Pakistan and China are close to signing a pact on the ‘long-term plan’ for the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
This was disclosed by the Political and Press Counselor at the Chinese Embassy Jian Han at a roundtable conference on the ‘One Belt One Road (OBOR) and CPEC from the prism of China-Pakistan Bilateral Relations’ organised by Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) in Islamabad on Monday.
“CPEC Long Term Plan (LTP) would be finalised this year. This would set the focus for CPEC construction in future,” Han said.
With the pact setting future direction for the multi-billion-dollar project, the two governments could consider signing it on the sidelines of ‘Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation’.
China is hosting the summit later this month from May 14-15 in Beijing. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to lead a Pakistani delegation at the forum. During the visit, Nawaz is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 13.
Han said that CPEC had entered the fast-track implementation stage with 2017 and 2018 considered to be key for the comprehensive implementation of programmes listed as Early Harvest Projects.
The Chinese official believed that CPEC would add ‘vitality and dynamism’ to Pakistan’s economic development in addition to improving Pakistan’s economic outlook.
Confirming the pact, CPEC’s Project Director Hassan Daud Butt said Islamabad had already shared a draft of the plan with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for approval ahead of its probable “signing during the Belt and Road Summit”.
Sharing an overview of LTP, Butt said the plan would serve as a blueprint for further progress in CPEC. Moreover, he said that it would also provide cooperation in agriculture, tourism, and people-to-people interaction and development of ‘nodal cities’.
Butt further hinted that additional agreements related to the Gwadar Airport and the East-Bay Expressway – which would link Gwadar Port with the national highway – may be signed during the upcoming summit.
“We are expecting good news from the summit with regards to Gwadar Airport and East-Bay Expressway,” the CPEC official said.
He added that ground was set for CPEC to enter the industrialisation phase with connectivity and Early Harvest Projects scheduled to be completed next year.
“We are expecting that by 2018, about 7,000 MW of energy would be added to the national grid and linkages of eastern and western routes would be completed,” he said.
This, he opined, would enable the work on the development of nine industrial zones – to be set up under CPEC across the country – to begin.
Former defence secretary Lt Gen (retired) Khalid Naeem Lodhi called for developing additional linkages with Pakistan’s neighbours in the region such as Iran and Afghanistan. He added that CPEC also offers an opportunity for normalising relations with India.
He proposed that India should be allowed to access Afghanistan through the Wagah border, though only on the condition that it agrees to make progress on the Kashmir dispute and give relief to Kashmiris step-by-step.
Lt Gen Lodhi further suggested creating a “powerful and competent coordination body” for overseeing the project and underscored the need for protecting Pakistan’s interests in the project while keeping it safe from external threats.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2017.