The federal government’s mishandling of the smaller provinces’ concerns regarding China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) continues to create confusion and controversy. While Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal claimed on Friday that the Balochistan political leadership’s reservations had been removed, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa members of the Senate Standing Committee on Communications expressed serious concerns over the project.
Also, Secretary Planning from Quetta and Additional Home Secretary from Peshawar told the committee the federal government has yet to share details of the economic corridor’s route as well as various energy generation projects and industrial zones that are to be set up along its western and eastern routes. Separately, the PPP’s KPK president, Senator Khanzada Khan, has also been voicing support to the objections raised by the provincial government. Even members of the PML-N ruling in Balochistan seem to have worries about the Centre’s intentions, as is evident from a press report that leaders of different political parties, including Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, signed a joint declaration on Friday demanding that work on CPEC’s western route and the concomitant projects be taken up immediately. This is an unmistakable outcome of a nagging suspicion that the federal government is more interested in the eastern route (Lahore-Karachi motorway) than anything else.
In any event, there is no reason for the federal government to be so secretive about the details of something that is supposed to be a game-changer for the progress and prosperity of the entire country. The Centre is already seen as favouring Punjab – the Prime Minister’s home province and governed by his own party – and meting out step-motherly treatment to the other provinces. One valid question raised persistently is that why during his trips to other countries for seeking investment and development assistance, only the Punjab Chief Minister accompanies the PM and not any of the other CMs? From which arises the next question, why can he not see beyond Punjab? These things have been adding to the longstanding mistrust between the federation and its smaller units. In an atmosphere like this, reluctance to share the details of CPEC plans can only deepen the existing disaffection. The growing discord over the subject is bad news for inter-provincial harmony.
It is obvious that federal minister Ahsan Iqbal’s assurances on this or that platform are not convincing enough. The appropriate forum for him to go to was the Council of Common Interests (CCI). Now that the feeling of unfairness is as strong as it is, the Prime Minister needs to take notice of the prevailing sentiment his government’s lack of clarity has engendered. Mere promises of a fair distribution of benefits on his part won’t do, either. If there is one word to deal with the situation, it is transparency. A simple and effective way to dispel misgivings would be to provide all provincial governments with a blueprint of the project plans. It goes without saying that nothing should be more important than removing the provinces’ suspicions of the Centre.