CPEC’s benefits?

Recently, since the coming of the PML-N-led coalition government in power, a lot is being said, claimed, and regurgitated about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): its infrastructure, energy, and industrial development vision, and how CPEC is transforming Pakistan. However, all these claims are not always backed by any statistics or hard evidence to provide assurance to the readers. CPEC is a trade corridor constructed by Pakistan, with Chinese loans and grants, and the corridor extends, primarily, from the Xinjiang province of China to Gwadar port, Balochistan, Pakistan. CPEC is over 3000 kilometres and is the shortest route for China to transport its goods to the Arabian Sea for onward freight all over the world. The CPEC initiative majorly involves Gwadar, energy, infrastructure, and industrial cooperation. There are some flagship projects in each sector. The evaluation of these flagship projects could be a good indicator of the CPEC initiative and its effect on Pakistan’s economy. Gwadar Port is the deepest seaport in the world, but it has still not appeared on the world map to generate revenues for Pakistan. Further, only menial jobs have been provided to the locals in this project, which has further increased resentment and deprivation in the area. Also, Gwadar is plagued by electricity and potable water shortages, indicating a huge city has been set up without the provision of basic utilities. Among the flagship projects of infrastructure is the dualisation of the railway track from Peshawar to Karachi. But the project, for one reason or the other, has still to see the light of the day. Further, the cost incurred on the construction and maintenance of motorways built under the CPEC initiative is not being shared to weigh cost and benefits. Moreover, mass transportation networks have been developed under CPEC such as the Lahore rail transit Orange Line project. Thus, billions of rupees have been loaned to construct projects which are continuously hemorrhaging the national exchequer. Thus, the question is: with our decrepit economy, how are we going to pay the loans and interests accrued on these loans, when the projects themselves are running in the negative? Coming to energy projects, most have been fossil fuel-dependent, necessitating the importation of fossil fuels (such as coal, and furnace oil) thus increasing the import bill. Port Qasim’s coal-fired power station generates about 10 percent of the power supply of Pakistan’s national grid. It is reported that coal-fired station production will exceed 4.6 billion kWh. Further, the operational efficiency of these fossil fuel plants is not public information to assess their productivity and profitability, and costs to consumers. Also, the world is moving towards greener energy and our national energy policy is quite the opposite. Luckily, a few hydropower projects have been part of the CPEC initiative: and one such initiative, the ‘Karot Hydropower Station’ has been commissioned. Finally, under industrial cooperation, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were proposed along the CPEC route with the vision that Chinese investors will populate these SEZs, and an industrial revolution will occur in the country. Recently, PM Shehbaz Sharif hoped that Chinese investors will come to SEZs. So far, nine SEZs have been proposed but we are still looking for investors for proposed SEZs. Thus, a lot was expected from CPEC, and a lot has been invested by Pakistan on CPEC through borrowed money, but the expectations have yet to materialise. Thus, we must always reassess and renegotiate all developmental projects to make them meaningful for Pakistan, its economy, and its people.



Ahsan Munir
The writer is a freelance

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