The military establishment has sought a formal role in the administration and execution of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to accelerate work on $46 billion projects – a proposal which the federal government is reluctant to accept.
The army has shared with the federal government proposal of setting up a CPEC Authority, sources told The Express Tribune. The authority is proposed to be headed by a chairman, who is to be assisted by director generals, responsible for execution of the CPEC projects.
They said the move is aimed at getting a formal role in the execution of all the projects, which will be financed under the $46 billion package, offered by China. The CPEC is a network of roads and rail links which will link western China to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan’s Gwadar port. However, independent analysts see it as a move to venture into an area, which is predominantly under the civilian control. Currently, the security of the CPEC is already with the army and it has raised a strong force of about 15,000 personnel to protect the Chinese investment and its citizens.
After doing spadework, which continued for about one and a half year, Pakistan and China signed agreements for implementation of the $46 billion projects in April last year. However, progress on the projects has remained slow.
The minister for planning, development and reform, Ahsan Iqbal, confirmed to The Express Tribune that he received an informal proposal to set up the CPEC Authority about six months back.
Iqbal, however, said he did not find the proposal feasible. In his views, the authority would add another layer of bureaucracy, which would slow down the pace of work instead of accelerating it. “Setting up an authority will mean involving three-dozen more people in decision-making process,” Iqbal said.
Currently, various ministries are responsible for implementation of the CPEC projects and the Planning Ministry coordinates with all of them. He said the CPEC Authority could undermine the role of Central Development Working Party (CDWP) and Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) –the federal bodies responsible for approval of development schemes.
The sources said there was also a proposal for making the CPEC a part of the National Action Plan, the country’s counter terror policy adopted in the wake of the December 2014 brutal attack on a school in Peshawar. This proposal was also not accepted at the highest level of the civilian setup.
Currently, the pace of work on the CPEC projects is slow but Iqbal said it was because of China. “Pakistan has done its part of work and is waiting for approvals from the Chinese side,” he added.
For example, the contractor could not be moved on Gwadar Eastbay Expressway project at the agreed dates due to change of executing agency by Chinese authorities. Similarly, the work on Multan-Sukkur motorway and Thakhot-Havelian road projects was also delayed.
“The Chinese expect that both civilian and military sides match their pace of work for quick implementation but probably the civilian government is short on expectations”, said the Centre for Research and Security Studies’ Executive Director Imtiaz Gul
He said if there was a military desire for having a formal role in the CPEC execution, it might well be motivated by Chinese desire for quick implementation. Reportedly, over a dozen projects in infrastructure, energy, water supply and health sectors are facing significant delays.
Early this week, army chief General Raheel Sharif said for sustainability of the CPEC, transparency and good management were extremely important. He was speaking at a seminar on the CPEC held in Gwadar, Balochistan. The army chief also said socio-economic justice resulting from the balanced development would increase people’s stakes in national unity and cohesion. The planning minister said there was full transparency in the CPEC deals. He said the $34 billion energy projects were largely in the private sector and the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) was determining tariffs through open hearings.
“The contracts of infrastructure projects are being awarded to one of the three companies nominated by China,” he said. “Political stability and social solidarity is a must to keep the momentum of economic growth and all institutions must remain aliened.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2016.