The CPEC: a clash of interests
By: Saleem Safi
The CPEC is not ‘controversial’. Every Chinese and Pakistani citizen knows the importance of this great project. And it is obvious that only an enemy of Pakistan and China would wish to disrupt this plan. The only problem with this project is that one specific party, involved in the decision-making process, wishes to complete this project on its own terms.
For China, the only priority is to speed up the process. They do not want any delay or controversy. And this is understandable. The CPEC is one of a half a dozen such corridors for China, and if any success in this corridor becomes controversial, it would encourage others to repeat the same for other corridors. Moreover, it is a settled policy of China to keep trade and politics seperate. That is well reflected in China’s trade with India and the US.
The Pakistani military is also of the same opinion. It considers the project very important for economic and strategic reasons. The Pakistan Army is well aware that this project promises sustainable stability in Fata, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Against this backdrop, efforts by Gen Raheel Sharif and Commander Southern Command Lt-Gen Amir Riaz for the success of this project are understandable. Not only did the military extend full support to the civilian leadership for the CPEC, but as soon as the agreements were signed, the military also established a separate ‘security division’ for the safety of the route and its builders.
The Pakistan Army also wishes that the project is free of any controversy. The military would like the corridor to help fix the economic difficulties faced by our people, instead of being a cause for further divisions and mayhem. States with rival interests and agencies like RAW are against this project, something our military is cognisant of.
The people of Punjab and Sindh wish for the success of the CPEC. So do people from the Seraiki belt, but they also wish for a slice of the benefits of the project.
Neither the Balochistan government nor nationalists like Akhtar Mengal are against the CPEC or the Gwadar Port, but they demand their due share in the decision-making, as a natural right of ownership and to end any reservations in the minds of the Baloch. The same thinking can be seen in Gilgit-Baltistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, everyone – from Asfandyar Wali to Pervez Khattak – first talks about the need for speedy completion of the project and its importance for Pakistan before expressing any reservations about the project. All they demand is their share on the basis of merit.
The remaining parties to the project are the federal and Punjab governments. They too wish for the timely completion of the project. Ahsan Iqbal and Fawad Hassan Fawad are working day and night to this end. But the difference between them and the rest of the parties is of priorities and preferences. They wish that the project be completed on time, without any protest and in a manner that yields maximum benefit to the governing junta – even at the cost of scarifying the interests of other parties and regions. To achieve this objective, they are making all decisions behind closed doors – sharing nothing with any other province or political party.
Although a defamation campaign seems to have been launched against me, I too wish for this project to be completed soon. I only speak about merit and transparency in the CPEC process. I demand, as a citizen of Pakistan, that all the details of the project be shared with other political parties and stakeholders.
However, the officials involved seem to be unable to speak the truth, and to conceal one lie they have to come up with a thousand more. The ruling family has attached personal interests with this national project, and is not ready to share the fruits in any other way. They fabricated the details of the CPEC; and all benefits lead to one family and their friends. To conceal that, they first adopted the stance that the eastern route of the CPEC was preferred by China. But documents related to the negotiations and planning sessions – and I have a copy of those documents – reveal that it was the Pakistani delegates who suggested that route.
All China needs out of this project is transportation infrastructure and the Gwadar Port. But Pakistani delegates insisted and diverted more than $30 billion, from the total $46 billion to be invested by China, to power generation.
Even so, if our government proposed to invest that huge amount in hydel and thermal power generation projects, China had no objections to that (considering the fact that power generated through hydel costs one rupee per unit and the cost rises to eight rupees when generated using thermal power). Since the government was interested in a project that could produce results before the general elections of 2018, our Chinese friends were asked to invest in thermal and coal projects. The power thus produced is going to be priced very high, as agreed to with the investors. In the future, even if we produce electricity at the rate of one rupee per unit through our water resources, we are bound to purchase it at fifteen to twenty rupees per unit from these companies.
The same goes for the Orange Line project. This project had nothing to do with the CPEC, but our government diverted the CPEC’s investment to it. When the issue of the western route of the CPEC came up, it became clear that there is no such route in the project. Rather it is termed as an ‘alignment’ to be made in the future. According to KP CM Pervez Khattak, when the Chinese ambassador was asked about the western route, he confirmed that no such route exists in the plan.
Whatever the federal and Punjab governments have done so far is not for nationalistic or provincial identity. It is really just for maximum personal and family interests. But unfortunately, other provinces and nationalistic parties see it as yet another move by Punjab to negate the rights of the smaller provinces. The CPEC could spell hope for Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Instead, the way the project is being dealt with by the governing family is resulting in further obscurity.
And all this is a result of avoiding transparency. The government tries to benefit from the inefficiency of the KP government on the one hand, and tries to pressurise me on the other. The government has also, for this reason, not formed a national authority that represents all stakeholders to oversee the CPEC. This is the reason behind Ahsan Iqbal’s inability to launch a website containing all details about the CPEC; he had promised such a website in May of last year. And instead of sharing the details with parliament, only one minister and one bureaucrat share these details in increments with select journalists, in a very private fashion.
If the government made the project transparent and shared its details with parliament and stakeholders, a consensus would be reached in a matter of days. The reservations expressed by Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could easily be removed through honesty and truth.
The writer works for Geo TV.
Email: saleem.safi@janggroup. com.pk