Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pakistan China Economic Corridor

An excellent and informative post by Ali Minai on

Worth a read.

"The world is full of Great Projects – tall buildings, long bridges, vast highway networks – but very seldom does a single project alter the geography of the world. The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal did this spectacularly, and now another great change in the connectivity of the world is beginning to take shape in Pakistan. The question is whether it will connect more or less than it will disconnect. "

My own first thought is that the logic of "economic geography" may reassert itself in the long run, but in the short term, many "obvious" beneficial connections can be lost in the face of ideological clashes (partition comes to mind), warfare and/or the breakdown of law and order. The "Silk Road" made sense as an economic project, but was intermittently shut down by wars and the collapse of order along it's route. (Its loss of competitiveness to seaborne trade is a separate issue and does not explain various interruptions or the prolonged inability of "Silk Road" countries to take fuller advantage of railways as a way to compete with the sea at least to some extent, until recently). So the crucial question is to what extent the ruling elite in Pakistan (and in other regional hubs) prioritize economics over other things they also hold dear. Just to take two aspects as examples to illustrate what I mean:

1. Assume the Pakistani ruling elite has sufficient control WITHIN Pakistan. They could still risk the corridor because of adventurism abroad. For example, the project of taking Kashmir from India is a project that seems unlikely to succeed without triggering a "corridor-shattering" war; or the urge to dominate Afghanistan may not lead to Pax-Pakistania. What if it just means a violent quagmire with no end in sight. Can the corridor escape that distraction? ..I am not saying it is one or the other. But how much one gets pushed versus the other can still be an issue. The geniuses have been known to get it wrong before. ...will they get it all correct this time (forget the moral issues, human rights etc. , I just mean "can they keep the peace"?) ... I don't think the answer is totally clear yet.

2. The basis on which nation-states are to be stabilized in the region West of the Radcliffe line is still up in the air. Islam? Ethnic solidarity? The mandate of heaven based on better trains and washing machines for all? I don't think the matter is settled (except maybe in Iran, where Persian identity may have roots deep enough to stay upright through storms...but I notice that my pro-Israeli friends seem to have a very real (and very irrational?) animus towards Iran for some reason. Those are powerful enemies to maybe even Iran is not home free. But you see what I mean: with identity so seriously contested (as opposed to non-seriously contested as in Texas versus the US Federal Govt) things may not settle down. Shit may hit fans. That sort of thing.

I remain optimistic :)