ISLAMABAD: The centre may be at loggerheads with the two federating provinces where the mainstream opposition parties are in power, yet this did not dissuade the chief ministers from Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to accompany the prime minister to China in a rare move that entails pragmatic dimensions instead of political compulsions.
Politically, however, knowledgeable circles closely monitoring the developments on the relevant political fronts do not pin much hopes to this move while arguing that political stakes are too high to retreat or reconcile.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached China on Friday to participate in the two-day Belt and Road Forum (BRF) being held in Beijing from May 14.
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He is accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, K-P Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is also part of the delegation.
Despite serious political divisions, the reason the chief ministers of K-P and Sindh decided to accompany the prime minister to China has much to do with the economic interests of their provinces, said a source privy to the development.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about pragmatic interests,” said the politician referring to the inclusion of the top provincial leaders from opposition parties in China’s visit.
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Every province will have to pursue its case there (in China) to gain maximum benefits from developmental plans and holding discussions on relevant issues mainly concerning CPEC, the insider said.
A well-placed source in the K-P government said the chief ministers of the four provinces would be holding discussions with Chinese authorities on two fronts i) CPEC initiatives and ii) bilateral prospects between Beijing and the respective provinces.
The source said the K-P chief minister was not ‘very fond of’ accompanying the prime minister to China initially, but he took the decision after consulting the PTI leadership “in the best interest of the province”.
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Speaking to The Express Tribune, Political Coordinator to K-P CM Zar Gul Khan said Khattak’s visit did not have political motives.
“All the confrontation with the federal government and the PML-N aside, this visit is purely about K-P: to serve the interests of the people of the province,” he said, adding: “The related differences between the centre and K-P will be pursued at the relevant forums.”
“In China, we are pursuing our case and so are others for investment, employment and infrastructure opportunities.”
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A senior federal government official said: “The visit can also be termed follow-up to a previous visit to China in December last year where the four chief ministers accompanied the prime minister at the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting in Beijing.
“The provinces’ concerns, especially those of K-P and Sindh, on ignoring the western route of CPEC, were mainly redressed by the federal government and Chinese authorities in the meeting.”
A PM House statement said: “The BRF is part of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (OBOR) initiative launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
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“The BRF is being attended by 27 other heads of state/government. The forum is aimed at promoting common development through ‘win-win cooperation’. CPEC is the flagship programme of OBOR,” the statement added.
The BRF will comprise a High-Level Dialogue and Leaders’ Roundtable. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will address both the events. A joint communiqué will be issued at the conclusion of the BRF. Sharif will be one of the three leaders to speak at the concluding session.
The prime minister will also hold bilateral meetings with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
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The official handout said a number of agreements/MoUs related to CPEC projects are also expected to be signed on the occasion.
Sharif will also hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines with several other heads of state/government attending the forum.
During his stay in China, the premier will also visit Hangzhou and Hong Kong where he will interact with business leaders and attend investment conferences.
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Meanwhile, on arrival at the Beijing International Airport, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Begum Kalsoon Nawaz Sharif were received by Li Shixiang, Vice Chairman Beijing Municipal Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and China’s ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong and senior government officials.
Pakistan's Ambassador Masood Khalid was also present on the occasion. A contingent of static guard presented salute to the prime minister as he alighted from his special aircraft.
[With additional input from APP]
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