Chairman Parliamentary Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed led a 14-member delegation to Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. It was on the invitation of the Communist Party of China that a deliberative group across the political divide interacted at length with the Chinese on the past, present and future of the CPEC. This communication helped clarify many unanswered and complicated issues. It also set the tone for the future.
For me, the visit made many things crystal clear. China does not see the CPEC as an independent programme. They view it as part of both Pak-China synergy and an amalgamated and cohesive strategic policy. One of the officials said that: “[the] CPEC has political and strategic importance for China.” It is “the first systematic project in the larger scheme of the One Belt One road concept”.
Not only will this project be a game-changer for Pakistan, it will also change the entire region. It will surely ensure a balance of power in South Asia that is currently being deliberately tilted in favour of India by the US and other players in the region. The biased policies in favour of India in the nuclear sector are clear evidence of that. The step of lifting the arms embargo on Vietnam by the US manifests its desire for the improvement of relationships in the South China Sea region.
In short, there is a lot happening in our region and what we do, how we behave and what kind of progress we make in the next five to 10 years will have a huge impact on Pakistan’s future. We could either progress into a modern, developing and robust nation with model sustainable development across our country or once again plummet, succumbing to the usual controversies and conspiracies that have encircled us in the past. In my humble opinion, the CPEC is the most important facet of Pakistan’s developmental stratagem.
We got a lucid message which said: ‘It is not the government of China that is supporting the CPEC, it is the People of China. Hence there is no way that China’s support for the CPEC will ever waiver despite difficulties’. China wants people from all walks of life, across the political divide, to realise and trust in the fact that they are supporting the people of Pakistan and not any specific political party or group.
‘Transparency is important for both countries. All parties are our friends. We are with Pakistan. The core objective of the CPEC is poverty alleviation’. At this point the government of Pakistan needs to complement the CPEC with a focused poverty alleviation program for the underdeveloped areas of the country.
For China the basic principles of the CPEC are: consensus amongst all political parties and forces within and between the two countries; and benefit to all regions and sectors across the country.
The historic development of the CPEC was initiated under the PML-N’s rule and the nation must learn to appreciate the achievements of its political leadership. But that is not enough. What I observed on the sidelines of the meetings, which consisted of opinion from different quarters like civil society and the academia and think tanks, merits focused attention.
There is concern over whether the transmission network of power will be ready by the time the power producers are ready to inject power into our national grid. There is scepticism on this issue because of fear of bureaucratic red tape; this needs the direct attention of the prime minister. Many concessions and facilitation commitments to our Chinese friends and the culmination of the prime minister’s vision for the CPEC have been a casualty to our slow speed of implementation. That does not reflect well – neither on our country nor the PM’s office.
What I fear most is the lack of commitment in some provinces and the deficit in coordination and capacity in the provinces to embark upon the next phase of the CPEC. In this phase cooperation between governments and the private sector has to translate into businesses development in sectors like industry, agricultural, tourism, education etc.
The provinces need to start work on the conception and initiation of developmental projects which the private and public sectors of China and Pakistan can introduce in poor and remote areas for sustainable development. It has not been more than ten days since China hosted the World Tourism Conference where the Chinese premier announced that tourism would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the most remote and poverty struck regions of his country.
We need to think like the Chinese, and we need to have confidence that we will be able to overcome all obstacles and reach our goals.
The writer is former minister of IT and current Chairman Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.