The CPEC authority

August 26,2016

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The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and president of Supreme Court Bar Association.

The CPEC has been a much-debated topic, both within and outside of Pakistan. For Pakistan, the CPEC is a game-changer, socially, economically and even politically, and presents an historic opportunity to alter our geo-strategic position.

For China, the CPEC is a flagship project which must function smoothly as it is part and parcel of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. It is with these high stakes in mind that the state of Pakistan must ensure that there is no obstacle in the establishment and smooth-functioning of the CPEC.

One would have reasonably believed that a project of the CPEC’s nature would have garnered at least almost unanimous support from all concerned stakeholders within Pakistan. In fact, the only hurdle one could have imagined would have been that presented by those foreign powers who do not want to see progress and development in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan. It is these foreign powers that were expected to create dissent and spread misinformation regarding the CPEC.

Yet, it seems that this is not so. Some political parties in Pakistan appear to have taken on this role instead. This is reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding the Kalabagh Dam project which started off as an opportunity but ended up turning into a politicised issue. In fact, our lack of policy-preparedness resulted in a national setback.

Despite the uncontested feasibility of the Kalabagh Dam project, internal rifts and rivalries resulted in the much-needed project being shelved. What that means for Pakistan, in terms of geo-strategic impact, is better understood if one takes a look across the border at what India is doing.

Unlike Pakistan, India is constructing dams despite criticism pertaining to its alleged violations of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) 1960. The construction of Baglihar and Kishenganga moved Pakistan to take the issue of Indian dam construction for determination before arbitration tribunals. Despite legal hurdles put up by Pakistan, India continues on building its dams and Hydroelectric Power Projects (HPPs). In doing so, it is securing a far stronger position in the region by monopolising use of the Indus.

Meanwhile, internally, Pakistani political leaders and segments of society were too busy fighting over whether Kalabagh Dam should be constructed at all, ignoring the blatant water security risk being enhanced by Indian construction activity. With climate change, there is going to be shortage of water in the future unless it is stored appropriately. Pakistan is already being talked about as a future water-scarce country. It is essential to understand lessons from Kalabagh to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in the case of the CPEC.

Sadly, it seems that the same kind of germs of dissent and confusion, as we saw in the case of Kalabagh Dam, are again surfacing with regard to the CPEC. Political parties have criticised the CPEC as being the ‘China-Punjab Economic Corridor’. As evident in the criticism, these forces (wrongly) consider the Punjab province as being the sole recipient of the potential benefits from the CPEC. The PPP has demanded greater share in the project for Sindh while the ANP claims that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been neglected yet again by Punjab.

One thing is clear: if these internal rifts are not mended immediately, not only will Pakistan suffer by losing out on the benefits of the CPEC, but the security threat posed by a fast-developing India will stand enhanced. This will certainly also disappoint even our all-weather friend, China. It is in this context that this author wishes to propose a recommendation that may save the state international embarrassment as well as prevent us from missing out on yet another opportunity for progress and development.

Whenever a large-scale policy in Pakistan is backed by an institutionalised mechanism through which it is operationalised, there is successful implementation. Thus, it is clear that the only way to avoid the political quagmire, that is otherwise seen cementing, is to establish an ‘authority’ to monitor and ensure the success of the CPEC. This authority must be set up pursuant to a statute authorising its creation and delineating its scope of powers and functions. With repercussions on trade, energy and infrastructure development, the smooth-functioning of the CPEC is not an option but an obligation upon the state.

Many examples of success, in this regard, include the establishment of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), Pakistan Railways, Agriculture Development Bank (ADBP) and the National Highways Authority (NHA). All these and other state enterprises were established under statutes (for example, Wapda was established under the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority Act 1958). One has seen that the projects under these institutions have met their objectives far more successfully, largely avoiding political interference or dissent.

Indeed most successful law and policy initiatives in the world have only achieved that success pursuant to the establishment of an overarching authority that not only monitors implementation and progress of objectives but supervises and responds to shortfalls. I may even mention the Indus Waters Treaty which created an independent organisation (to solve problems) despite three wars between India and Pakistan.

It is not that the establishment of an authority entails a one-hundred percent success rate. The basic argument here is that where an institutionalised mechanism exists, not only for oversight but also enforcement, there is a higher degree of security against risks and complications, including avoidance of political interference and dissent.

With regard to the CPEC, it is crucial, as an immediate step, that a ‘CPEC Authority’ be set up through law. Since the project covers large tracks of land on which transport links are to be built, there are several challenges which must be pre-empted, not the least of which are national security concerns for both states.

The CPEC is a project guaranteed implementation by both, the Red Army and the Pakistan Army. DG ISPR stated in May 2016 that military cooperation was required for successful implementation of the CPEC’s objectives. When the stakes are as high as they are with the CPEC, the need for an authority becomes even clearer. Such stakes also include, inter alia, far-reaching improvement in economic growth, massive opportunities for trade diversification and developments in transportation, energy and mining. The technicalities associated with these sectors too require the establishment of a specialised body to ensure each opportunity is taken full advantage of, regardless of changes in political governments.

The scope and functions of the proposed authority must include all three phases of implementation of the CPEC: short-term sub-projects which are to be completed by 2017; mid-term sub-projects to be wrapped up by 2025; and long-term sub-projects which must be completed by 2030. The mandate of the proposed authority must be delineated, in clear terms, under the authorising statute. Much like Wapda before it, this proposed authority is the strongest safeguard for success under the CPEC.

It is not up for debate that many complications will continue to arise as the CPEC develops; our objective should be to create an appropriate forum through which national interest can be preserved and advocated rather than falling prey to ever-changing political whims. Let us save the CPEC. Let us do so with foresight. Let us not fall prey to division.

We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. Each province and our leaders should play their due role through a reliable independent autonomous body for which parliament can exercise oversight, as the authority will be a creation parliament itself.

Twitter: syedalizafar1



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