The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a project on an epic scale and is going to impact across sub-Saharan Africa, into the subcontinent and then into Central Asia. Along the way it passes through Pakistan and as the Chinese are finding China and Pakistan have different ways of working and they are not necessarily complementary. Such a vast project was never going to proceed at a uniform speed across all its diverse elements and it has not, and it has also run up against the local inability to resolve long-standing problems and a tendency to prevarication and procrastination that act as a drag anchor. There are multiple delays and failures-to-thrive across the entire spectrum, with some of the affected projects being core to the entire enterprise.
Funding has been an issue from the outset. China is not making a gift of CPEC, it is a commercial enterprise and funding has been front-loaded by China in order to jump-start major works, not always with success. A further complication relates to the way China manages funding for the project internally, and the transfer to a new government agency called China-aid. Things have not gone smoothly and the Chinese ambassador has now reassured the government that his government will continue the concessional financing for some of the laggardly elements — the Mainline-1 railway from Gwadar to Kashgar, the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) and various subsidiary projects associated with Gwadar port itself.
Whatever may be the financial issues all of the above have purely local problems associated with them. The KCR has never resolved the encroachment problem for instance and there are still uncertainties regarding security on the Mainline-1 railway. The 54th CPEC review meeting has put a gloss on progress so far but realities cannot be denied. Whether Pakistan is in a position to up its game to reap the greatest benefit from this its greatest opportunity in decades remains an open question, not least whether there is a Pakistani workforce that can deliver infrastructure on time and within budget and has the right skills for the jobs-mix. Try harder.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2018.
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