In an ominous warning, the opposition lawmakers from smaller provinces warned the government on Tuesday that any change in the proposed route of the multibillion-dollar Pakistan-China Economic Corridor would jeopardise the country’s territorial integrity.
“The initial route [of the economic corridor] was proposed by China. If it is changed, the country will not remain united,” warned Senator Ilyas Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP) while expressing concerns over the possible move on behalf of the opposition senators from Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
According to them, the original route of the economic corridor passes through Dera Ismail Khan, Zhob and Quetta before reaching the Gwadar deep seaport. However, Baloch and Pakhtun populated areas along the route have been excluded from the modified route which passes through Hasanabdal, Lahore, Multan, Sukkur, Hyderabad and Rattu Dero.
The opposition had already staged a brief walkout from the Senate session in protest at the proposed change but when Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said the new route was for an ‘interim period’, the opposition senators again walked out of the session, forcing the chair to adjourn the proceedings due to lack of quorum.
The minister said some forces were conspiring against the historic project. He was referring to the dharna of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf on the Constitution Avenue which had resulted in the postponement of the Chinese president’s visit in September, last year.
“President Xi Jinping is likely to visit Islamabad again and some forces have started fuelling controversies. We have to behave responsibly as such things might jeopardise the project,” he added. The Chinese side has proposed linking the existing motorways for an interim period to connect south and north, he said. “Gwadar will become the gateway for the country’s success.”
ANP Senator Haji Adeel said the government was changing the original route of the economic corridor citing security reasons. “Which part of the country does not have security issues?”
He recalled that his party had spearheaded movements against One-Unit and Kalabagh dam in the past and “now a new issue is being created for us.” He went on to warn the government that they would resist the project if changes were made in the original plan of the trade corridor.
Senator Abdul Rauf of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party said the route was being diverted to Punjab. Before winding up his speech, he urged fellow senators from other opposition to stage a walkout from the house.
Senator Saeed Ghani of the Pakistan Peoples Party demanded the government immediately remove the caretaker government from Gilgit-Baltistan and install an impartial interim setup for ensuring a free and fair election. “The government has accommodated its people in the caretaker setup who are helping their relatives in contesting the upcoming elections,” he alleged.
PM’s foreign visits
During the Q&A session, the house was informed that Rs298.9 million was spent on 16 foreign trips of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In a written reply to a question raised by Senator Nawabzada Saifullah Magsi, the foreign ministry informed the house that expenditure statements of the prime minister’s last four visits to China, Germany, Nepal and the UK were awaited.
The premier has made his first visit in July 2013 to China with a 38-member entourage. His visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session in September 2013 was the costliest foreign tour which cost the national exchequer Rs91.6 million.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2015.