Dr Muhammad Khan
Reviewing the progress on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be the major agenda during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing later this month. Second Phase of the CPEC has already started and the project is being viewed in both countries as the most significant for their economies and asa strategic communication. As prioritized by the Government of Pakistan, the major focus during the second phase of this mega project will be on areas like; agriculture, education and various other sectors. Besides, Pakistan desire participation of other countries to become part of the CPEC; “CPEC is not only one of the foremost priorities of the government but that he also wants other countries to join the project so that a new chapter of growth and prosperity is ushered in the region.” Participation of other counties in the CPEC is a positive thinking, since it will enhance the stakes of regional countries in the project, by reducing the rivalries.
Through a major development, the first phase of CPEC has completed major communication networks and some power projects, as foundation of the project. The second phase will mostly consist of the projects which will be mutually beneficial for both countries with the major involvement of the people of Pakistan, since the corridor runs through 3000 km mostly on Pakistani soil. The areas like; ‘agriculture, education, health and water’ have been prioritized by the Government. Bulk of Pakistani economy is based on agriculture, therefore, a major development and innovation is needed in this sector. The communication networking through CPEC will enable the government and private sectors to promote quality education in the areas which could not be concentrated in the past. Health and clean drinking water facilities are very important areas which can be focused for the populace living along the CPEC.
Ever since the start of the CPEC project, the major lacking on the part of Pakistan has been the availability of skilled manpower for their participation in all projects of this gigantic plan. In the absence of Pakistani skilled manpower, China filled the gap. This aspect invited critic from the people of Pakistan, who wanted Pakistani participation in various projects of the CPEC all along the corridor with major job opportunities as perceived at the planning stage. In this regard, Pakistan Government has been found wanting to train its human resource for the job specific skills well in time, since it took some time in conceiving, planning and starting the project. This aspect was constantly ignored by Government and the planners of the project and now it will be challenging to incorporate the people after they are skilled and trained enough to become its part at a belated stage. Moreover, Chinese seem comfortable working with their own people, including the labourer class. Though the Government has identified this lacking, yet it will take time to train and incorporate the skilled manpower in the project in a near future.
As clear from some of the Government statements, the primary focus of Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s second visit to Beijing will be on CPEC. It is the right time that; Prime Minister brings clarity with respect to some of the misperceptions about the prospective beneficiary of the project. Although over 80% route of the corridor passes through Pakistani geopolitics, yet there have been doubts about the real beneficiary of the project at the subsequent stages of the CPEC. The people of Pakistan and even the academic circle are still not clear as to how CPEC will be a game changer for the state and the people of Pakistan. This question arises especially in the wake of sinking Pakistani economy where GDP ratio has reduced to a record low. The Asian Development Bank has estimated 3.9% GDP for the year 2019 which will further reduced to 3.6% in 2020. IMF and World Bank have given even a bleak picture of Pakistani economy in next five years.
This is upsetting for the masses that a record price hike has been noticed in last eight months with the unprecedented devaluation of Pakistani currency where the Rupee has hit 144 against 1USD. With this state of affairs, Pakistani economy has weakened rather strengthening after completion of First Phase of CPEC. In 2015, at the start of CPEC, it was estimated that, Pakistani economy will take steady and firm start in 2016 from 4.5% to reach at 8.5% in 2028, upon completion of CPEC. From the available statistics, no positive indicators have been observed in last few years. This is either because of bad economic management by Pakistani Ministry of Finance and Planning or else, something really wrong with the agreements; Pakistan has signed with China on CPEC.
It is the most apt opportunity that, such grey areas to be identified and addressed before Imran Khan embark on his tour to Beijing. In this regard, a thorough homework is needed by all those involve in financial management of CPEC in Pakistan. The November 2018 visit of Prime Minister, Imran Khan was found wanting, owing to lack of prior homework at Islamabad, though some grey areas was identified by Financial Advisor. Later, there came no clarity from Islamabad, though Chinese Embassy was found damage controlling. The long-term national interests of Pakistan must be kept in mind by the inexperienced, though well-educated ministers of PTI government. Imran Khan and his government must realise that economy is the focus of future warfare.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and International Relations at International Islamic University, Islamabad.
Dr Muhammad Khan