Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s struggling economy took a hit last week when none other than the province’s chief executive reportedly bowed out of a visit to China, arranged by the Chinese government to discuss investment in various sectors across all provinces.
A senior official of the CM’s Secretariat told The Express Tribune the federal government contacted Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on August 29 to get a confirmation from him regarding the visit.
The CM declined to be part of the delegation, citing a personal matter.
A few weeks ago the Chinese government had decided to invite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the CMs of K-P, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab to visit the country and discuss investment opportunities.
While the chief executives of the other provinces accepted the invitation and went on to sign various memorandums of understanding (MoU) with Chinese investors, the CM of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa stayed behind, missing out on important economic opportunities for his province.
The CM’s Secretariat official said Khattak declined the invitation not because of a personal matter but to be a part of the protest, his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has been holding in Islamabad for over two weeks now.
In the visit, Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah signed three MoU’s with Chinese transport companies. One of the memorandums was about establishing a mass transit train project in the mega city of Karachi, while two others were about transport projects in Sindh.
Moreover, an agreement was signed between Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and the Chinese government to train doctors and paramedical staff in Beijing. Under the three-year initiative, China will bear the expenses of travel, accommodation, food and other facilities availed by Pakistani medical staff being trained in China.
As the two CMs garnered praise from political parties and businessmen for the development projects, K-P CM Khattak came under criticism for letting go of the opportunity.
“The chief minister is duty-bound to protect the deteriorating financial system of the province,” said K-P Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KPCCI) President Zahidullah Shinwari.
Foreign investment in hydropower, tourism, oil and gas as well as mineral sectors can earn millions in revenue for the province, but the government’s non-serious attitude is keeping investors out, said Shinwari.
The government is busy with irrelevant priorities and has failed to attract foreign investment, he added.
Shinwari claimed PTI General Secretary Jahangir Tareen and stalwart Asad Umar intervene in provincial economic matters and advise on economic policies.
Awami National Party (ANP) parliamentary leader in the K-P Assembly Sardar Hussain Babak also criticised the PTI-led provincial government for being involved in a tussle with the central government and ignoring the province.
“For the past 10 years, K-P has been facing increasing militancy and financial problems,” said Babak. “Ignoring an opportunity to secure foreign investment is an injustice to the people who gave their mandate to the PTI.”
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F) MPA Maulana Mufti Fazal Ghafoor said because of PTI’s internal issues, the matters of the province were being ignored.
Taking a stand
“How can the CM go for [an international] visit with a government which they are agitating against?” questioned K-P Minister for Information and Higher Education Mushtaq Ghani. “I think if CM Khattak had gone to China with the federal government, it would give a bad impression as the PTI is unhappy with the Centre.”
The Centre wanted to take the K-P CM to keep him busy there but, Ghani argued, it’s not a matter of concern if the K-P government missed out on the trip.
Ghani said he did not know what the CM’s personal reason might have been but it was not in the PTI’s favour for the CM to go to China.
“We will welcome China each time and respect them and will keep relations with them but at the moment it’s an internal issue with the central government,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2014.