On November 12, Pakistan and China have joined hands to inaugurate the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Beijing has acquired more than 200 acres in Balochistan. The the usage right of the land has been given to a Chinese company to develop the strategic Gwadar port. CPEC is said to be a multidimensional project which includePak-China connectivity through road and railway networks, operationalization of the Gwadar Port and several energy projects. Chinese investment would likely have significant positive consequences for growth in Pakistan. The CPEC project will connect China and Pakistan at the Gwadar port city, which will get linked to China’s Kashgar city in Xinjiang through a network of roads and oil pipelines. China claims that its $1.62 billion investment is aimed at improving livelihoods of local people and includes the construction of an expressway linking the harbor and coastline, a rail link, breakwater and other nine projects expected to be completed in three to five years. The investment program is part of a Chinese master plan titled “One Belt, One Road” which is a planned network of road, rail, oil & gas pipelines and maritime routes stretching from China to South and Central Asia. The project aims at transforming regional trade routes, increase Chinese influence in the region and bridge the region’s infrastructure gap. This mega project is therefore intended to upgrade and expand Pakistani infrastructure. The Exim Bank of China will lend the Government of Pakistan approximately $11 billion to overhaul the country’s transportation infrastructure at heavily-subsidized concessionary loans with an interest rate of 1.6%. These projects will span the breadth and width of Pakistan, and will eventually link the Pakistani city of Gwadar Port in southwestern to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang via a vast network of highways and railways. As part of the project, an 1,100 kilometer long motorway will be constructed between the cities of Karachi and Lahore, which will connect to the already completed M2 Motorway which runs between Lahore and Islamabad. The Karakoram Highway between Rawalpindi and the Chinese border will also be completely overhauled and widened. The Karachi-Peshawar main railway line will also be completely overhauled to allow for train travel at up to 160 kilometers per hour, with expected completion by December 2019. Pakistan’s railway network will also eventually be further developed in order to connect it to the Chinese railway network in Kashgar. A network of pipelines to transport liquefied natural gas and oil will also be laid as part of the project, including a $2.5 billion pipeline between Gwadar and Nawabshah to transport gas from Iran, as well as $2 billion pipeline linking the cities of Karachi to Lahore which is to be built with Russian collaboration. An additional estimated $30 billion dollars worth of energy infrastructure will also be constructed by private firms in order to help alleviate Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages, with over 10,400MW of energy generating capacity to be developed by March 2018 as part of the corridor’s fast-tracked “Early Harvest” projects. Likewise, several renewable energy projects are planned to be undertaken as part of the CPEC plan. Other coal-based projects to be constructed by private firms include two 330MW coal power plants in Punjab Province’s Salt Range, and a $970 million coal power plant at Hub, Balochistan near Karachi with a capacity of 660MW to be built by the Pakistani firm Hub Power Company. A 300MW coal power plant is also being developed in the city of Gwadar, and is being financed by a 0% interest loan. The CPEC project will connect China and Pakistan at the Gwadar port city, which will get linked to China’s Kashgar city in Xinjiang through a network of roads and oil pipelines
In a nutshell, this $1.62 billion investment is aimed at improving livelihoods of local people and includes the construction of an expressway linking the harbour and coastline, a rail link, breakwater and other nine projects expected to be completed in three to five years. Gwadar deep sea port has great potential to boost Pakistan’s economy, and mineral resources of Balochistan could bring prosperity not only to the people of Balochistan but also people of other provinces. According to experts, the completion of Gwadar would make it the economic hub of Balochistan and create a strategic nexus between Pakistan, China and Central Asia, generating billions in revenue and providing shorter land routes. It would provide links from the Caspian Sea to the Strait of Hormuz, and enable Gwadar to compete with Persian Gulf ports. Hence Gwadar like a ‘Mega Magnet’ with all its attractions is likely to allure the people from other three provinces and abroad for availing job opportunities and settling their businesses in Balochistan. This will cause a massive influx of outsiders into the sparsely populated province.
India, which maintains tense relations with Pakistan, has viewed the project with objections, particularly as it crosses through the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, a region contested between the two countries. According to the Indian foreign affairs ministry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to China raised his objections over the corridor. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping dismissed the concerns, describing CPEC as a “commercial project.” China also recognizes Gilgit-Baltistan as an integral part of Pakistan. India owing to its vested interests against both Pakistan and China, view CPEC as a game changer in the region. Many other countries also have reservations on this corridor which are baseless and of no value as the government are committed to complete it with all seriousness as the project is of vital importance for the bright future of Pakistan. These countries are using every tactic to hamper any progress on CPEC. These countries have even devised plans to spread anarchy in Balochistan and KPK by accentuating the perception about economic neglect of their provinces over the years, floating controversies about changed routes of the CPEC etc. After witnessing the failure of their proxies in FATA etc, these elements are exploiting political proxies for fanning regionalism and parochial political tendencies to create controversies about the project. Unluckily, some of the political leaders in Pakistan fallen prey of this malicious propaganda against CPEC therefore raising their concerns against this project. In the backdrop of Islamabad APC, impression has been created that the CPEC has become a controversial project. To dilute growing misperception and conflicting thoughts on CPEC, federal government in general and the PM in particular may initiate contact program with political leadership.
The importance of this project is far beyond economy, it is a fundamental shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy and a posture for staking a claim in the Asian century. Hence all political parties must act prudently and adopt a rational and sagacious approach towards the project. In order to implement CPEC it is very important to bring all the Provinces closer together. To do that we need an inclusive atmosphere and as such heads of all institutions should be selected on the basis of merit only, the culture of jobs for the boys should be put to one side. I am afraid, it is time for the technocrats to be put in the driving seat; the Government should restrict its activities to providing the framework for growth. It should stop meddling and above all stop being a control freak. The provinces must put their own house in order and focus on socioeconomic development schemes by utilizing their funds transparently and put in place a strict audit system to check any abuse or misuse. It is time Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan provincial governments start delivering, instead of just creating nuisance and controversies. Whatever CPEC has to offer must be welcomed instead of harping on needless controversies. Political leaders must act with responsibility and walk their talk.