Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

What is the likely future of CPEC? By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Ever since the PTI government has taken charge of affairs, progress on CPEC seems to have slowed down considerably.In Nawaz Sharif tenure the project progressed at a phenomenal speed with Chinese companies and workers gate-crashing into Pakistan to explore various avenues of cooperation and business opportunities.At one point, it was believed that CPEC was going to change dynamics of the region in terms of socio-economic development and impression was given as if the lot of have-nots in Pakistan were about to change.Nevertheless with PTI government now in command, it appears as if CPEC has become history, at least for the moment.

The way CPEC was handled and projects signed, approved and materialized during the erstwhile government of PML N in fact gave birth to many a controversy. Now there are credible and sufficient information available that suggests that most of the projects were singed without carrying out any feasibility. Both sides kept on singing projects without taking into account the fact that what would be the ultimate benefit of the respective project, especially to Pakistan. Chinese banks assured to give loans for all projects without keeping in view the economic condition of Pakistan’s struggling economy. The loans, as reports indicate, were extended on the terms and conditions of the Chinese banks.

In some cases, the PML N government approved designs prepared by the Chinese companies without any due diligence and proper homework. For example the government approved a motorway project in Dera Ismael Khan worth a billion rupees or even more despite the fact that there was no traffic at all at that route and the project could have cost the national exchequer dearly after completion. The project however could not see light of the day because of change of government as the new government wants review of this and all such projects.

People related to CPEC project have disclosed that as of today there is not even a single project in progress under the banner of CPEC. The PTI government’s first question is about the cost-effectiveness of the very project, which seems a logical and reasonable approach but at the same time the government will have to make sure that the genuine projects are not affected in this exercise. During PML N government issues of kick-backs, corruption and under- hand deals also came to limelight after which inquiries were ordered due to which work on certain projects witnessed inordinate delays. Because of such problems un-necessary doubts were also created in the minds of ordinary people as if all were not well in the CPEC execution mechanism.

Since the nature of the CPEC project was of strategic importance therefore Pakistan’s military establishment had a role to play. But because of strained relations of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the establishment, many hiccups were witnessed in the smooth execution of various projects. As per the available information, the establishment wanted proper homework and ascertainment of pros and cons of a project before it was approved and executed. But the then government, from the face of it, did not pay any heed.

Then, general impression in Pakistan was that Chinese workers and companies would ultimately take control of Pakistani markets thus dealing a severe blow to already struggling industrial sector of Pakistan. The Chinese leadership on a number of occasions made it clear that China did not have any such intentions and it really wanted to be a credible partner of Pakistan.

While it remains a fact that progress on CPEC has slowed down, at the same time the importance and utility of this project cannot be ignored. Despite all misunderstandings and confusion, CPEC can still be a game changer provided carried out in a transparent manner. There is no doubt both sides committed mistakes nevertheless there is never too late to mend fences and make for mistakes.

Pakistan and China are trusted friends and will remain like this even in the coming days, that was the clear message of the Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing during his recent press conference ahead of Belt and Road Fourm.

He said CPEC would continue to make advance strides and bring prosperity for Pakistani nation.