China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been a source of controversy for over a year due to the attitude of ruling PML-N. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) blame PML-N for depriving them of the benefits of $46 billion project which can be a game changer. Rather than addressing the genuine grievances of two western provinces, PML-N government has decided to continue the series of deception.
Last Wednesday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Zhob to “inaugurate Western route of CPEC.” A high level ceremony was organized in the outskirts of Zhob city, which was attended by top leadership of ANP, PkMAP, JUI and NP. In the ceremony, the Prime Minister inaugurated two projects. First was the up-gradation of the 81km long Zhob-Mughal Kot section of N-50 highway and the second one was 128km long Qilla Saifullah-Waigam section of N-70 highway. These projects would cost Rs. 9 billion and Rs. 8 billion respectively.
This step of the Prime Minister was initially lauded by leadership in Balochistan as well as in KP. It was termed as a step in the right direction towards addressing the genuine grievances of western provinces. However, the period of appreciation was short-lived because the very next day the deception of PML-N became viral on social media.
It was revealed that these two aforementioned projects were funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and not through CPEC. Government of Pakistan had signed a deal with ADB in May 2015 to upgrade national highways in Balochistan. According to specifics of the deal ADB committed $197 million loan for Zhob-Mughal Kot section and Qilla Saifullah-Waigam section. In short, Prime Minister deceived people and political leaders of Balochistan by terming the ADB projects as CPEC funded projects.
Some proponents of PML-N would definitely argue that it does not matter what the source of the funds is as long as Balochistan is the beneficiary. This argument is completely inaccurate and flawed. Balochistan would have got the funding for ADB funded projects irrespective of CPEC. So, by using ADB funds for highways in name of CPEC, PML-N government is depriving Balochistan of its due share in CPEC funds for infrastructure development, which is condemnable.
Apparently all political leaders of Balochistan are unaware of the little trick that Prime Minister or his team has played during the ceremony. It’s evident from the statement of new Chief Minister (CM) Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Zehri who said that “controversy over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should be stopped after the start of work on its western route.” Clearly, Mr. Zehri is not aware that the two projects that Nawaz Sharif inaugurated had nothing to do with CPEC.
There are two reasons that political leaders in Balochistan are unaware of the latest episode of deception in CPEC saga. First reason is that from the outset federal government has shrouded CPEC with mystery. There is still no official and authentic information available about different aspects of CPEC. It has been deliberately done to hide the changes made in CPEC to benefit Punjab. The second reason is that majority of leaders in Balochistan have no understanding of CPEC whatsoever. They only have surface knowledge of CPEC and do not bother to delve into the technical details. As a result they accept the claims of federal government at face value and willingly get deceived.
CM of KP Pervez Khattak has taken a firm stand on the issue of CPEC against the federal government. He has announced that the KP government would only accept CPEC corridor with all facilities such as electricity, gas and fiber optic lines and not just road. He has also threatened that KP government would take extreme steps if western alignment of CPEC is not completed on a priority basis.
CM Balochistan should also follow suit and take a stand on the issue. Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has been appointed CM due to blessings of Nawaz Sharif just couple of weeks ago, and therefore it would be very hard for him to challenge federal government. However, he is left with no choice but to take an uncompromising stand in order to protect interests of Balochistan and prove himself a true son of soil.
On January 10, Balochistan National Party (BNP) is holding a national level All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad about impact of CPEC on Balochistan. That APC would not only demand maximum share for Balochistan in CPEC but would also raise awareness about demographic changes, which are expected in aftermath of CPEC implementation. Balochistan government led by CM should attend this APC and join forces of all political parties of Balochistan to protect the interests of the province.
The latest episode in CPEC deception saga proves that PML-N is not willing to learn or change its attitude. Rather than addressing the grievances of Balochistan and KP it has resorted to shear deception which will intensify the controversy surrounding CPEC. The PML-N top leadership needs to learn that they can’t get away with deception in current age. CPEC can never be successful if PML-N led federal government does not bring fundamental changes in their approach towards the project’s implementation.