Appraising the CPEC

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Lt.Gen ® Raza Muhammad Khan

 ACCORDING to official Chinese documents, the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI aims to promote the connectivity of the Eurasian and African continents for sustainable development and financial cooperation. The BRI is worth over a trillion dollars, comprises more than 80 percent of the global growth in the 21st century and includes 68 countries, but is open to all others that want to benefit from it.  As the CPEC is located at the hub of the BRI and is a pivotal component of its execution, Pakistan is clearly poised to transform its own socio-economic future besides altering the destiny of the peoples of three continents, for good.  Yet, there are skeptics in Pakistan, who are advocating a reappraisal of the $ 62 billion CPEC. The perceptions of some, about the matter have been manipulated by false chronicles, while others may not have objectively analyzed the issue.

The efficacy of CPEC can be fairly gauged with answers to the following seven questions:  One; do we have alternative choices, similar to CPEC, to accrue comparable politico-economic benefits? At the moment, it can be easily said that there are none that can even remotely match the CPEC. Two; Will the CPEC benefit mainly China or Pakistan?  While it may be premature to answer this question, the CPEC will definitely benefit the two countries and probably the entire region. Pakistan shall get 16000 megawatts of energy, a nationwide infrastructure modernization, approximately 700,000 jobs and a 2.5 percentage points increase to its GDP, after decades of economic indolence. Three; are the agreements rigidly binding or can they be modified to suit the needs of the two countries? China has agreed to accommodate our genuine needs and compulsions, despite repeated distractions, caused by squabbling among the provinces for their share of the pie, sometimes in disregard of the broader objectives of the Corridor. Four; will Pakistan be able to sustain the burden of additional borrowings and repay the Chinese loans?

The Chinese authorities have committed to provide concessional financing for many of the CPEC projects, at only 1 or 2 percent interest on loans for tenure of up to 25 years.  Though the loans obtained for investment by the Chinese enterprises in the CPEC may not directly or profoundly impact us, however, it is good to  know that  the  5 percent or below rate of interest to be paid to the Chinese Banks by  them,  is quite reasonable. Compare this, with the many, sometimes cruel conditionalities and the much higher interest rates of the IMF loans to Pakistan in the past many years.  Five; does our infrastructure need urgent upgradation and our energy production requires substantial enhancement? Yes indeed.  In fact, that is what everyone knows and that is what   each new government promises to fix. Six; is the CPEC supported by India and by our other nemesis?

As the answer to this query is an unequivocal no, we may be justified to use a bit of reverse logic and assert that the CPEC must be good for us. Seven; are the projects rightly prioritized and are they transparent? Since the opposition parties remained part of most of the joint planning processes and many briefings on the matter in the past, it can be assumed that they had approved the major projects worth $ 30 billion, which have been energized so far, with a ratio of 75 percent investment in the energy and 25 percent in infrastructure sectors.  Modifications in the priorities and financing of some schemes, wherever feasible, even at this stage may be possible; however, Pakistan has to be cognizant of the Chinese views and the overall BRI goals as well.

This brief appraisal should remove most doubts that may be lurking in the minds of some people about the CPEC. They must now disregard the frequent disinformation campaigns about the CPEC and realize that Indian support for rebels, terrorists and dissidents in Pakistan is part of their hybrid war, which is directly aimed at sabotaging the CPEC. These provocations, threaten the vital economic interests of not only China and Pakistan but all the 68 countries which are part of the BRI. This is an infringement of the UN charter and a matter of grave concern for the region and the world.  Thus, it would be sensible to collectively raise these concerns, at the UN General Assembly.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan has officially made its support to the CPEC, conditional to the grant of land transit rights to India for that country via Pakistan. But as India is the biggest opponent of the CPEC, any    plans that are dependent for access to Central Asia, via Afghanistan should be scrapped. Concomitantly, the “Quadrilateral Agreement on Traffic in Transit” (QATT) which was signed in 2004 by China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to facilitate direct transit trade among them, must be revived, to enable Russia and others to join the CPEC. 

While the federation has raised special security forces for the protection of the CPEC, the provinces must also devise plans to secure the projects located therein. The cost of the CPEC security must be built in the cost of all projects and it should be equally shared by China and Pakistan. An elaborate Pak-China CPEC intelligence organization, satellite monitoring and enhanced maritime collaboration, must be an integral part of the security mechanism. The SCO and BRICS forums must also be used to minimize the threats to the BRI. As SAARC has been stymied by India, Pakistan needs to use the OIC platform to urge the Muslim countries to benefit from it. Finally, as the BRI has been written into China’s Constitution, Pakistan must also provide constitutional protection to the CPEC. The Eurasian people would surely be grateful one day, to the Pakistani people, for their resilience and determination to make the CPEC a success. They also need to partner with Pakistan to shelter it from the many foreign agents of chaos.

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