Umair Jalali describes a
difficult process of recovery
The coalition government was quite impatient to bring back Resuscitating CPEC into functionality since it has become dormant during the last four years as the PTI government never hid its opposition to it. It had become apparent that the Chinese have also gone cold about the project and became visibly distant particularly about the crucial flagship Main Line-1 (ML-1) rail track that would have proved hugely beneficial to Pakistani infrastructure particularly after the devastating floods that have badly destroyed many parts of railway network. The coalition government was hectically involved in behind-the-scenes parleys with Chinese authorities but the delay was caused owing to the important Chinese Communist Party Conference in Beijing that was held to decide the future of Chinese leadership and as soon it was over Beijing invited Shahbaz Sharif to visit China.
During his visit to China Shahbaz Sharif was assured of the Chinese support with respect to the expansion of CPEC along with extending support on many areas of bilateral cooperation regarding e-commerce, digital economy, export of agricultural products, financial cooperation, protection of cultural property, infrastructure, flood relief, post-disaster reconstruction, GDI, animal disease control, livelihood, cultural cooperation, space, geosciences as well as law enforcement and security. The emphasis however was on CPEC that was rated as a project of strategic importance and it was reiterated that both countries would make joint efforts to launch ML-1 as an early harvest project under the CPEC framework. Both sides acknowledged the need for a mass-transit project in Karachi and agreed to finalize all formalities for the early launch of the Karachi Circular Railway. During his meeting with Chinese PM Le Keqiang it was agreed that that CPEC’s extension to Kabul would strengthen regional connectivity initiatives.
It is expected that this visit has paved the way for $10 billion railway project, the Karachi Circular Railway, and energy generation schemes worth $18.5 billion that had been delayed due to frosty ties between the PTI government and Beijing, deferrals in payments to Chinese power producers and the liquidity troubles Pakistan has been facing for the last five years. It is reported that the Joint Cooperation Committee meeting held after a long time has cleared the projects pertaining to water resources management, business-to-business investments in the energy and industrial sectors and climate change concerns in the new phase of cooperation. Pakistan has also sought Chinese investment for its 10,000 MW solar power generation plan, facilitation of export of some agricultural products to China and exclusion of the 300 MW coal power plant in Gwadar.
The current situation is that Pakistan is facing acute shortage of foreign exchange along with intense paucity of foreign direct investment and in such conditions it has become vital to renew CPEC that will tremendously help the badly damaged economy. It must be kept in view that since 2015 under CPEC 28 projects worth $18.8 billion have been completed and some $34 billion projects are in the pipeline and are under different phases of execution or at various stages of planning. It must be appreciated that it would be very unfortunate that if such large portfolio is wasted at the altar of frivolous considerations without paying due attention to national interest and public welfare.
The stakes of CPEC are very high indeed and any sane and rational government would attach great importance to it and it is quite natural that the coalition government is attaching priority to resolving the payment and approval issues facing Chinese companies. While such effort is the need of the hour yet it is also important that past mistakes that had allowed this enormous investment initiative to become a source of a major public controversy due to lack of transparency in the deals done with Chinese companies are duly avoided and all efforts are made to rectify them in totality. It is therefore important that the new chapter in resumption of CPEC is opened by convincing China to share complete information on the deals made and the costs involved with the people and bilateral lenders. Unnecessary controversies around the CPEC initiative can be detrimental to the schemes under it as well as relations between China and Pakistan.
In any case CPEC is not a project to be trifled with and the recent rupture and its aftereffects must be a strong lesson for the so-called power elites who control economic decision making to learn. It is no more possible to grab a slice out of every national project with impunity as was possible few years before as many watchful eyes are keeping track of situation now and do not hesitate to bring matters to public attention. It is in the interest of the official bodies to function straight otherwise they would not only be brought to book but would also harm the national interest. TW