EAST WEST CONNECTIVITY PROSPECTS OF A POWERFUL KNOWLEDGE CORRIDOR
In 1950, Frances foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The Schuman Declaration, as it is now known, created the ECSC and laid the European Unions foundation. The idea was to seek the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany in order to bring peace and prosperity to a Europe devastated by two major wars with loss of approximately 120 million human lives. South Asia may not have witnessed such devastation but it has, to quote the declaration, devoted its energies to the manufacture of munitions of war. Hence, a commitment to fostering greater east-west trade could be the South Asian equivalent of the ECSC, and lead to the economic, educational, cultural and social development of the region which unfortunately could not be made possible so far due to increased tensions, mistrust, and unresolved disputes among Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian States.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a Chinese development strategy that focuses on connectivity and economic, cultural and political cooperation between China and the world through the historical land-based and new maritime Silk Road. The Pakistani section of the BRI is known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is primarily a north-south trade corridor that will enhance connectivity to Chinas periphery beyond the Himalayas in the north, and Middle Eastern countries across the Arabian Sea in the south. To truly realize the economic gains from its geo-economic location, however, Pakistan need to complement this north-south corridor with an ambitious east-west connectivity project. This can be huge potential knowledge corridor among the members states in north-south and east-west regions of the CPEC. Given the enormous scale of business and employment opportunities likely to be created by the CPEC and other BRI projects, there is a dire need to pay attention to capacity development, knowledge creation, sharing and human resource development in China, Pakistan and other countries including the Central Asian States to develop and train technically and culturally competent managers and leaders to get optimal benefits from this greatest initiative. Simultaneously there is a need to design and conduct academic and executive education programs to develop leaders and business managers for BRI/CPEC projects educating them about unique cultural features and regulatory frameworks of each country as well as key issues facing entrepreneurs, business managers and policy makers. Business schools in both countries can play a key role in fostering this collaborative development. The concentration of infrastructure activities around Shanghai and Beijing led to the establishment of top academic institutions in these areas. Similarly, it may be worthwhile to develop an international management education platform and mechanism for cooperation along the Belt and Road. The establishment of universities, colleges, centers of excellence, think tanks and joint research centers can lead to tremendous knowledge creation and scientific developments which may be used to uplift the socio-economic issues of the region. This potential economic connectivity can lead to stable democratic system in the member states sharing the great values of tolerance, diversity, intelligence sharing and regional peace which are essential to eliminate poverty from the region.
Let us have a brief look at some of the key initiatives taken by China and Pakistan to promote knowledge corridor in the region which is not enough yet but a good foundation to create a sustainable solution of the key challenges in the region. A recent study conducted between Huddersfield Business School and LUMS on Cooperation among Business Schools along the Belt and Road: A CPEC Perspective in which it has been stated that in 2015 University Alliance of the Silk Road (UASR) was founded at Xian Jiaotong University, China with an aim to foster openness and promote international cooperation and exchanges in higher education, training, research (in the areas of business, law, engineering, informational technology, medicine etc.), policy and cross-cultural understanding. By virtue of its focus on cooperation among universities along Cooperation among Business Schools the Silk Road in business and other disciplines, the alliance has a special relevance to the BRI including CPEC. In August 2017, top business schools in China (8) and Pakistan (9) launched the CPEC Consortium supported by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. This partnership aims to increase academic collaboration to support the economy and management systems of China and Pakistan (HEC, 2017).
The consortium seeks to bring business school leaders on one single platform for collaborative research, and educational and management development programs to support CPEC. The universities and institutes that are part of the consortium are as follows: China: Fudan University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nanjing University, Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tsinghua University, University of Science and Technology of China, and Zhejiang University. Pakistan: Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, COMSATS University Islamabad, Institute of Information Technology, Institute of Business Administration, Institute of Business Management Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences, National University of Sciences and Technology, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, and University of the Punjab. According to the consortiums declaration, these business schools will work together to aid their respective government and chamber of commerce in the development and operation of CPEC and its key components. These school will work on joint research and training projects to promote business-to-business relations between Pakistan and China. Such linkages will help to build international academic and professional relationships and lead to an exchange of knowledge. Similarly, at university level, the China Pakistan Management Initiative of LUMS, China Study Center at COMSAT University Islamabad and NUST Business School and IBA Karachi which regularly conduct conferences and symposia on topics related to CPEC. Centre of Excellence- CPEC (CoE) which is a policy-based research center in Islamabad that seeks to provide input to Pakistans federal and provincial governments and implementers of CPEC projects is another great initiative in this regard. All these efforts are leading towards east west connectivity for making a knowledge corridor. It is worth mentioning that diplomatic relations between Pakistan and six Central Asian Republics (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan) shall play crucial role in building knowledge corridor. There is Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities Pakistan (IUCPSS) at HEC which can play significant role to engage universities in Central Asian Republics for east west connectivity project. Frequent engagement shall help in exchange of ideas and building bridges for evolving new relationships in making headways for developing deep rooted connection in sectors like government to government contacts, science and technology, culture, trade and economy with special focus on exploring educational linkages among universities. Therefore, it is important to develop futuristic approach for building east west knowledge corridor in the sides line CPEC. Universities and research centers are the right places along which may seek and provide answers to tough questions on such projects and guide national strategy actively and help improve the mobilization of international projects, funding, and human resources through jointly fostering inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural management talent.
With the collaboration of universities, scholars, students, and entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds will experience customs and knowledge streams of different nations and develop technical and leadership expertise needed for the successful execution of CPEC/BRI which can ultimately bring real benefit to the people of Pakistan and the region.