No compromise on CPEC: Bajwa

Message to ‘opposing voices’ | Asks neighbours to join regional project for ‘rising together’ | Advises entrepreneurs to pay for security as economy hinges on it | Calls for tax, judicial, madrassa reforms

KARACHI - The CPEC is future of Pakistani people and there will never be any compromise on it, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Wednesday about the China-financed mega initiative that is central to country’s long-term economic and region plans.

“This [China Pakistan Economic Corridor] is the future of our people, a vital national interest on which we will never compromise, regardless of the loudness of opposing voices,” he said while addressing a seminar on ‘Interplay of Economy and Security’ here.

The seminar was organised by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in collaboration with Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The statement from the head of the army, which is thought to enjoy sweeping influence on country’s foreign affairs, comes after US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis expressed his disliking for CPEC in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Saturday.

He said that the US opposes the One Belt One Road (OBOR) as it passes through disputed territory. OBOR is the China-led continental project of which CPEC is a part. Mattis also made abundantly clear that the US is extremely wary of the strategic implications of the project.

General Bajwa told the seminar that CPEC was not just a collection of infrastructure and power projects but a complete development platform that had the potential to act as a powerful springboard for shared development in the entire CASA [Central Asia-South Asia] region.

“It is also an example of regional cooperation and a break from politics of confrontation – we want all to benefit from this project.”

However, the COAS said the completion of the project and, more importantly, optimisation of its socio-economic dividend for Pakistan and the region hinged on one word: ‘Security’.

Bajwa said: “Our region in general and the immediate neighbourhood in particular has failed to take off due to peculiar security challenges.

“I sincerely believe that the region will sink or sail together – that is how it has played out across the world.

“I want to use this opportunity to earnestly convey to our neighbours to the East [India] and to the West [Afghanistan and Iran] that our destinies are inextricably linked.”

Pakistan says it has proofs that India in collaboration with Afghanistan is stoking up terrorism in Pakistan to fail CPEC. The enemy states are particularly targeting south-western Balochistan province, which houses Gwadar Port – a mega sea port that is a nodal point for the CPEC traffic.

General Bajwa said until the current environment of mutual distrust was eliminated, it could not be possibly imagined for the nations of the region to rise together into enduring peace and socio-economic development. “Peace and stability is in the interest of all and we must strive for it,” he maintained.

Economy-security balance

Talking about the interrelationship of economy and security, General Bajwa said all nations today were reviewing the old dilemma of ‘Guns versus Butter’, that is; how to achieve a balance between economic viability and national security. But countries like Pakistan never had the luxury of such a review.

“We live in one of the most volatile regions of the world, dealing with multiple crises since inception, but increasingly so during the last four decades. Therefore, we must be able to evolve on the way. We have to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security. Only then will we arrive at a future that ensures sustained peace and happiness for our people,” he added.

Economic challenges

The Army Chief said country’s economy was showing mixed indicators, the growth had picked up but the debts were sky high. Infrastructure and energy had improved considerably, but the current account balance was not in Pakistan’s favour.

“Our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl. At the same time, the common man across Pakistan needs reassurance of benevolent and equal treatment from the state in return,” he added.

He said it was high time for Pakistan to place economic growth and sustainability at the highest priority and take difficult decisions for a secure future. “We have to increase our tax base, bring in fiscal discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies.”

Uniform progress

The COAS said Pakistan was capable of creating sufficient fiscal space to address underlying structural problems through tax reforms, documenting economy, diversifying the export base and encouraging savings to finance a level of investment that could sustain growth rate higher than the rise of population.

“But this is not all, we have to rise together. We have to ensure that Balochistan, Interior Sindh, Fata, southern Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan also join [the rest of] us on the trajectory of growth and then move forward. It is with this integrated approach, that we will fulfil the vision of Quaid [Muhammad Ali Jinnah], he added.

He said the vision of integrated economic growth across Pakistan and across the region was noble, but it also needed to be secured.

Karachi’s importance

At the micro level, he said nothing exemplified the linkage between economy and security better than the city of Karachi itself. “Karachi, the economic capital of Pakistan, generates a significant part of our revenue. When our enemies want to choke Pakistan, they try to destabilise Karachi because when Karachi bleeds, Pakistan bleeds.

“It is because of this sensitivity, that peace in Karachi has been our top priority. We have worked very hard to restore peace and now hope that economic activity would return at a fast pace.”

Security Price

“In today’s world, security does not come cheap. It is dependent upon economic prowess. It is here that our entrepreneurs must contribute by producing and exporting more. We have done our part on the security front, now it’s up to you (entrepreneurs) to take initiative and turn the economy around,” the army chief said.

The task at hand, he said was difficult, but Pakistani nation had done it before, he said. “If any nation can survive what we went through, it can also make its mark when the going is relatively easier.”

The economy reflects the wealth of a nation, but in doing so, it also indicates the nation’s health, including the strength of its institutions and the trust of its people, he remarked.

Pakistan’s security challenges

Gen Bajwa said today Pakistan had a much improved security situation on the internal front. “The challenges to the state’s writ have been defeated, though residual threat still resides. The situation is stable but there is apparent fragility at places. Therefore, we need a comprehensive effort to pursue National Action Plan and remove vulnerabilities well before they turn into threats.”

“Many of the planned measures, if implemented timely, will contribute directly to the economic and even political stability of the country. Police and judicial reforms are obvious examples. Madrassa reforms are also vital - we cannot afford to leave a large segment of our youth with limited options. Madrassas (religious seminaries) must enable their students to become useful members of the society, who are not left behind in any field of life,” he said.

He said the external front continues to remain in a flux. Pakistan had a belligerent India on its east and an unstable Afghanistan on its west. The region remained captive due to historical baggage and negative competition.

“But on our part, we are making a deliberate and concerted effort to pacify the western border through a multitude of diplomatic, military and economic initiative, not to mention the phenomenal boost to human security that we have provided in Fata and surrounding areas,” he added.

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