South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

CPEC merits unity
S M Hali

The economic corridor will usher in more opportunities for cooperation, more projects in energy, trade and transportation infrastructure sections, and will provide more job opportunities

Protesting against the alleged change of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route, opposition parties staged a walk out last Friday from the Senate session. It is very unfortunate that the issue of the so-called alignment of the CPEC is being blown out of proportion. Critics claim there a design showing the original line of the CPEC as going through Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but that the current CPEC mainly goes through Punjab and Sindh, and bypasses the above two provinces.
This scribe was invited by the Chinese foreign office last September on the eve of the expected visit of President Xi Jinping to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the visit could not be finalised owing to political protests in Islamabad but the in-depth briefings this scribe and other journalists received in Beijing and other locations regarding the CPEC are worth sharing as they indicate that the fears of some Pakistani politicians are based on misperceptions.
To start with, the project was envisaged during the visit of China’s Prime Minister (PM), Li Keqiang, in May 2013. Although Pakistan had just undergone general elections, Premier Li Keqiang met Pakistan’s caretaker PM, President Zardari, and PM designate Nawaz Sharif to reach important consensus on planning and constructing the CPEC. During PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China in July, 2013, the construction of the CPEC was reiterated.
It is important to recognise that the CPEC, which starts from Kashgar, Xinjiang runs throughout the whole of Pakistan and finally reaches Gwadar port in the south, is not merely a highway or a road. This economic corridor will cover populated and major areas of Pakistan, comprising energy projects, transportation infrastructures and economic zones along it. The construction of these projects will promote the flow of goods, information and other resources, including people. The economic corridor will usher in more opportunities for cooperation, more projects in energy, trade and transportation infrastructure sections, and will provide more jobs opportunities to the two people of both nations.
It must also be appreciated that China, despite being a developing nation itself, is willing to take along other Asian nations on the road to prosperity and considers Pakistan its most important neighbour, friend and ally. Whenever Pakistan has faced any challenge, be it earthquake, flood or other calamities, the Chinese are the first to reach the disaster zone and extend wholehearted support in the rescue and rehabilitation of the survivors. The current morass that Pakistan finds itself in, facing acute energy shortage, a fractured economy and terror attacks aggravating the situation, its all-weather friend China is willing to extend a helping hand.
To ensure the fruition of the CPEC project, China and Pakistan have established the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) for the long-term planning of the CPEC and have set up three working groups of energy, transportation infrastructure and comprehensive planning. So far, the JCC has held three meetings, in which both sides have reached initial consensus on the planning and construction of the economic corridor based on a series of discussions and consultations.
The purpose of building the CPEC is to bring benefits to all the people of Pakistan, including Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Notably, some projects in the two provinces are already well under way. For instance, in Balochistan, the building of the flagship project of Gwadar port, including the construction of an east-bay expressway and international airport, have commenced. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Karakorum Highway phase II is being advanced. Attabad Lake, which resulted from an avalanche, had washed off portions of the original highway and, hence, it is being bypassed for continuity of the Karakorum Highway. Feasibility studies on upgrading Main Line I and the Havelian dry port project are under way. Both sides have successfully built Gomal Zam Dam, Khan Khwar hydropower plant and Duber Khwar hydropower station. Tarbela Dam phase IV is now under construction and projects such as Suki-Kinari hydropower station and Keyal Khwar hydropower station yet to be built. The projects under construction and to be built in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will yield a capacity of more than 9,000 MW, which will greatly ease the electricity shortage and bring tremendous benefits to the local people.
According to the minutes of the first meeting of the CPEC joint working group on transport infrastructure, the alignment of the CPEC was agreed to start from Kashgar of China, through Khunjerab, Thakot and Mansehra, leading to Islamabad and, afterwards, by joining Lahore and Multan to go up to Sukkur. At Sukkur, the corridor is divided into two branches, first via Dera Allah Yar, Khuzdar, Nag and Panjgur up to Gwadar. The second branch goes up to Karachi either via the M-9 or M-7 and connects Gwadar by coastal highway.
It would be imperative for the people of Pakistan to be united and patient, and to concentrate on providing security for the workers on different projects of the CPEC so that maximum benefit can be gained by the nation.