingly interconnected world, economic diplomacy plays a crucial role in shaping a nation’s prosperity and global standing. For Pakistan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) represents a transformative opportunity to accelerate economic development and enhance connectivity with key global markets. As the country grapples with pressing socio-economic challenges, including unemployment, poverty, and infrastructure deficits, leveraging BRI projects has emerged as a strategic imperative for driving sustainable growth and fostering regional cooperation.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by China in 2013, represents a monumental effort to foster connectivity and economic development across Asia, Africa, and Europe. At its core is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project designed to link China’s western regions with Pakistan’s Gwadar port through a comprehensive network of infrastructure. This includes roads, railways, ports, and energy facilities, aiming to facilitate trade, investment, and regional integration.

For Pakistan, the significance of the BRI cannot be overstated. With an estimated investment exceeding $60 billion, CPEC holds the promise of catalyzing economic growth, generating employment opportunities, and mitigating poverty. By enhancing transportation networks, reducing trade barriers, and attracting foreign investment, CPEC has the potential to position Pakistan as a pivotal player in regional trade and commerce. Additionally, it underscores the country’s geostrategic importance by providing a gateway to lucrative markets in the Middle East, Central Asia, and beyond.

Moreover, CPEC’s transformative impact extends beyond economic considerations. It serves as a symbol of China-Pakistan friendship and strategic cooperation, strengthening bilateral ties and fostering mutual trust. Furthermore, CPEC’s emphasis on infrastructure development aligns with Pakistan’s broader development goals, including improving connectivity, enhancing energy security, and fostering sustainable development.

Overall, the significance of the BRI, particularly through projects like CPEC, lies in its potential to usher in a new era of prosperity and development for Pakistan. By leveraging strategic partnerships, maximizing investments, and ensuring inclusive growth, Pakistan can harness the full benefits of the BRI, positioning itself as a key player in the global economy while addressing its socio-economic challenges.

Realizing the full potential of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Pakistan involves navigating a multitude of challenges while seizing the numerous opportunities they present. One pressing challenge lies in ensuring that the benefits of these projects are equitably distributed and that socio-economic disparities are addressed. While infrastructure development is pivotal, it must be accompanied by efforts to promote inclusive growth, empower local communities, and safeguard the environment. This necessitates a comprehensive approach that prioritizes the well-being of all stakeholders and ensures that the gains from BRI projects are shared across society.

Moreover, Pakistan faces the task of managing geopolitical tensions and safeguarding its sovereignty while engaging with external partners, particularly China. The close ties between the two countries have raised concerns among neighboring nations and global powers, highlighting the importance of transparent and inclusive decision-making processes. Striking a delicate balance between fostering strategic partnerships and protecting national interests is paramount for Pakistan’s long-term stability and prosperity.

In the context of BRI projects, Pakistan’s young population emerges as both a challenge and an opportunity. As the largest demographic group and significant contributors to the workforce, the youth’s employability and welfare should be at the forefront of the new government’s policies. The BRI presents a plethora of opportunities for these youth, provided they possess the necessary skills and capabilities. Given the enduring friendship between Pakistan and China, along with the familiarity of working with Chinese companies, these youth can be transformed into valuable assets for Pakistan and a sustainable workforce for BRI projects. However, realizing this potential requires strategic investments in education, training, and employment initiatives tailored to the needs of the youth, ensuring they are adequately prepared to contribute to the country’s economic growth and development.
Despite these challenges, Pakistan stands poised to harness the transformative power of BRI projects. By leveraging its strategic location, abundant natural resources, and the momentum generated by CPEC, Pakistan can attract foreign investment, stimulate innovation, and diversify its economy. CPEC, in particular, offers a unique opportunity to revitalize key sectors such as energy, agriculture, and manufacturing, laying the foundation for sustainable development and job creation. As Pakistan navigates the complexities of the BRI, it must remain steadfast in its commitment to inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, and the well-being of its citizens, ensuring that the benefits of these projects are realized for generations to come.

The imperative of economic diplomacy in leveraging BRI projects for Pakistan’s development cannot be overstated. As the country seeks to overcome socio-economic challenges and enhance its global standing, BRI projects offer a transformative opportunity to accelerate growth, promote regional integration, and foster sustainable development. As the nation embarks on the formation of a new government, it is crucial to recognize the critical role of economic diplomacy in maximizing the potential of BRI projects. The significance of initiatives like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) underscores the potential for economic prosperity and enhanced connectivity. However, realizing the full potential of BRI requires a strategic and holistic approach that addresses challenges, seizes opportunities, and advances Pakistan’s national interests. By embracing economic diplomacy, fostering collaboration with international partners, and investing in education and skills development, Pakistan can unlock new avenues for prosperity, innovation, and inclusive growth. As Pakistan navigates this journey, it must remain committed to sustainable development, environmental protection, and the well-being of its people, ensuring that the benefits of BRI projects are realized for generations to come.

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Mr. Qaiser Nawab, a global peace activist, is a distinguished international expert specializing in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Afghanistan, Central Asia and founder of the Belt and Road Initiative for Sustainable Development (BRISD), a newly established global think-tank headquartered in Islamabad, in conjunction with the one-decade celebration of BRI.