Regional connectivity and development of the required infrastructure through cooperative efforts of the participating countries for shared economic prosperity is a visionary concept and recipe for addressing issues related to poverty alleviation and development, as well as ensuring peace through economic interdependence. The leadership of new China deserves credit for pioneering this movement through its ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, which is likely to benefit 26 countries. The CPEC being the pivot of the initiative has generated a lot of interest and acceptability among the countries of South Asia and Central Asia, and even some of the European countries have shown their willingness to join it. Pakistan due to its geo-strategic location is a key participant in making the venture successful. Pakistan surely will also be its greatest beneficiary by becoming a hub of economic activity for both regions. CPEC, therefore, is a harbinger of regional connectivity.
Iran and Turkey are also willing aspirants to join this mega-economic bonanza. Gwadar port will be the centrepiece of CPEC, through which countries of both regions will be importing and exporting their goods, including China and Russia. The Russian government had made a formal request to Pakistan for allowing her to use Gwadar for its exports, which reportedly Pakistan government has consented to. Even Iran, which has developed Chahbahar port, has expressed its desire to use Gwadar port for its trade. The facts conveniently establish CPEC as being beyond reproach and rightly perceived by most of the world as a game changer.
The PML-N government, by deciding to be part of the Chinese vision of regional connectivity and development, has undoubtedly shown a high degree of pragmatism and foresight given the permeating economic situation in the country, stemming from resource constraint and the fast changing geo-political realities. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was right on the money when addressing the two-day conference on Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Turkmenistan. He said that regional connectivity and economic integration were fundamental pillars of Pakistan’s policy, and also announced joining Ashgabat Agreement and Lapiz Lazuli Corridor. He also rightly observed that a peaceful neighbourhood had remained the norm of Pakistan’s foreign policy and no development policies could yield fruit without peace and security; an apparent reference to efforts by Pakistan to improve relations with India, and the need for peace and security as a fundamental requirement for any fruitful development effort.
Ashgabat Agreement envisages international transport and transit corridor among Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. The Lapis Lazuli Corridor seeks to foster trade cooperation among Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, by reducing barriers facing transit trade. It intends to develop customs integration procedure in the region.
Unfortunately, some external powers including India are trying to sabotage CPEC through overt and covert operations instead of becoming a part of it and contributing to the regional potential for shared economic development and prosperity. As far as efforts by external forces to sabotage CPEC are concerned, both China and Pakistan are capable of thwarting those efforts and have vowed to implement CPEC as envisaged.
Even more regrettable is the fact that some political elements and vested interests within the country are also trying to create misgivings about CPEC to achieve their political motives. Some political parties first triggered the route change controversy with regard to the western route, refuting the notion that CPEC would benefit all four provinces and also pressed for an equal share in CPEC. They have even gone the High Court in this regard, notwithstanding the fact that the government, since the signing of the CPEC agreement and subsequently ensuring national ownership by taking the political leadership into confidence, has repeatedly been trying to remove these misgivings. But there seems to be no let up in the campaign against CPEC. The government has throughout maintained that there has been no change in the western route and that the CPEC projects are spread across the four provinces. CPEC is a mix of network of roads, rail, optic fibre and energy projects. The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad has compiled a book containing write-ups and research articles on CPEC which also includes maps in regards to the route of these networks and the location of energy producing units, which corroborate the government stance on the issue, adequately dispelling impressions to the contrary.
Another notion promoted by the detractors of CPEC is that the money being spent on CPEC projects was a loan from the Chinese government, which would add to the debt burden of the country. That probably is the most blatant falsehood. Out of the total cost of CPEC projects, which now has gone up to $51 billion after announcement by China to provide $ 5 billion for up gradation of railway line from Peshawar to Karachi, only $11 billion to be spent on infrastructure development is a loan component with 1.6 percent interest, which is the lowest considering the interest rate of 5-8.5 percent on loans advanced by the World Bank. The biggest chunk of $34 billion pertains to energy projects, which is purely a direct foreign investment.
Another anti-CPEC view around is that the projects under it have been initiated in violation of the PPRA rules, and they lack transparency. This reflects the ignorance of those who are trying to advance that view. The Chinese model of investment is on government-to-government basis, which is the safest and a reliable way of investing money in foreign lands. Such agreements are negotiated between the governments and are exempt from the local procurement rules. They do not require open bidding by prospective investors. This is an internationally accepted and practised norm. The much maligned Orange Line Project in Lahore is yet another venture funded by the Chinese government. An International Governmental Framework Agreement was signed on May 22, 2014 that stipulated that it would be entirely designed, constructed and supervised by Chinese companies. The PPRA rules also did not apply to this undertaking, being carried out through government-to-government arrangement. But unfortunately, a particular political party has been persistently trying to create doubts about the project and even hurled accusations of kickbacks against the Punjab Chief Minister.
Those elements who are seeking to undermine CPEC need to realise that by pursuing their narrow political interests at the cost of the national interests, they are also undermining relations between Pakistan and its greatest friend China, which has not only contributed to Pakistan’s economic development over the years but has also helped it in bolstering its defence capability and nuclear programme. It is a relationship beyond the realm of normal diplomatic relations, which has achieved eternity through CPEC.