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‘Beijing is a friend of the entire Pakistan’




By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, April 03, 2015


Chinese officials say the Economic Corridor is not just a road, and no province will be left out

China is on the move. Its economy continues to grow at 7 percent. This translates into over a trillion dollars worth of GDP. Despite the growth, inflation in China remains under three percent.

At the same time, Beijing is taking several new initiatives to enhance trade and connectivity. It has, for instance, set aside some $40 billion for the Silk Road project to supplement President Xi’s idea of “one belt one road.”

More that 30 nations of and around the Asia-Pacific region have joined the $50 billion multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) bank that China has proposed. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank as well as leading nations such as Germany and France have expressed support for the Bank which is designed to provide project loans to developing countries. The AIIB is expected to kick off operations by the end of this year.

Accompanying the economic growth bonanza is a focused social reform and stability agenda. The Chinese Communist Party has also unleashed a severe crackdown on corruption with a commitment to punish all violators. As many as 60 minister-level officials, for instance, have been sacked and penalized in the last couple of years as part of a drive to enforce rule of law. Over 30 Generals of the Peoples Liberation Army, too, have been removed for abuse of power.

As for Pakistan, despite recent noises by nationalist parties and MPs from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over perceived changes in the route of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing appears to remain intensely committed to the ambitious project.

The Gwadar-Kashghar route was originally planned to go through Bisima, Khuzdar, Kalat and Quetta onto to Zhob, Dera Ismail Khan, Hassan Abdal and onwards to Kashghar, but the joint committee has decided to first take segments that are free of security concerns as early harvest projects. This will mean the route of CPEC will first move from Bisima to Ratodero and towards Punjab.

The project will start with early harvest ventures, which can be completed in a short time without any security or logistical bottlenecks

Without asking the government for an explanation or seeking the Chinese view, opposition leaders such as Asfandyar Wali Khan and Baloch nationalists interpreted the move as bypassing Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This created quite a stir in the media, prompting Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador in Islamabad, to underline that the CPEC is not just a road. It is rather a comprehensive inclusive concept that includes infrastructure, marine and land routes and alignments that extend beyond China. From the Gwadar port to Kashgar in Xinjiang, the CPEC covers energy, transportation and infrastructure, finance, agriculture and tourism – all being central to livelihoods and economic development.

Privately, Chinese officials also cautioned against making projects of national importance controversial. It will only add divergence between different regions and parties, something not conducive to the unity and development of Pakistan, they say. The debate should come to an end for the fundamental interest of Pakistan.

“All regions in Pakistan should work together to build a friendly environment of public opinion, promote the projects and benefit local people as much and as soon as possible,” the ambassador underscored.

Overseeing the project, a Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on the long-term planning of CPEC is working overtime and has set up three working groups for energy, transportation infrastructure, and comprehensive planning.

CPEC is not only vital for the social development of China but also for Pakistan, Chinese officials emphasize. The cooperation with Pakistan on CPEC therefore is not exclusive but inclusive. Anything which connects Pakistan and China is part of the CPEC. The project, however, will be completed in phases including some that can be called early harvest ventures – projects that can be completed in shorter time without any security or logistical bottlenecks.

The CPEC is about connecting every nook and corner of the region. There is no question of taking Balochistan or any other part of Pakistan out of the project, the ambassador explains. “The current alignment of CPEC is based on thorough and in-depth feasibility studies and that’s why both sides decided to start with KKH phase II, the highway between Multan and Sukkur, and some energy projects, among others.” The security conditions should be taken into consideration during the construction of CPEC, officials point out.

Chinese companies are in fact quietly trying to pursue their work on Gwadar port expansion, including the construction of eastbay expressway and international airport (by China Overseas Holdings Limited, the Karakorum Highway phase II, the Atta-Abad Lake bypass, the Gomal Zam dam, Khan Khawar Hydropower station, and the Duber Khawar Hydropower station. Tarbella Dam’s phase IV is now under construction and projects such as the 800 megawatt Suki-Kinari Hydropower station in Kaghan and Keyal Khawar Hydropower station are also to be built. The under construction projects are likely to add some 9,000 megawatts of power into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa grid in the next few years.

The year 2015 has been declared “a year of Pakistan-China cultural exchange”. Chinese diplomats expect that the President of China will visit Pakistan soon and that this would be a new “defining milestone” in the bilateral relations.

Being the second largest trade partner of Pakistan, China also hopes that the quality of bilateral trade and relations will change with the passage of time. Currently, the China-Pakistan trade volume stands around $16 billion.

And that is why the criticism over the alleged change of the route of CPEC has upset the Chinese officials in Beijing. While they kept reiterating their commitment to Pakistan, they expect a clear-headed, national approach by Pakistani leaders. Making controversial statements about certain transnational projects, without taking the complex internal security challenges, is uncalled for, they underscore. Everybody knows the volatile situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, and Balochistan, where utility infrastructure is constantly under attack. Nobody would risk money in such precarious conditions, which need correction by the host government.

Chinese officials point out that from the north to the south and southwest of Pakistan, dozens of infrastructure, livelihood, power, agriculture and student exchange projects, including the recent visits to China of the traumatized students of the Army Public School, are all but a few examples of the long-term commitment that Beijing has towards Pakistan.

All we expect from Pakistani leaders is to avoid emotional and unfounded controversies and look at China as a friend of the entire Pakistan, and not of one or more provinces, cautioned a Chinese delegate during a recent visit to Islamabad.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk