Discord over CPEC & selfish motives

For Zardari and the Sharifs, initiating the CPEC meant concentrating development in their home provinces

Imtiaz Gul January 12, 2016
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

The raging discord over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) symbolises one of the many symptoms of the disease that our political economy suffers from — an arbitrary, non-inclusive, narrow and selfish vision of national development. Even sadder is the intervention by the Chinese embassy in Islamabad on January 10: “China hopes that the relevant parties in Pakistan could strengthen communication and coordination on the CPEC to create favourable conditions for the project.”

This amounted to a direct rebuke of the province-centred “development visions” of Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharifs. For these leaders, initiating the CPEC meant concentrating development in their home provinces. The embassy statement, in fact, resonated similar concerns that Chinese interlocutors had been expressing earlier.

One had expected that following the agreement at the All-Parties Conference (APC) on May 28, 2015, the western alignment of the CPEC — from Attock to DI Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and to Zhob, Qilla Saifullah, Pishin and Quetta in Balochistan — would take precedence and thus allay reservations of the two provinces. But this turned out to be a misplaced expectation.

Now we see the K-P chief minister threatening revolt against the CPEC plans and accusing the Sharif government of being unmindful of the problems of conflict-affected regions such as Balochistan and K-P. The political parties of the two provinces are demanding the construction of motorways, economic and industrial zones, oil and gas pipelines and fibre optic lines through their respective provinces. The issue has roots in the history of mistrust between the Centre and the smaller provinces.

Even the Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party has reservations, but it understands that opposition to the CPEC may jeopardise the project. The PPP, too, alleges that most CPEC projects are concentrated in Punjab. The party even plans an APC in Gilgit to press for the inclusion of Gilgit-Baltistan in the CPEC plans. It plans to approach the Supreme Appellate Court against the federal government for neglecting the area as far as its due share in the project is concerned.

Clearly, there is no disagreement over the utility of the project, but all that major parties are demanding is due deference to the needs of smaller regions. Most of the complaints could have been avoided had the federal government thought through its plans. This chorus of protest from the west and the south should have rung alarm bells long ago and the sooner the federal government moves for consensus, the better it would be for the federation because this discord has also unnerved the Chinese government and its officials in Islamabad. They complain of deficient coordination and consensus-building by the federal government. We are not going to wait for consensus to develop within Pakistan. If it doesn’t come about, we will move on. Time and opportunities are limited.

The Sharifs are either mistaken, ill-informed, or deliberately ignoring a basic fact: they must first secure the vicinity around land-locked Punjab if they want to create a haven of peace and prosperity. Ignoring key links such as Balochistan and K-P — both of which are battered by conflict and begging for urgent prioritised attention — will not only inflate existing disparities, it may also scare the Chinese away, who will probably opt for longer and costlier corridors rather than remaining hostage to the selfish and squabbling ruling elite of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2016.

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sterry | 8 years ago | Reply @zainulabadin: The only dirty politics I see is from people who are trying to jeopardize the project. The Chinese investors are largely calling the shots. As an investor I would want a safe investment and hence a safe route. Not one close to Afghanistan and Iran where anti Pakistani agents are supported by anti state agencies to harm Pakistan. The Chinese are not gifting money for Pakistan's internal regional development. It will happen due to simple trickle down economics and government initiatives to set up trade zones. Rather than selfish finger pointing and quibbling, get it up and running before Indians and others sabotage it. This is already what is happening. We all know the Western route close to insurgency prone Afghanistan is shorter but does anyone want to risk investing there where you need an army to protect the route? When Chuck Hagel says India is using Afghanistan as a base to carry out mischief in bordering Pakistan, does no one think they will not try to sabotage the Western route. Stability is slowing returning to all of Pakistan - not only Punjab but if people refuse to see the big picture, the enemies of the state will prevent CPEC both Eastern and Western routes from developing at all. Big, small and all regions will benefit if this project gets going but it seems no one wants to see the obvious dangers of falling for regionalism. The Eastern route can be set up in no time due to existing infrastructure and over time the Western route will naturally be the preferred route due to its shorter distance.
Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply @zainulabadin: There is no need for any one to hate the Prime Minister Sir, but to appreciate and accept that his electorates are mostly illetrate peasants who can neither read nor write but routinely vote for Nawaz muslim league. Pakistan has the democratic system in the country but not a democracy because of the illetrate environment, to use the words of the military war lords, returning the same people and families to the political stage who subsequently become of the holder of the political office. The Sharifs primary task therefore is to feed the starving people in Punjab which includes a large chunk of the army and to meet their requirements first before moving a finger about the welfare of the karachiwalas and the Bloch or Pakhtuns. Rex Minor
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