The criticism directed at the way the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is being handled by the federal government has mostly revolved around its design that has tilted towards favouring Punjab and Sindh while putting Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) on the backburner of development. In the most recent development vis-a-vis this issue, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal tried calming the provincial government in K-P by holding a meeting at the Governor House in Peshawar. This did little to calm the nerves of officials in K-P, who are convinced the federal government has ignored the province in its development plans. Citing security reasons and the importance of completing the eastern route first, the PML-N government at the centre has alienated the provincial arm of the project, and has done little in terms of handling the situation diplomatically. It is important here that the federal government does not give the impression that since K-P has been plagued by security concerns and is run by a party that sits in the opposition, it makes little sense for the PML-N to pay too much heed to its demands.
So far, little seems to have been done to allay K-P’s fears and satisfy it adequately. This will hurt the prospects of the various projects linked to the CPEC being completed on time. If work timelines are not met and there are inordinate delays, the Chinese will eventually cut Pakistan out of its long-term strategic framework. The project may be important for the Chinese, but it is absolutely crucial for Pakistan, which should derive a host of benefits from it. Political wrangling and cursory diplomatic attempts to calm K-P will not work. As things stand, it appears that Punjab stands to benefit a lot from the CPEC projects and K-P, in comparison, a lot less. Notwithstanding K-P’s demands, the CPEC was never meant to cover the entire country. Its ripple effects were supposed to be felt in all provinces, but to say that all provinces must benefit in equal measure would be akin to hoping for a perfect world. If Pakistan’s history is anything to go by, the party in power usually chooses to invest the most in its stronghold. But a competent government is diplomatic, pragmatic and proficient enough to address concerns popping up elsewhere. Sadly, the PML-N lacks in that aspect of governance.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2016.