The right person

February 17, 2020

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a landmark project in the development history of Pakistan.On July 5, 2013 during PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China immediately after assuming office, an...

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a landmark project in the development history of Pakistan.

On July 5, 2013 during PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China immediately after assuming office, an MOU was signed between Pakistan and China to start work on the project. Till this point, CPEC was a vision shared between the Chinese and Pakistani leadership to start a new chapter in the history of the Pak-China time-tested friendship by building a strong economic partnership, which till then had been lacking. The then PM, Nawaz Sharif, chose his minister for planning, development and reform, Ahsan Iqbal, to spearhead the project from the Pakistani side.

The minister was ideally suited to carry out this task because of his strong engineering and management education background. Within five years, more than $28.5 billion out of the $46 billion record investment in energy and infrastructure projects was realized, unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. CPEC is a game-changer project not just Pakistan but for the entire region. Former Chinese deputy ambassador Lijian Zhao had called Ahsan Iqbal a “CPEC hero” to acknowledge his contribution in the project. Unfortunately, I recently saw a photo of this ‘CPEC hero’ sitting in an armoured vehicle used for transporting criminals and terrorists. This is how we treat our heroes; in any other country such a person would have been decorated with a national award.

Ahsan Iqbal very ably led the Pakistani side of CPEC, which involved over a dozen ministries working as a unified team in the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC). The Chinese side was led by the vice-chairman of the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) in the JCC. Ahsan Iqbal co-chaired seven JCC meetings which gave him a unique advantage as he worked with three counterparts during this period. Even the Chinese side benefited from his counsel.

The former minister represented Pakistan’s case in a very professional manner and always advocated greater role for Pakistani industry and manpower in CPEC projects. Besides the JCC meetings, he frequently visited China to follow up on CPEC projects with different ministries and agencies in China to ensure speedy implementation.

Hasil Khan Bizenjo once said that had Ahsan Iqbal not championed and advocated for CPEC as forcefully and effectively as he did, it would not have become a success. A concerted campaign was launched against CPEC by anti-CPEC lobbies to make it controversial by spreading disinformation to create misunderstandings between federating units.

Ahsan Iqbal’s biggest contribution was to play a critical role in developing consensus among the national leadership and all provinces. He visited all provinces, briefed members of parliament, provincial assemblies, media, academics with facts and defeated the CPEC naysayers by countering the negative propaganda. He took the CMs of all provinces to China for the sixth JCC meeting to show the unity of the Pakistani side on CPEC; this reassured the Chinese side of Pakistan’s commitment for CPEC across party lines.

Ahsan Iqbal chaired more than 100 CPEC Coordination Committee meetings in the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform to ensure speedy implementation of the projects. These meetings proved very effective in coordinating the implementation of CPEC between various stakeholders. He had all the project details on his fingertips and it was not possible to hide facts from him. His leadership style was to empower stakeholders and provide them all the support.

The result was that all officers working on CPEC in various ministries worked equally hard and the public sector – about which generally we express reservations in terms of performance – gave the best possible results to prove the critics wrong. The first phase of CPEC was successfully completed and the CPEC Long Term Plan (LTP) up to 2030 was also developed and approved, which laid out a detailed road map for future areas of cooperation under CPEC – including industrial and agricultural cooperation, poverty alleviation, urban development, technology and space cooperation etc to take the project to new heights.

Ahsan Iqbal took keen interest in bringing the academia behind CPEC. In partnership with the Higher Education Commission (HEC), several initiatives were launched to bring Pakistani and Chinese universities closer under twinning partnerships and a group of China-Pakistan business schools were set up to promote joint research on economic and business opportunities for both countries. CPEC research centres were also established in various universities.

Ahsan Iqbal’s role and contribution in making CPEC a success will always be remembered by the nation. The trust and support he enjoyed from former PM Nawaz Sharif was a source of strength and he proved that Nawaz Sharif had chosen the right person for the right job.

The writer served as a Young Development Fellow (YDF) at the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform.

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