Deconstructing the ‘conspiracy against CPEC’ argument

What the small provinces are demanding is not provincialism, but federalism

National discourse in Pakistan has that peculiarity where issues are treated with the prism of charged arguments. Combined with this is the dilemma that issues that are matters of survival for the downtrodden and deprived nationalities in Pakistan, find no different treatment than the continuous petty news items in the national media. An issue is taken up, spicy juice is mixed in it, pop-up screen with breaking news alert is run for a day or two and then the media goes searching for another eye-popping story. What is lost amidst all this is the crucial nature of the issue and the extraordinary impact that the issue can have on lives of common people.

Unfortunately the same is happening to the ‘game-changer’ China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). While CPEC has been on the cards for more than a year, it has attracted the attention of national narrative makers during the past few weeks. Crucially, the movers and shakers of national discourse are trying to condemn this issue to the short-attention habit of the nation and are rushing to obscure the issue. While it is of paramount importance to take all federating units into confidence over a project that has attracted global attention, the Pakistani state is busy further muddling the waters and denying any wrongdoing or intention of dishonesty.

Those who believe in strong federation and equitable distribution of resources are labelled by the Pakistani state as detractors and their concerns are laughed at as misconceptions. The Pakistani state has its bag full of tricks to take home its point of concentrating all development in one region of Punjab, and depriving small provinces and downtrodden regions of the country of their basic constitutional right of development. The first trick is to turn a deaf ear to the shrill voices of protest. Then comes the mocking and cunning smile. If you persist, the mocking smile turns into a condescending and patronizing gesture of ‘let’s talk’. If you have done your homework and outdo them with your coherent and logical articulation of your rights and their responsibilities to small provinces and all federating units, they gather all their forces and mumble in unison “you are confused, your concerns and protests are based on misconceptions”. But if you persevere in your demands for your rights, then comes the penultimate trick “you are working against the national interest and creating a storm in a teacup”. Handling of CPEC is in this stage now, wait a few weeks more and the labels of traitor and working at behest of enemies of Pakistan will start dominating the state narrative. In fact, this stage has begun with cronies of the state establishment like Ansar Abbasi and Ahmed Qureshi shouting at their full voice that the nationalistic elements who are demanding for equitable distribution are foreign paid agents.

Let’s see whether those demanding for development of western route hold some rational or logical ground or not. On 30 December, 2015 the PM inaugurated two projects (N-50: Zhob Moghul Kot Section and N-70: Qilla Saifullah-Waigam Rud Road section) in Zhob which was termed as inauguration of the Western Route of the corridor. According to the PSDP documents of 2015-16 the total cost of these projects is Rs 17 billion and for this year the allocation is Rs 3.8 billion. On the other hand, only three projects of the eastern route (namely Lahore-Abdul Hakeem Section, Multan-Sukkur Section and Sukkur-Haiderabad Section) have a total cost of Rs. 538.3 billion. And allocation for this year for these three projects alone is Rs 80 billion. In PSDP 2014-15, there are 26 projects under CPEC, in which 21 are road projects and all of them happen to be on the eastern route and KKH. These projects amount to Rs. 746.3 billion. To assuage the growing dissent, our planning tricksters wrote off the preamble ‘CPEC’ from PSDP 2015-16 of all the 27 projects, which are on the eastern route. Now officially, they are not termed as CPEC projects but how they are financed now does not rocket science to be figured out.

When CM of Punjab congratulates people of Lahore that Lahore Metro Train is a gift to people of Punjab from China and that $2 billion will be spent on it, while on other hand people of two whole provinces are unaware of a thing known as train or railway, who is making the CPEC controversial? Except one power project which is going to be established in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan will receive no energy projects. On top of that comes the acrobatics of federal ministers who say at one press-conference that western route is the priority route, while at the other say that both routes will be completed at the same time and still at another say that CPEC will be completed by 2030. Who is making CPEC controversial and who is conspiring against the federal unity of Pakistan?

Dissent over behavior of state towards small provinces and entities has always been suppressed in name of national interest. This will create further mistrust when genuine demands of provinces are termed as 'petty provincialism'. This is high time the GOP released all documents regarding CPEC and addressed constitutional demands of provinces. Because what the small provinces are demanding is not provincialism, but federalism. The sooner the Pakistani state stopped deliberately confusing and muddling the two, the better it will be for prosperity and stability of Pakistan.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at Follow him on Facebook