CPEC: Beyond conspiracy theories | By Professor Dr Muhammad Khan


CPEC: Beyond conspiracy theories

THE idea for the development of Gwadar Deep Sea Port remained under debate and discussion for decades before it was formally launched in 2002.

While the developmental work was going on for the completion of Gwadar Port, many ideas were offered from various stakeholders about the connectivity issues of the port with the rest of the country and other states.

In the first half of the 21st century, there was a dominant proposal for the construction of a trade and energy corridor between Pakistan and China which will be linked with Arabian Sea through Gwadar port.

Nevertheless, despite completion of the first phase of the Gwadar Port, there remained ambiguity at Islamabad and Beijing as to what should be the next step which will connect the port with the rest of Pakistani landmass and China.

The debate finally gave way to initiate the gigantic project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

CPEC was chosen as the flagship project of Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There were many reservations and misgivings about the completion of the CPEC right from its beginning.

Among many others security was the chief concern, since Pakistan was combating the menace of terrorism and militancy at the time of conception of the idea of CPEC.

This primary issue was immediately resolved once the Pakistan Army took over the responsibility of security of the CPEC by raising two security divisions.

With this guaranteed security arrangement there has been no mishap from the security point of view all along the CPEC.

Recently, there have been many rumours that under pressure or otherwise, Pakistan has slowed-down progress on the CPEC.

This is also factually incorrect, since developmental work on CPEC is going on as before.

In order to dispel all the misperceptions and stories, the Chairman of CPEC Authority, General Asim Saleem Bajwa has categorically stated, “No power on earth could sabotage the CPEC as it is the country’s national project.”

In the first phase of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the major focus remained on the development of projects related to energy and communication infrastructure (road network).

Indeed, energy is the most needed component for the development of all other projects of CPEC and the road network is essential for the passage of all stuff needed for the initiation, development and completion of a comprehensive corridor.

As an estimate, 88% work on the first phase of CPEC hydropower projects has been completed.

As explained by Chairman CPEC Authority a few days ago; the CPEC has substantially improved the road connectivity between China and Pakistan, dismissing all confusions.

About the two major alignments of CPEC, the Chairman said that; along the Eastern Route (alignment) of CPEC, the last section Sukkur-Hyderabad has already been launched, leaving no left-over road project.

It is being completed under public-private partnership, reducing the financial burden on the Government.

The next focus of the road network is on Western Route (alignment). As per Chairman, Islamabad-Dera Ismail Khan (DI Khan) Motorway is in the completion phase and DI Khan to Zhob motorway project has also been approved by China.

Along the Western Route, “ground work on road from Zhob to Quetta had also been started whereas Quetta to Khuzdar, Khuzdar to Awaran and Hoshab, and Khuzdar-Basima roads were also under construction and all of them would be connected with different areas of Balochistan and Sindh with Gwadar.”

The timeline for the completion and connection with Gwadar Port of these roads is a maximum of three years.

The salient feature of the Western alignment is that it passes through poverty-ridden remote areas, promising to provide job opportunities for the poor masses and economic prosperity for the entire region.

While the essential aspects of the road infrastructure and energy projects are well on their way to completion, the second phase of the CPEC is all about the establishment and development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), science and technology and related aspects of economic development all along the corridor.

As stated by Chairman CPEC Authority, “We are now moving beyond energy and road infrastructure to agriculture, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), tourism, science technology and information technology”.

These are the major projects of the CPEC which would boost the national economy of Pakistan, enable local masses to develop their own business, agriculture and job markets.

In a way, Phase-II of the CPEC is all aimed at reducing the poverty and economic prosperity of the masses at regional level.

With the introduction of modern agriculture technology, the trends of corporate farming and community farming will take route in various parts of Pakistan which will substantially boost the agricultural sector of Pakistan.

As part of SEZs, the industrial sector is boosted with work on Rashakai and Faisalabad industrial zones are in full swing. In Rashakai SEZ, more land is being procured for the expansion of this industrial zone, covering an area of 3,600 acres.

Similarly, for the development of Allama Iqbal SEZ Faisalabad, German and Canadian firms have applied for a joint venture.

Besides, SEZs of Dhabeji is considered for the development on priority since it has close proximity with Karachi port.

A team of Pakistani-American doctors is interested for the manufacturing of electro medical equipment.

The Gwadar Free Zone is being expanded in the second phase to an area of 2,200 acres. In the first phase it was expanded to 60 acres of land only which is mostly populated and developed now. There are growing interests of foreign investors for their investments in various sectors.

Pakistan and China are working on a bilateral framework agreement on industrial cooperation which will be signed as part of CPEC.

It will be a government-to-government (G2G) deal, earlier launched in 2015 but shut down to be restarted later.

In summary, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is moving ahead as per the laid-down master plan.

Owing to its significance, neither Beijing nor Islamabad can afford to relegate or abandon it all together.

Rather, CPEC has now moved to its second phase which is more crucial, challenging, conclusive and rewarding.

After major achievements of the first phase, the second phase would be mutually rewarding and beneficial for the masses as well as towards national economic uplift.

For an optimistic move forward on the project, let’s not politicize CPEC through various conspiracy theories and pessimistic narratives. Rather, follow the quote; ‘Work More and Talk Less’.