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Concern behind China-Pakistan economic corridor

Published on 4th May, Edition 18, 2015

 

The People’s Republic of China has reaffirmed its commitment for the multi-billion dollar project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in a letter from the Chinese President to the Pakistan premier, which further reinforce the friendship between the “iron brothers”. On the other hand, Prime Minister of Pakistan ordered Cabinet minister to remove all the “irritants” as described by Minister for Planning and Development and take them into confidence, in actual these Irritants are genuine concerns showed by provisional governments and all political parties regarding corridor route.

CPEC will create a network of roads, railways and pipelines linking China’s West to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. The project is part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” plan to expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia. Along this it will give China an easier access to Middle Eastern oil via the deep-water port of Gwadar. As port lies near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman, east of the Strait of Hormuz through which much of the Middle East’s crude production passes. It would allow China to largely circumvent the threat of a blockade of Chinese energy imports from the Middle East by US and allied navies. China, the world’s biggest oil importer, import 60 percent of its oil from the Middle East and transport 80 percent of that through the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Malacca and the South and East China Seas.

For Pakistan, CPEC is a major initiative to upgrade the remote areas of deprived provinces like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). This $46 billion project will not only serve as a route for trade but will host many projects like oil and gas pipelines, fiber optic cable project, railway track for 3,000 km, free trade zone and industrial zone as well, providing job opportunities to many. More importantly CPEC project will not only join the KPK and Balochistan directly through rail link, which is now connected through two provinces, but it also providing an opportunity to war torn KPK peoples and economically deprived Balochi’s to mend their wounds and join the mainstream of development path.

So far till date two major controversies emerge from CPEC project due to government silent policies, first the change in the actual route secondly lack of transparency in the projects. The Prime Minister time-to-time clarify it that $46 billion is not loan its total investment from China to Pakistan along this there is no substantial change in route but government fail to take into confidence even parliamentarians in both issue.

The route apparently under its original plan ran from Gwadar to Quetta, then up to Zhob before veering east towards Dera Ismail Khan. Now it is appear that government has changed this route to go straight east from Gwadar towards Khuzdar, then slightly northeast to cross the River Indus near Ratodero and connect with the road network in Sindh, which will make the natural route 900 km long. However, government persistently denied that any route changes were made, as both routes are being pursued and on the request of the China, the second route is being built first simply because it is cheaper to do so.

As the main route will link Gwadar, Khuzdar and other area on way to Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar, and this 3,000 kilometers involve major infrastructure work in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KPK), which is not only fully developed areas but this route also has security concern from past one decade. Despite knowing that a 10,000 strong special force has been set up to look after the security of the Chinese personnel who would be working on the project. While the eastern route will connect Gwadar to Ratodero, Sukkur and Karachi and upward to cities in Punjab and from there to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and then Khunjerab pass.

 

The complains of two provinces

The KPK Assembly already adopted a resolution against the alleged decision of the federal government to change the route. However, government continuously denied any change in the alignment. Local Baloch nationalist think that CPEC would end up denying the locals control over their native resources and open ways for outsiders to explore the benefits of the region, some Baloch nationalist view it as a conspiracy to make the Baloch a ‘minority’ in their homeland. Instead of removing this misconception and concerns, and find ways to reassure the Balochi’s, government creating sense of deprivation.

Balochistan remains Pakistan’s poorest and least populous province despite a number of development projects present and previous governments initiated. Baloch nationalist complain that the central government in Islamabad and the richer Punjab province unfairly exploit their resources. According to his recent interview, Brahamdagh Bugti clearly state in his recent interview that it’s not a deal between China and Pakistan; it is a deal between Punjab province and China.

ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan already call an all-party conference in Balochistan to press the government to execute the project in its original shape to benefit all people of the country equally. The federal government had planned to give 70 percent share of the CPEC to Punjab and 30 percent to the remaining three provinces.

Government already faces criticism that Punjab becomes the center of investment, which is evident from the recent 51 MoUs signed between the Pakistan and China. Government also realized that due to huge investment of China in Pakistan, other countries may show their interest to invest in various sectors of the country’s economy, but when government itself shows reluctance to start projects in these provinces than how come foreign investors get confidence to invest in these provinces.

If government not start work on both routes simultaneously than KPK and Balochistan will further felt deprived, which is dangerous for the federation. CPEC providing a great opportunity to government to strengthen its base in terms of politically survival for these two deprived provinces, as in recent local election PML-N emerged as a political party of three division of Punjab despite having a highest seats taker.

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