CPEC for Punjab or Pakistan: Myth and reality

Published: January 17, 2016


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is once again in the spotlight causing damage to the project by making it controversial. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad has taken an unusual step of releasing a statement asking the Pakistani government to resolve the controversy. This just goes to show the gravity of the issue, which needs to be addressed on a war footing. Before going into the concerns of the smaller provinces of Pakistan, let us briefly look at the significance of the multibillion-dollar project.

Can Gwadar port become Dubai or Singapore?

The multi-faceted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project has been aptly described as a game-changer or a turning point in the history of Pakistan. Pumping of $46 billion by China would usher in an era of economic growth realising the dream of “Asian Tiger”.

This is almost five times more than the aid we got from US since 9/11. Due to its unique geographic location, Pakistan has always had the strategic advantage to cash in on. As Robert D Kaplan, a well-known international scholar on geopolitics, after his visit to Gwadar wrote in The Atlantic in 2009, “If we can think of great place- names of the past – Carthage, Thebes, Troy, Samarkand, Angkor Wat, and of the present Dubai, Singapore, Tehran, Beijing, Washington – then Gwadar would qualify as a great place-name of the future.”

Besides the strategic value for both China and Pakistan, CPEC has the potential to generate new employment opportunities, reduce endemic poverty and attract much-needed foreign investment in the country. Some of the projects under CPEC are nearing implementation and commissioning stage.

However, recent furor over CPEC created in the smaller provinces of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa (K-P) and Balochistan suggests the gigantic hurdles in the way of execution of the project. Despite briefings, consultations and all parties conferences (APCs) by Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal (his ministry is the focal ministry for the CPEC project), some political figures in the country continue to show tooth and nail opposition to the project. Let us review the charges of the opposing parties against the centre one-by-one over the multibillion-dollar project.

Western or eastern route controversy

The primary concern of the smaller provinces as reflected in the resolution of the K-P assembly that the western alignment is not on the priority list of the centre. This claim is wildly being repeated without any evidence to back it up. In fact, the work is underway on the western and eastern routes simultaneously. The Frontier Works Organisation is working to complete the missing 400km link between Gwadar and Surab passing through Quetta, Zhob, Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar.

In order to make Gwadar operational in the shortest possible time, the eastern alignment linking Karakoram Highway to existing motorways is the best bet. Given high traffic volume, thriving industries and security on the eastern route, it is much more feasible to kick-start the project. With work in progress on the central, western and eastern alignments simultaneously – linking Gwadar, Pakistan to Kashgar, China within 15 years under the CPEC – there is no reason to make the whole project controversial by mere speculations.

Is motorway prerequisite for the corridor?

Some in the provinces are demanding Zhob-Mughal Kot (N-50) or Qila Saifullah-Wagum (N-70) on the western route be constructed six lanes on the pattern of Karachi-Lahore Motorway. It makes no sense because of negligible traffic at the moment on the route. Of course, this route would have to be expanded with the passage of time as the traffic volume increases with the economic activity along the corridor. Without going into the technical nitty-gritty, it suffices to say that the same size lane is being constructed across the border on Chinese side. So, motorway is not needed at this time on the western route.

Economic zones: K-P on top

Another major concern of the smaller provinces is the alleged shifting of the industrial parks along the original western route to the eastern route thus denying the dividends of the project to the people of K-P and Balochistan. Some fact checking reveals that Board of Investment (BoI) has identified 27 economic zones out of which eight fall in K-P. The committee of BoI tasked to identify the potential sites for economic zones has worked in consultation with the provinces. However, it’s subject to approval by the joint working groups of China and Pakistan.

CPEC energy goes into national grid

Some have questioned the criteria for the allocation of the energy projects to the provinces. As a matter of fact, the energy generated by the projects under CPEC would be added to the national grid for nationwide distribution regardless of its installation point. So, the location of the power plant does not really matter. Most of the energy projects are located either close to the source or the load centre.

Contrary to all the noise, benefits to the largest province Balochistan are also enormous. Once developed, Gwadar would serve as a game-changer not only for the country but also for the entire region. Preliminarily, seven industrial parks have been marked in the province, making it the second highest number after K-P. It would open new jobs for the locals, uplifting them from extreme destitution.

Who gets the lion’s share?

Here arises a question: who will benefit the most from the CPEC once executed as envisioned by its authors? It will benefit the whole of Pakistan given the presence of various projects under CPEC spread across the length and breadth of the country. All the provinces stand to benefit from the project as all the provincial capitals – including Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta – would be the major nodes of the project.

Making CPEC controversial is a great disservice to the country at a time when it is about to take off. This is not the project of any one’s political party or government. All political parties in the country would have to show maturity, seriousness and ownership instead of engaging in point scoring on such an important matter of the national concern. As Robert D Kaplan pointed out in The Atlantic, “If Gwadar remains just a charming fishing port, it will be yet more evidence of Pakistan’s failure as a nation.”

The Planning Commission of Pakistan, which is the focal ministry for the multibillion-dollar project, has made some half-hearted attempts to assuage the concerns of the smaller provinces. But it would have to do more to realise Pakistani dream of “Asian Tiger”. Participation of provincial representatives in the Joint Working Group and Joint Coordination Committee of the Planning Commission should be made more meaningful to achieve consensus on this all-important project. The framework of the agreement should be made public to ensure more transparency in the project.

The writer is a Fulbright/Humphrey fellow at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. He tweets @hasanqau

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Uzma
    Jan 17, 2016 - 12:06PM

    “Some in the provinces are demanding Zhob-Mughal Kot (N-50) or Qila Saifullah-Wagum (N-70) on the western route be constructed six lanes on the pattern of Karachi-Lahore Motorway. It makes no sense because of negligible traffic at the moment on the route.”
    The traffic is negligible because the project isn’t complete and if eastern route is completed first with all its benefits this route would never get the required traffic and wouldn’t be considered necessary. The Whole point is that this route is completed first. It’s time punjab let’s other provinces get their due share. Recommend

  • Fahad Siddiqui
    Jan 17, 2016 - 12:36PM

    Well it is nice to hear a clear explanation on the matter, however, it is sad that it comes by means of a news article and not from one of the many analysts and politicians on TV (mass reach). What is even more shocking is that if this is really as simple as what you have mentioned, then what is keeping the government from penning down these things rather than avoiding the issue as they currently are?

    This government really needs to harden its spine and start actioning on things. If they think what they are doing is right then they need to get in to the parliament and get all to say ok. by dealing outside the parliament they are only causing more people to raise issues and being evasive theya re not making things earlier. Besides, if the parliament is not going to be used to approve this and if the decisions will be made in PM house then really, PMLN should stop cribbing aout democracy and dictatorship!!!Recommend

  • Superman
    Jan 17, 2016 - 1:18PM

    Looks like P in the ‘CPEC’ stands for Punajb (China Punjab Economic Corridor). Equal representation and share of benefits for all provinces be ensured; no exceptional preference to be enjoyed by that dominant province alone. The project has potential to turn the country into hub of economy but only when everything is fairly managed. Recommend

  • azmat
    Jan 17, 2016 - 2:45PM

    All the “FACT” he has mentioned can be argued against but where did he get these from is the question. Who has secretly told them that this number of economic zones will be built in a particular province when there is no such document. This is how transparently the govt is and this is how its dealing with arguably the most important project in Pakistan’s history.Even AHsan Iqbal conceded the fact that no decision has been made yet on the economic zones and other details as they will be all at the discretion of the private sector investors. And even if economic zones are built, if the infrastructure, technology, communications, energy facilities do not match it, who would come to invest the zone. Its an eye washRecommend

  • KK Kool
    Jan 17, 2016 - 3:04PM

    Dr. Mehboob (Ex Pakistan ambassador to China) while delivering a lecture to officers of one of the arms of Armed Forces has lately acknowledged that Civil bureaucracy does not have capacity to manage CPEC. His entire lecture was based on could have and would have. He did not give any credible statistical figures. In a way he invited armed forces officers to intervene and take over the management of CPEC. What a shameful lecture it was. I am sure media get a video of his lecture. Recommend

  • Junaid
    Jan 17, 2016 - 3:25PM

    How dod you substantiate the “P” in CPEC as “Punjab” and not Pakistan? Any proof of your assertion?Recommend

  • Naeem
    Jan 17, 2016 - 3:47PM

    What are your credentials? What have you done for Pakistan. Please do not make CPEC another Kalabagh dam. Just let the Chinese and Our Govt do the project. Please choose another topic, which wil be helpful for Pakistan and your children also.Recommend

  • salma
    Jan 17, 2016 - 4:15PM

    How will it reduce endemic poverty ec growth doesn’t always do that – there is no plan to do that thinking it is just gonna happen os quite naive so please let us not misguide people. Recommend

  • Not Punjabi
    Jan 17, 2016 - 4:23PM

    1- CPEC should be more transparent so that political parties stop complaining.
    2- Salute to minister Ahsan Iqbal’s patience while communicating with the provinces for their grievances.Recommend

  • M A Hameed
    Jan 17, 2016 - 8:19PM

    An accurate map would have been far more eloquent than the entire article.Recommend

    Jan 17, 2016 - 8:33PM

    Can Gwadar port become Dubai or Singapore? Not in my life time……..Dubai is based on Governance and common sense leadership………Pakistan’s elite does not have common sense and that is why they cannot give governance…….The Shaikh in Dubai does not blocks roads when he commutes in Dubai……Can you imagine Nawaz and his ministers doing that? The police in Dubai does not harass people for bribes? What to speak of Punjab Police or Karachi Police?…….May Allah guide us all.Recommend

    Jan 17, 2016 - 8:38PM

    @Junaid: Evrything about CPEC is cooked by the two Sharif’s brother and both are from Lahore without any involvement of KPK, Baluchistan Sindh and even Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Lack of transparency is the hallmark of Sharif brothers…….Recommend

  • Amanullah Khan
    Jan 17, 2016 - 8:42PM

    The Federal Government so far has been most unfair with the people of GB or Gilchistan. I appreciate the political maturity of the leadership of K PK and Baluchistan. On the issue of their rights the opposition and treasury benches got together and united under one banner and got their due share in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) from the Federal Government. Mr. Ihsan Iqbal was compelled to say the truth and open at l
    east in the case of SEZs. But we the people of Gilchistan are kept in the dark because there is nothing for us in the Project. We are the most sufferers and least cared by the Government. People of Gilchistan have no place in the list of projects in the CPEC. We are born to be exploited by the big ones. Even we can not cry. If we do so we are blamed to be enemies of the country. Recommend

  • Aftab
    Jan 17, 2016 - 10:10PM

    As a nation we should diffuse all the hurdles in this project way. Nice effort by the author. I do not like who often describe us as punjabi, pathan, balochi..We are all Pakistani…those who make such divisions are old folks and have no idea of such thing like progress. If better opportunities in Pak, i’ll feel more happy and honor to work there, instead of having humilating life abroad. Those who are nurturing controverseries, they should grow up to know what is the benefit of all they doing to them and to the nation. Recommend

  • habib ullah
    Jan 17, 2016 - 11:26PM

    well, this how we cant be one nation, because everytime there is something good going to happen for the country we live in( i won’t name it,as it might also be an issue for somebody) we start to jump over to indiviualism,whats in my benefit rather than being under one umbrella and think for the whole thats what our religion teaches us if u r religious. If we are not ready now to accept whats best for our homeland than thousands of CPECs won’t change our lives and future of our kids.
    Goodeffort by my quadian collegue(the author) hats off to you.Recommend

  • ali
    Jan 18, 2016 - 1:38AM

    he is one of those uneducated people who want to stay in dark and are aftraid of light and blames others for that.Recommend

  • syed & syed
    Jan 18, 2016 - 2:51AM

    The author of this article appears to be spokesman of the PMLN. Mr Ahsan Iqbal , PM and others are parroting about the CPEC that project will make Pakistan a tiger. Already Pakistan is run by Lion.From the news channels we came to know that in the agreement signed between two countries there was no mention of western route.. On the other hand this Lion and cubs are roaring and making the entire project a fuss. Be Brave and give route map to media so that every Pakistani know what is the game changer. Nawaz government is making roads which suites Punjab. Perhaps Punjab Government backed by Punjabi PM and more then 50% establishment fears that (GOD Forbids) in case of disintegration Punjab be economically should remain in forefront. Again it is demand of all Pakistanis to see the road maps and agreement . Mr Ahsan Iqbal to note . Recommend

  • cautious
    Jan 18, 2016 - 3:13AM

    CPEC maybe 5 times the amt of USA aid but that’s comparing apples and oranges. USA aid was a gift that you didn’t have to repay – China is a loan which apparently requires you to hire Chinese contractors under no-bid arrangements.
    Comparing Gwadar to Carthage, Thebes, Troy, Samarkand, Angkor Wat is ridiculous. Gwadar is just a deep water port and the only thing distinguishing it from other deep water ports is the apparent lack of commercial viability. Pakistan has no domestic need for another deep water port and the only substantive item that China imports from the ME is oil but CPEC doesn’t include an oil pipeline so that ain’t going to happen with or without Gwadar.Recommend

  • curious2
    Jan 18, 2016 - 6:19AM

    First time I will ever heard/read someone comparing Gwadar with Carthage, Thebes, Troy, Samarkand, Angkor Wat, Dubai, Singapore, Tehran, Beijing, or Washington. It’s hard to take anything this author says seriously after reading that nonsense. Recommend

  • Qasim
    Jan 18, 2016 - 9:56AM

    I am afraid that this project will similar faith like kala bagh dam. If this happens then we have no one to blame but ourselves for being silently watching all this rubbish. I can only pray that all base less differences will removed and we will CPEC project to flourish.Recommend

  • M A Hameed
    Jan 18, 2016 - 10:13AM

    The article is a very sophisticated attempt to cover up the sabotage that the AMericans are causing. Having failed to prevent development of Gwadar, the US is now trying to confuse and then sabotage CPEC. The attempt is, however, doomed to fail. Recommend

  • Superman
    Jan 18, 2016 - 4:16PM


    How dod you substantiate the “P” in
    CPEC as “Punjab” and not Pakistan? Any
    proof of your assertion?

    Ever heard the word ‘sarcasm’? Recommend

  • Superman
    Jan 18, 2016 - 4:18PM

    Your personal attack on me proves who’s uneducated and who lives in sheer darkness. Recommend

  • Junaid
    Jan 18, 2016 - 4:40PM

    Come out of “sarcasm” my friend. Lets talk on merit of things rather than opposing just for the sake of it. Recommend

  • Junaid
    Jan 18, 2016 - 4:42PM

    In that case the argument should be lack of transparency and not “Punjab” corridor.
    Most of the criticism is nothing more than political point scoring. Recommend

  • syed & syed
    Jan 19, 2016 - 2:14AM

    @Junaid:Nothing to do with politics and point scoring. If the PM & Ahsan Iqbal are faithful to the project give the maps and drawings to Media which will publish in detail and the controversy will be overRecommend

  • zohaib
    Jan 22, 2016 - 1:21AM

    Cpec or no cpec! I have been concentrating on the content of your discussion guys. And all I see is “jazbaat”! Which is the main issue of us Pakistani people that includes me in it as well that we don’t stand as “one ” in times like these.Recommend

    Feb 9, 2016 - 11:56AM

    CPEC is great project for both the nations and specially for Pakistan. We should not make it controversial. All issues pertaining to the project be solved through negotiation. Recommend

  • Feb 10, 2016 - 8:17PM

    zakir educator.me from gilgit there is a brief information about cpec in tribune. today the foreign scretry of Pakistan in his meeting with huriat leaders in held Kashmir that gilgit baltistan is a part o Jammu Kashmir .in the light of foreign scretry statement there are three parties in cpec. how Pakistan makes it possible to built cpep from gilgit baltistan. we shall decide about our future.experts now better that education ratio in gilgit baltistan is better then punjab. the giltians will decide how Pakistan builds from their soil.Recommend

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