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Cautions important for CPEC

Naveed Aman Khan
CONFIDENCE is the basic factor for the success of any landmark achievement. In Pakistan after the commencement of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) somehow confusion was created among different provinces and forums which will never help in the successful completion and full fledge operation of this multidimensional gigantic project. The CPEC could help revive economy of Pakistan but if it moves ahead without more thorough debate in Parliament and provinces, legislatures and consultation with locals, it will deepen friction between the Centre and provinces already neglected, widen social divides and potentially create new sources of conflict. Undoubtedly China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game changer for the ailing economy of Pakistan. But opaque plans for the corridor, the upheaval likely to affect locals along its route, and profits flowing mostly to outsiders could stir unrest. The present government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has repressed CPEC critics. Projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, mark a new era of economic ties in bilateral relationship. No doubt.

The PTI Government should encourage debate about the CPEC, consult with business leaders, civil society and locals affected, ensure landowners receive fair compensation, encourage hiring local labour and allow space for dissent. Complaints in this regard should be addressed properly without any further delay. Any hindrance and confusion will definitely cause damage to the projects underway in different parts of the country. The PTI government should mitigate these risks by being more transparent about CPEC plans, consulting all stakeholders, including smaller provinces, the business community, civil society and addressing concerns that the corridor subordinates Pakistan’s interests to those of China. More so is the matter of confidence between Pakistan and China. It is observed seriously that confidence level between Pakistan and China has gone below its ever ascending level. China- Pakistan Economic Corridor has become second jugular vein of Pakistan after Kashmir. Pakistan needs to honourably maintain relationship with China by all means. Chinese investments in Pakistan are not less than a blessing as it has invested projects worth billions of dollars in Pakistan. Within China there is no confusion among the central government and the provinces or masses and the governing authorities. The reason is high level of confidence of masses in the institutions and the government because government of China has always taken care of its great nation but here in Pakistan different governments have shaken the confidence of the nation. This confidence will have to be restored. The sooner the better.

Economy of Pakistan clearly needs reform to better serve its people, and it is believed that CPEC will help in this regard. But as currently rolled out, the corridor risks aggravating political tension and instability, widening social divides and creating new conflicts in Pakistan. For its part, China has consulted with different stakeholders in regions that will host CPEC projects it agreed upon with Pakistan. It should encourage Chinese companies to display sensitivity to residents of those areas, including by hiring local labour. CPEC, which comprises loans, investments and grants that could grow to around $60 billion, covers all the way 2,700 km long route. It starts on the Pakistani Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, in Balochistan province, climbs along the Karakoram Highway through the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan before crossing into the Kashgar prefecture in Xinjiang region of China. Within Pakistan’s territory, the economic and development project prioritises transport infrastructure, industrial development, energy and Baluchistan’s strategically located Gwadar port. Agricultural modernisation and production form another critical component. While it is too early to assess if CPEC can deliver the economic gains Pakistan promises, the project risks inflaming longstanding tension between the Centre and smaller federal units and within provinces over inequitable economic development and resource distribution.

Less developed provinces of Balochistan and Sindh contend that the corridor’s route, infrastructure and industrial projects will mostly benefit Punjab, already the country’s wealthiest and politically powerful province. In Punjab, locals could forcibly resist the state’s acquisition of land for agricultural projects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In Balochistan, CPEC is exacerbating existing grievances among a population whose perception of exploitation and neglect by the Centre, together with authorities’ suppression of dissent, have long fuelled an insurgency. The province will receive no direct financial benefits from Gwadar port, a key CPEC project, which means local anger on central government is likely to intensify. Instead of developing a sleepy fishing village into a bustling commercial hub as pledged by Pakistan and China, the project is producing a heavily militarised zone, displacing locals and depriving them of economic lifelines. Many of these problems stem from opaque policy formulation, and the failure to heed regional and local concerns. CPEC’s Long-Term Plan 2017-30) was formulated by the Centre with little input from local leaders, business or civil society actors. It was not disclosed until December 2017 and then only in broad strokes after the rollout of some major elements had already begun. From the project’s entry point, Gwadar, to its exit point, in Gilgit-Baltistan, the state’s response to local dissent and alienation has been an overbearing security presence, marked by army checkpoints, intimidation and harassment of local residents and crackdowns on anti CPEC protest.