Chief Minister KP Pervez Khattak, of late, has been trying to foment political controversy about implementation of CPEC, particularly the construction of three identified routes of the Corridor alleging that the federal government had reneged on its promise to work on the western route first and was focusing more on the eastern route which would benefit only Punjab. Speaking at a convention on CPEC at Peshawar on 2nd January, 2016, he said that KP was getting only 2 percent of the CPEC projects against its share of 13 percent and threatened that they knew how to get their rights and would go to any extent to get them. Imran Khan also has been talking in the same vein maintaining that KP and Balochistan would be the biggest losers.
As reported by the media, Pervez Khattak presiding over a high level meeting on 25th November, 2015, had accused the federal government of dishonesty and deception in fulfilling its promises regarding share of the province in CPEC projects and announced the launching of an agitation campaign against the federal government’s decision to construct the eastern route first, saying that the KP government would withdraw its cooperation to the government on implementation of CPEC projects and also stop the acquisition of land for the purpose if the work on western route was not given priority.
I am afraid that the position taken by PTI, particularly the KP government, is against the ground realities and ostensibly seems a deliberate attempt to politicise the issue to create an embarrassing situation for the PML-N government. It also belies lack of understanding of the decision making process in regards to projects under CPEC and determination of the routes of the corridor. Perhaps it would be pertinent for the benefit of the general public and the readers to briefly recollect what the Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the political leaders in a briefing after signing of the MoUs and agreements with China on the projects under the umbrella of CPEC. Giving an exhaustive presentation, he made it a point to clarify that the Corridor would be a network of roads that would connect Gwadar and Kashgar passing through all the four provinces and that immediate focus of the two countries was on launching the early harvest projects, especially in the energy sector. He further informed them that the working groups formed by China and Pakistan would decide on the exact locations of the economic zones along the Corridor and the areas through which this network of roads would pass after considering their technical aspects and feasibility.
It is a misconception on the part of PTI and KP government to assume that the government of Pakistan was solely responsible for deciding which project and route would be implemented first. The alignment of the Corridor, its routes and the prioritisation of the projects has been decided by the working groups formed by the two countries keeping in view the technical aspects and their feasibility as clearly indicated by the Planning Minister in his briefing to politicians. China being the investor understandably has a greater say in deciding the implementation of the projects with a view to ensure that money is productively spent to serve the interests of both the countries. This fact needs to be understood and accepted ungrudgingly.
The contention of the KP Chief Minister that the government was giving priority to the eastern route to benefit Punjab was also very misleading. Actually the work on western route started much earlier than on the eastern route. Frontier Works Organisation has already completed construction of 870 km stretch of the western route in Balochistan. On 30th December, 2015, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated up-gradation of Zhob-Mughal Kot section of the Dera Ismail Khan-Qila Saifullah Highway and Qila Saifullah-Waigan Rud Road section of the Multan-Dera Ghazi Khan-Qila Saifullah Highway. The Zhob-Mughal Kot section is part of the western route. The foundation laying ceremony was attended by leaders of most of the political parties. Chief minister Balochistan Snaullah Zehri, speaking on the occasion, said negative propaganda about western route of CPEC must end and termed CPEC as positive stride towards economic development of the country. Maulan Fazlur Rehman maintained that CPEC addressed basic issues in the province and would help in establishing durable peace in the region. Mir Hasel Bizenjo and Mehmood Khan Achakzai also expressed similar views.
The launching of the eastern route which passes through Punjab and Sindh has been made in view of the immediate feasibility of the route as the existing network of roads and railway infrastructure in these provinces can help in its early completion and providing a good base to both the countries for working on other projects. The most important factor in this respect is that China wanted to start work on this route in view of its early harvest potential and immediate feasibility, as also revealed by the Finance Minister. The move is in consonance with the understanding between the two countries in regards to the prioritising of the projects and routes.
The logic of the Chief Minister KP that the province must be given its 13 percent share in the CPEC projects also sounds bizarre in view of the fact that it was not a matter relating to share of the provinces from the federal divisible pool necessitating the determination of the share of the provinces as per the NFC award. The issue relates to foreign investment and as explained to the entire political leadership by the Planning Minister, the decision making was to be done by the working groups formed by the two governments with due consideration to their technical feasibility. The foregoing facts amply prove that the KP government was making deliberate and well thought out efforts to sabotage the CPEC, in complete denial of the ground realities and the benefits that would accrue to all the provinces and the entire country.
Conceptually speaking, characterisation of the CPEC as a game changer, an epoch making step towards eternal strategic partnership between China and Pakistan, a catalyst to economic revolution in Pakistan and an engine to propel shared regional economic prosperity, is decidedly beyond reproach. And no person in his right mind can dare to contest these claims on any rational basis. For a resource-constrained Pakistan, direct foreign investment of US$ 46 billion in the projects under the umbrella of CPEC, undoubtedly presents a best ever chance in regards to nullifying the effects of the missed opportunities of the past, embarking on the path of a sustained economic growth and changing the economic profile of the country geared to equitable sharing of the gains by all the federating units and the masses. For China also, the CPEC is a pivot of its strategy to revive the old Silk Route and gaining easy access to the Arabian Sea for expanding its commercial interests globally. It certainly promises a win-win situation for both the countries and the entire region.
Making the CPEC controversial is tantamount to undermining national interest for political gains. It would send wrong signals to the Chinese government and could affect relations between the two countries. Therefore, politicking on CPEC is totally wrong and must be avoided. The nation expects rational and visionary behaviour from the politicians to winch the country out of the quick-sand it lies embedded into.