Consensus on corridor

No wonder, as soon as the government lent clarity to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) roadmap the country’s political leadership lost no time in giving its go-ahead signal, giving a shut-up call to the project’s detractors at home and abroad.

The government had failed to clinch a political consensus on the raison d’etre of the project even though it has all the elements to become a game changer for the country – and certainly the much-needed morale-booster in these lean days. Barring the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (N), nearly all parties had voiced concerns, particularly accusing the government of deviating from what they called the ‘original’ route of the corridor. The government had been facing a wild allegation that a national plan has been hijacked by the Nawaz Sharif government to turn it into a Punjab-specific plan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was duly anxious to remove this misunderstanding but left to the ministers he had not succeeded. He did so at the last all-party conference where he sought to soothe frayed feelings which of late were quite high on decibels.

Thanks to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s extensive briefing to the political leaders now, and no less thanks to interview of Pakistan-China Institute Executive Director, Mustafa Sayed, reported by Business Recorder, the make-up and lay-out of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor comes out quite clearly. It is not going to be a single road, but a network and a web. It would be executed along three alignments on its journey from the Chinese border to the Gwadar seaport in stages, beginning with early harvest projects.

The much ado about change of route stands defused, as the prime minister has assured the doubting Thomases that the corridor’s western alignment would not bypass the Peshawar, D I Khan in KP and Quetta and Kalat in Balochistan before reaching the latter province’s port city, Gwadar. And, perhaps, more telling is the disclosure made by the Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal that ‘no new roads would be constructed … the three major alignments would be upgraded for improved North-South connectivity’.

And to assuage feelings of those who thought, rightly, that whole truth about the layout of the corridor was not being told, the prime minister volunteered to constitute an oversight parliamentary committee and joint working groups comprising representatives of all provinces to give views and suggestions on the setting up of economic and industrial hubs.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has nipped all criticism in the bud by agreeing to create a committee of parliamentarians to oversee the execution and planning of the corridor and investment in the country. Opposition parties also deserve praise for agreeing to the proposal. And, all this just goes to show the wonders of a democratic process wherein consultation and consensus rule institutions rather than diktat of one man.

Baloch and Pakhtun differences did erupt but they can be taken care of – after all NAP leadership (read ANP now) did manage to gain confidence of key Baloch Sardars. Gwadar holds centrality in the corridor but this centrality is dependent on peace in Balochistan. KPK also requires peace for the western corridor to be successfully built – until then the existing road network connecting Pakistani ports to Western China need to be utilised to the fullest for a quick beginning. Our leadership, especially Baloch and Pukhtun, need to convince their followers that they neither have the expertise nor the required capital to turn their fortunes for the better. Similarly, MQM leadership needs to realise that their fears that Punjab wants to access to warm waters of the Arabian Sea – bypassing Sindh, is because of the turmoil in Karachi and bad governance in Sindh. Punjab too would like to have a quick start and a higher return on investment if conditions in Sindh and Karachi improve.

That political consensus had been achieved on the rationale and layout of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a huge success, though it remains enigmatic how come the national discourse on this is exclusively domestic in nature bereft of cognisance that the region we live in is undergoing economic, socio-political and strategic reconfigurations. As opportunities emerge to cash in on economic potential of the region, the threats to member countries’ political stability permeate throughout. Of course, equipped with tremendous economic and military clout China tends to emerge as the region’s natural leader, but there are challenges posed to its perceived dominance by India directly, and indirectly as a proxy of the monopolistic West. And as this ‘great game’ would play out in this region the occasions would arise when Pakistan would come under pressure to change its course by exhibiting signs of fatigue over the CPEC project. In fact, Pakistan has already received a sampling of this pressure; Indian leadership would not desist from inciting and bank-rolling terrorism in some sensitive regions of Pakistan, particularly in its province of Balochistan. To this challenge the people of Pakistan have to stand up fair and square with complete unity of thought and action on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Money will go wherever the return on it is quicker and better. Pakistanis must realise they are not God’s gift to mankind; they have to compete in a globalise world for investment dollars. China has only agreed to this investment as it wants to develop western and central China and their eastern coastal area (ports) are further away but access to them is not impossible for development of central and Western China. So let us not bicker among ourselves and make a spectle of disunity. Let us unite and work harder to realise the Chinese dream or else the world will bypass us.

The text has been appeared in the Editorial of Business Recorder Today.