ISLAMABAD: Calls for ‘transparency’ in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects rose to a crescendo on Sunday when all opposition parties and even some government allies asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s administration with one voice to give preference to the western route of the multibillion-dollar project.
Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal gave a lengthy presentation to an all-party conference but failed to assuage the concerns of the participants. The APC was convened by Akhtar Mengal, the chief of his eponymous faction of Balochistan National party, to voice Balochistan’s concerns on CPEC which, opposition parties claim, will only benefit Punjab.
The marathon sitting that lasted almost 11 hours called upon the prime minister to honour a commitment he had made at an earlier APC held on May 28 last year. Back then, the prime minister had promised the western route of the economic corridor would be constructed first. Almost all political parties of the country were represented at the forum.
Though there was no difference of opinion on the significance of CPEC and the participants lent their unequivocal support for close economic ties with China, they called upon the government to execute all projects in a ‘transparent manner’. The APC adopted a resolution calling on the government to hand over the control of Gwadar deep seaport to the Balochistan government through fresh legislation.
Raja Zafarul Haq, the central leader of PML-N and leader of the house in the Senate, gave an assurance to the participants that the western route of CPEC would be completed first as was promised by the prime minister. He also said that a delegation should convey the APC proceedings to Premier Nawaz.
Earlier the planning and development minister said in his presentation that all facilities would be part of the western route. The government’s priority is to overcome the chronic power shortage to attract investors, he said, adding that work on industrial zones has not been started yet anywhere in the country. “So far, China and Pakistan have not formed a working group for this purpose.”
Refuting a claim of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, Iqbal said the K-P Board of Investment has identified industrial zones to the federal government for CPEC. “The government is doing work on energy, roads, connectivity and upgradation of the existing infrastructure,” he added.
While quoting details of one of his meetings with a Chinese delegation overseeing security-related issues, Mengal said, “Ahsan Iqbal’s stance is contradictory to what a Chinese security officer revealed to me.” Mengal said that in the MoU of CPEC, it was agreed that industrial zones would be set up as soon as possible. He also quoted Balochistan’s former chief minister Abdul Malik as saying that energy projects of his province have been transferred to other areas including one to Sahiwal district of Punjab. HUBCO is a British company, while Iqbal claimed it was also part of CPEC.
When Mengal raised these questions, Iqbal was not present to furnish a reply.
“The Balochistan people have no share in LNG and gas supply,” he said. “I’m all in favour of CPEC but first show me my share in all these projects,” Mengal said, adding that such injustices fuelled separatist insurgencies in Balochistan. “Earlier we believed that Pakistan’s internal and external policies are made abroad but now we are convinced that our economic policies are also dictated from outside,” he lamented. Referring to the nuclear detonations by the PML-N government in 1998, Mengal said since then no one came back to see the plight of the people of Chagai.
Liaqat Baloch of Jamaat-e-Islami asked Premier Nawaz to clear the air on CPEC.
Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party said Balochistan has no issue with CPEC route but with a possible demographic change. “We have only one city, Quetta, and in case 20 million people are settled in Balochistan then a new wave of insurgency will begin,” he said.
JUI-F Ameer Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Federal Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq, ANP’s Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ex-CJ and head of Pakistan Justice Democratic Critic Party, and PPP’s Senator Taj Haider also addressed the conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2016.