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June 22, 2016

Politics of prosperity


June 22, 2016

The CPEC is the most talked about subject in Pakistan today. From aspiring individuals to organisations, all seem to be setting off on a mission to exploit the potential opportunities the magical CPEC has to offer.

This CPEC-mania appears to emit positive energy and hope in an era of pessimism for Pakistan.

The imagined benefits of the CPEC have led entrepreneurial individuals to organise into business platforms to strike deals with the potential gurus of the CPEC in Islamabad. These enterprising individuals throng the office of the Ministry of Planning and Development.

In a nutshell, there is a growing urban sense of the CPEC being an opportunity of transformation for individuals and entities in Pakistan. This perception is also reinforced when the representatives of the ruling government and sometimes the opposition leaders narrate the benefits of the CPEC ad-nauseam.

At times it seems that Pakistani policymakers are so possessed by imagined prosperity that they tend to absolve themselves of any responsibility to formulate an economic policy narrative beyond the CPEC.

Let us go back to the basics of the international economic system that makes the second largest global economy invest $46 billion in a politically volatile country like Pakistan. State capitalism in China needs a dependable, manageable and the shortest possible route for its growing industrial base and international trade. Does our chequered political history of colonialism, when the East India Company made inroads in a similar fashion, tell us something?

This economic logic worked well for British imperialism to secure a vast geographical area for raw material and cheaper labour to feed its growing industries. Having said that, it would not be fair and almost be an anachronism to draw an analogy between the East India Company and the CPEC but there are similarities to talk about and to forewarn the enthusiasts of the CPEC about.

First of all, the CPEC is the brainchild of the Chinese. The architects of China’s economic and political policy consider the CPEC a quintessentially Chinese project to promote its economic interest. Pakistan sees this as an opportunity to improve road infrastructure, overcome the power crisis and hope for enhanced economic activity. This may well happen, but there seems to be no palpable political and economic policy to negotiate what matters the most for Pakistan from CPEC investments.

Pakistan has tremendous hydro potential to overcome its water and power deficiencies with an identified potential of 60,000MW clean and cheap energy. Investment in water management and hydropower generation can transform the water-stressed and power-deficient Pakistan. Ironically, these two key game-changers do not make it to the investment agenda of the CPEC masters in Islamabad.

The government seems to be in a haste to get done by 2018 what it calls the early harvest projects as a prelude to another electoral victory. Such short-term policy initiatives and lack of statesmanship – coupled with misplaced economic initiatives – may turn the CPEC into an instrument of further cleavages in an ethnically divided Pakistan.

Another important dimension that must be taken into account is the growing perception of the CPEC being an exotic agenda. This can trigger violence along the CPEC route, in particular, and can also provide space for an increased role of the military – hence, jeopardising the democratic transition. Some would go even further to assert that the GHQ holds the key to national policy vis-à-vis the CPEC and the role of the political government is reduced to rhetoric only.

For all logical reasons, the Chinese would be more comfortable to see an enhanced role of the military to secure the trade route in conflict-hit areas across Pakistan.

The civilian government in Pakistan has to come up with a sellable political proposition to convince the Chinese that they are better placed than the military to secure economic transactions across the CPEC route. This calls for long-term nation-building to formulate national and foreign policy both to ensure political buy-ins and popular support – a must for a strong political government

What this national policy needs to address first and foremost is the sense of deprivation faced by the poor people of Pakistan. They need to be made active participants of the CPEC’s development process. This has to take the form of investment to build local institutions, human capacities, skills and ‘functional capabilities’ to improve the chances of the people of Pakistan to access the benefits of the CPEC.

This institutional approach provides a long-term view of continued benefits, ownership, shared value and durable peace without recourse to military means for security.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: [email protected]






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