64 percent of Pakistan’s population is below the age of 30. Of this, hardly one percent makes it to universities. The youth, anywhere in the world, is either a catalyst for the socioeconomic, political and intellectual growth of a society or a recipe for self-degeneration. Many a youngster like this author returned to Pakistan with foreign qualification to serve the county in their respective capacity. Amongst this category, there are those who having faced institutional irresponsiveness and the lack of an academic environment chose to fly back to host nations which are far more advanced in epistemic and socioeconomic terms. However, there were those who despite multiple hurdles preferred to stay on in the country to work for its betterment. In the second category, the ingeniously educated and trained youth is also playing its part in various sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, there is still a huge number of our youth, which, due to various reasons, failed to reach university level. Moreover, a significant section of this sub-population remained non-skilled, semi-skilled and semi or unemployed.

On the one hand, in order to encourage parents and students of the importance of higher education and, on the other, to call upon the government to facilitate, above all economically, this particular type of youth, it is pertinent, on the part of the professional youth and the peer population, to engage our youth — especially university students — in a manner that inspires them to learn analytically, inculcates critical thinking in them and invokes their social and moral agency for social organisation and collective action.

With the foregoing serving as subjective framework, this author like many others, joined the Pakistani academia a decade ago. The core aim was and is to share experiences, skills and thoughts with the youth. Formal class lectures, academic seminars, conferences and symposiums are tools in this respect. Indeed, modern information technology have provided extra gadgets such as You Tube to engage the youth meaningfully. The latter, to my experiences, is, overall, quite familiar with the use of technology and, on the other hand, understands and responds to what is being communicated regardless of space, i.e. city/region, type (public or private) and (socioeconomic) status of students.

CPEC-related loans amount to less than 7 percent of Pakistan’s total loan. In addition, if our economy managers work smartly, CPEC’s loan, which is around 2 billion dollars a year, can be paid back through CPEC itself

In other words, if the students of FC college university, COMSATS university, LUMS or Iqra university – all urban universities located in the federal or provincial capitals- were inquisitive, asked critical questions, engaged (guest or visiting) faculty in a debate, (co-)authored academic papers and attended (international) seminars or conferences, the students of University of Sargodha, a regional university to say the least, behaved similarly, though in a different cultural-spatial context, during a seminar on China-Pakistan relations: the case of CPEC addressed by this author.

My major aim was to familiarise the students to the broader contours of China-Pakistan relations and introduce them to the centrality of CPEC in the recent context. Though China and Pakistan recognised each other’s independence and sovereignty in the early 1950s, bilateral relations remained essentially neutral during much of the said decade. Indeed, it was an era of Hindi-Chinibhaibhai (Indian-Chinese brotherhood). However, this brotherhood was shattered by the shocking 1962 Indo-China war. In the wake of this war, China and Pakistan were able to demarcate their border permanently and, post-1965 India-Pakistan war, China-Pakistan relations started transitioning from tactical to strategic.

The 1970s onwards consolidated the process of bilateral strategic interaction. During this decade, Pakistan was indeed instrumental to China’s proto “opening up” policy. Since 1978, China is pursuing ‘opening up’ as a result of indigenous policy ensconced with regional and global market processes. After forty years, at the zenith of this “opening up” lies contemporary China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that revolves around (extra) regional market connectivity and economic cooperation in terms of the proposed six economic corridors of which CPEC has been projected as the “flagship” project by both the countries. CPEC, in my view, is a hallmark of strategic confidence between China and Pakistan and since its formal launch in 2015, out of 22 projects, 11 have already been completed. With respect to the energy sector, 6,910 MW has been added to the national grid and six similar projects are under way. Similarly, scores of infrastructure development projects are underway with the potential to enhance intra-country trade and investment opportunities. The completion of the mentioned projects points to CPEC’s sustainability which was questioned four years ago by certain academic and policy circles regionally and internationally.

Importantly, our youth –particularly the students of Sargodha University — seemed to have developed a deep interest in not just Pakistan’s contemporary foreign policy but also China-Pakistan relations in general and CPEC in particular. In the Q&A session, I faced the toughest of questions related to the theme. To cite a few, one of the students asked whether China will colonise Pakistan via CPEC. It was addressed empirically and historically. When the British colonised South Asia in the 19the century, the world witnessed the “empire-state” system globally. Nowadays, the nation-state system in place. However weaker a nation-state could be, it tries its best to guard its territorial integrity and sovereignty with all possible means. Afghanistan next door is a case in point. Secondly, China itself has a history of partial colonization. It is quite conscious of the ramifications of such a policy discourse. Thirdly, Pakistan is not a failed state; fourthly, CPEC-related loans amount to less than 7 percent of Pakistan’s total loan. In addition, if our economy managers work smartly, CPEC’s loan, which is around 2 billion dollars a year, can be paid back through CPEC itself. Another student asked whether China’s authoritarianism would enhance ours. China’s political system is unique and has not been studied deeply in Pakistan. In addition, it has little bearing on that of Pakistan. After all, in the past 70 years, the bilateral strategic relationship endured regardless of the nature of political systems. Lastly, Pakistan’s authoritarianism, be that bureaucratic, civilian or military, is purely Pakistani in nature and character.

Finally, I am quite optimistic of CPEC’s dividends for our economy and society. The Pakistani youth can play a role in it by engaging with the Chinese language, education, culture and economy meaningfully. The same is suggested to the Chinese youth.

The writer is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow.

Published in Daily Times, February 11th 2019.