The Prime Minister Imran Khan in his keynote address at the China International Import Expo described China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) as mechanism which not only help the regional economy but also increase connectivity between the Middle East and China and between Central and South Asia. He lauded Chinese President Xi Jinping,s vision to open the “doors of China” to the world at a time when international trade system is under attack, when unilateral commercial benefits are being sought aggressively by some and protectionism is on the rise.
The Prime Minister highlighted Pakistan’s importance in the Built and Road Initiative which gives China access to connect itself to the rest of the region. It impacts not only Pakistan but all the economies of the region. He gave an assurance about putting in place a strong framework of transparency and accountability, adding that his government is looking to improving governance and business using seamless and smart technology. He dwelt at length at the abundant array of Pakistan’s natural reserources and industrial infrastructure, besides the most promising and productive human resource of 100 million young people.
The hollow rhetoric about the likely benefits of CPEC and iron curtain woven around by the previous government created misconception about the projects being executed under its umbrella. To add injury to insult of the people this mega connectivity project was converted to coal based health hazardous energy projects with abnormally high Capital Expenditure and per unit electricity tariff. The same yardstick was followed in the hydropower projects making the power tariff absolutely unaffordable for domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. A comparative data of different hydropower projects under CPEC shows that per unit cost vary widely. The World Bank is financing Dasu hydro electric power project with reasonably low capital expenditure. Karot has 2.03 times more the reference cost of Dasu; Kohala 3.31 times; Azad Pattan 3.97 times; Suki Kinari 2.38 times; and Mahal 2.50 times. Chinese terms and conditions for financing Diyamer Basha Dam were unacceptable and WAPDA had to withdraw the project from CPEC framework.
If mere talk of eulogizing CPEC continues, without revealing its details, the level of mistrust about it will increase among the people. Its Nitti Gritty should be placed before the parliament to take the people into confidence. A clear and comprehensive policy needs to formulated by the present government and approved by the parliament to convince the people about the cost and benefits of CPEC related projects and environmental issues connected with already completed coal based thermal power projects and fate of the ones which are in the pipeline.
It was the PTI leadership which made the people aware and inquisitive about style of ruling leadership and governance and now it is incumbent upon the present government to keep them informed about the projects impacting the economy of the country. There is no information about the risk sharing of different projects included in the CPEC frame work. An informed debate at the expert level is needed as the verbose mantra used to be propelled by former PML-N government planning minister Ahsan Iqbal will not work. Rather its repetition will damage the image of PTI government by creating a credibility gape between the government and the people. Keeping in view the Sri Lanka model of Chinese financing development projects and cancellation of $ 20 billion coastal railway project by Dr. Mahatir government of Malaysia, the people are very anxious about the economic sovereignty of the country.
The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised the natural resource and human resource potential of Pakistan in the context of CPEC. Exploitation of these resources should be reflected in future long term planning. The five pages farcical document of vision 2025 drafted by the former planning minister and uploaded on the website of Planning Commission is nothing but a smoke screen. The country needs implementation of five year plans like the one executed in the decade of 1960s. Skill development of educated youth and ensuring them jobs in CPEC related projects can bring real benefit to the Pakistan and its people. Transfer of latest technologies and their indegenisation will make the relocation of Chinese industries to the proposed special economic zones beneficial for both China and Pakistan. The contours of CPEC should no longer remain a classified document otherwise misconception about this mutually beneficial broader initiative will be difficult to ally by releasing piecemeal information about its various aspects.