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Pakistan taking off?




By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, January 28, 2016


In recent public appearances, including in an article, the Minister for Planning, Ahsan Iqbal, has likened Pakistan to an aircraft and spelt out the basic conditions for a successful take-off: “An aircraft can land with one of its engines shut down, but it can never take off without all engines working together. If all these conditions are not met, the plane can’t take off successfully.”

While underscoring the criticality of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Iqbal says that in order to realise the “dream (of development) we need to follow the rules of a successful take-off — maintaining favourable political weather, ensuring a smooth platform of consistent policies, and working together as a united, determined and focused nation”.

Iqbal’s noble intentions, focus and hard work on the CPEC notwithstanding, his recipe for the take-off itself contains a caveat for important stakeholders in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan — a smooth platform, consistent policies and unity. Is the government really focused, united and transparent and does it have all stakeholders on board? Is it riding on a sense of shared responsibility, nationhood and identity?

The K-P government, for instance, complains that out of the Rs359 billion allocated to the CPEC projects so far, not a single penny is meant for the western route. Out of this, some Rs10 billion has been “fraudulently” earmarked for “acquisition of land between Mianwali and Islamabad”. The factual position is that Islamabad is not part of the western route. Similarly, Rs265 billion have been earmarked for LNG pipelines to be built from Gwadar to Nawabshah and onwards to Havaili Bahadur Shah Jang to Baloki on GT Road near Lahore — at best, a Punjab-based project. Most energy projects, argue the critics, are located on the eastern route. Were investors from other provinces encouraged to get involved in these projects, even if they were meant for the eastern route? Were environment impact studies conducted before deciding to anchor energy production in local and imported coal?

The IMF representative in Islamabad, Tokhir Mirzoev, recently spoke of “a pivotal moment for the economy because the medium-term outlook is very positive”, but qualified it by saying that this outlook is contingent upon sustained implementation of reforms. He underscored the need for addressing concerns of parliamentarians and labour unions, and the need to conclude “the ongoing political dialogue between the federal and provincial governments and agreeing on the best way forward” in reference to the ongoing controversy surrounding PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills.

Pakistan’s declining exports, the energy crisis, tardy governance structures and selfish politics do not really constitute the ideal ingredients for an economic take-off. In his book, Stages of Economic Growth, economist WW Rowstow speaks of the increasing spread of technology and advances in existing technologies, the external demand for raw materials, the development of a more productive agriculture sector, the widespread and enhanced investment in changes to the physical environment to expand production (i.e., irrigation, canals, ports) and the development of national identity and shared economic interests as key ingredients for economic prosperity.

Is K-P getting any economic zone in the near future? Will the Punjab-centric CPEC development instill a sense of nationhood or encourage centrifugal forces? Even the intelligentsia and politicians in Sindh are accusing the ruling PML-N of using the CPEC for the benefit of its political stronghold. This may be in sync with the philosophy of plucking low-hanging fruits first and this may also be the Chinese desire. But such an approach doesn’t augur well for national development. There are also fears that the fantastic opportunity that the CPEC offers exists for as long as China can sense a change of heart within the next five years. The CPEC is a critical part of Beijing’s 13th five-year plan and unless the top leadership can report substantial progress in the next five years to the Communist Party Congress, it will be difficult for China to continue the current preferential treatment for this project. The man with the money bag, said a Chinese analyst recently, will simply move away to places where planning and execution is not hostage to political bickering, bureaucratic lethargy and selfish political discord.

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

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk