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Long term projects like CPEC take years to divulge their essence and significance

The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which was announced during the state visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan in April 2015, is, by far, the largest foreign investment project in Pakistan. It comprises of plans to construct diverse infrastructure connections-roads, railway lines, pipelines and air connections-between China’s Western province of Xinxiang and Pakistan’s ports of Karachi and Gwadar at the shore of the Arabian Sea among other projects. This plan is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that was announced in 2013. It comprises of a development strategy involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organisations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. This economic project of historic dimensions was conceived by the new upcoming economic power, China, given the fast-evolving globalisation with Asia at its centre. It is aimed at reconnecting the ideologically divided Asian and European continent into Eurasia; a development that had been predicted by Mackinder in 1904. It will bring the centre of development from waterways on the sea and ocean back to the land routes of Eurasia that were once connected during the time of the first silk road.

Plans for a corridor, stretching from the Chinese border to Pakistan’s deepwater ports on the Arabian Sea, dating back to the 1950s. These plans had motivated the construction of the Karakoram Highway, starting from 1959, connecting Xinxiang to northern Pakistan. One of the very telling stories, which has been related about CPEC by Ikram Sehgal follows:

When flying a helicopter during the earlier phase of constructing the KKH in 1970, he asked one of the Chinese interpreters why for heavens’ sake were they taking the effort and pain to construct a road, which goes virtually nowhere. The Chinese answered that it might be nowhere today but it will be important later. While Pakistanis are thinking in ten-year dimensions, we are thinking in a hundred-years dimension, they added. And so the long-term thinking of China has started to come true. The interpreter became the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan in 2003.

One central element of the CPEC is Gwadar port. Gwadar’s potential to be a deepwater seaport was first noted in 1954, while the city was still under Omani suzerainty. Then, it was forgotten for many years. It was President Musharraf who started works on Gwadar port in 2002 with the help of China, which was completed in 2006. But the project stagnated because of political instability in Pakistan and the non-performance of a Singaporean company that was supposed to run it. Only during the mentioned visit of the Chinese President in 2015, the project got a new life and is still progressing despite some hick-ups and slow-downs.

The project is complemented by the construction of a six-lane East Bay Expressway that will connect the port to the Makran Coastal Highway and an international airport. The airport site covers an area of about 18 square kilometres and the main runway is 3,658 meters and a modern terminal covers an area of 14,000 square meters. There will be common supporting facilities including water supply, power supply and necessary air traffic control projects including weather, communication, navigation, etc. Furthermore, the construction of corresponding hospitals, schools, family areas and other facilities is planned. After its completion, the Gwadar New International Airport will become a landmark building for the modernisation of the Gwadar region that is going to change the life for people in Baluchistan and beyond.

As we all know, Pakistan is in a precarious economic situation and needs development more than anything else. CPEC is the largest foreign investment initiative in our country. Of special importance is the development in the underdeveloped Baluchistan province and KPK along the so-called western route. But the CPEC is touching all provinces of Pakistan including GB as well and strengthening the connectivity between them. The CPEC is, thus, not only a contribution to provide electricity, water, jobs and new industries to our country. In the long run, it is also strengthening the unity of the federation and promoting economic development, political stability and progress for our country and society.

This message is understandable if someone cares to closely look into the data. That has also been shown by the excellent presentation that the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, gave to the members of the Karachi Council of Foreign Relations on October 4, 2019, and by the presentations that Senator Mushahid Hussain and a delegation of parliamentarians made in the same forum on November 8, 2019.

CPEC is a contract negotiated between China and Pakistan because it is in both China’s and Pakistan’s national interests

But despite its many promises, the CPEC has met a lot of scepticism and criticism, especially from the business community. This became clear during the question-and-answer session on both occasions. The main concern seemed to be considerations that Pakistan would become financially dependent from China; that China might use this dependency for political pressures and to the detriment of Pakistani business. There is no doubt that the CPEC does not have just friends but also enemies in the world. The western world, headed by the US, fears to lose its first economic position in the world to China and with it, the leverage to pressurise other countries and extract extra gains in different spheres. Secondly, India sees itself in competition with China and considers itself arch-rival. And there are others. In the media, there is a real war going on, launched by the enemies of China to lure away the countries from BRI and CPEC. Indian Economic Times, for instance, warned that “the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) – flagship project under the mega One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative = is not merely a corridor that Pakistan is hoping will transform its economy but rather a project that may wreck its finances and societal structure.”

The US financed International Crisis Group stated, “the corridor risks aggravating political tension, widening social divides and generating new sources of conflict in Pakistan.” And Sushant Sareen asked on the pages of Observer Research Foundation “Why CPEC could be the end of China-Pakistan relationship?” Many more examples could be quoted.

Now how do we deal with this? There can be no doubt that a huge project like CPEC is going to have some mistakes; that stretching over years and decades, there will need to be made adjustments when such mistakes are realised. Secondly, we should remember the story related by Ikram Sehgal, in the beginning, i.e. that Pakistanis tend to look for short-term gains while China thinks in larger dimensions. And thirdly, the CPEC is a contract negotiated between China and Pakistan because it is in both China’s and Pakistan’s national interests. But how to protect one’s national interest is the task of the respective national government. China will care for Pakistan’s national interest as long as it is covering Chinese interest. But the main responsibility for the success of the CPEC in Pakistan is with not the Chinese but us. The CPEC will certainly bring change to the Pakistani economy and society and of course, the danger is that this change will be so fast that Pakistanis will be slow in taking advantage of it. If there is no skilled labour available, it will have to be brought in from elsewhere. Certainly, it will bring a strain on backward societies like the tribal areas of Baluchistan and KPK, when the usual tribal nepotism is restricted. But in the long run, this will help those areas come out of centuries-old-isolation and allow them to join the mainstream of the modern world.

A valid complaint is the sluggish pace of progress of the planned Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The SEZ implementation would be needed for the promotion of industrial activity in Pakistan to revive growth. But instead, our government seems focussed on raising taxes and limiting imports. Representatives of the business community were suggesting the government take the concerned sectors of the industry into confidence and ask them about their requirements before finalising a strategy. The preparations for SEZ Dhabeji, close to Karachi, have made some progress and there is quite some excitement about its forthcoming launch.

Honestly, Pakistan can’t do without CPEC. And most of the complaints voiced these days should not be addressed to the Chinese, but our government, ministries and implementing organisations. So let’s start to improve our conduct before pointing fingers at others.

Source : dailytimes.com.pk

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