We are right to celebrate a unique opportunity to improve our economic lot; that may lead to improved law and order, alongside positive political developments. But before we start expecting too much, we ought to weigh and analyse the pre-requisites of a grand venture and its implications for our economy and polity, both internal and external.
It is important to to understand the huge investment that China is making. How much of it is aid, grant, loan, investment etc.? So far no such breakdown is available to public. We hope such details are available to the government, with all their implications. If it is mostly investment, then how much of it will be done through Chinese companies and what portion will be available to local entrepreneurs through Chinese banks and at what interest rates? What is the rate and timeframe of payback? If profits do not come through, who is the undertaker or guarantor? Who is going to provide the materials, machinery, transportation and manpower employed along the entire length and breadth of the corridor? Will it be open bidding, and competition according to Chinese laws or Pakistani laws? There are too many questions that need to be resolved before we get blinded by glittering economic figures. We can only hope that the people at the helm are working at or have already worked out all such details.
It may not be a comfortable spectre to see the entire length and breadth of country flooded with Chinese companies, machinery and manpower- working entirely according to their own terms and conditions. Why I raise these issues is because we have seen some shoddy MOUs and agreements made in the past, giving little attention to our short and long time interests. Many of such ventures went sour, were challenged in the courts, or were of little value to us. Cases in point are Riko Dek, Turkish Power Ships, NATO Containers etc. We do not want to see all our local rules and resources being circumvented, our own vehicles paying heavy tolls and foreign vehicles plying free because of the nature of investment and requisite payback compulsions.
To look into all these aspects a powerful ministry is required to be nominated, headed by an experienced, honest and competent minister with a personality that can coordinate and convince successfully, to all involved, and clear all bureaucratic hurdles ensuring rapid implementation. That focal ministry must be manned by our best available officers and men. It must bear the total responsibility for the successful progress of the project. I hope our government is already sensitive to this aspect and must have done something accordingly, hitherto unknown to the general public. For its implementation a large well-organised entity dispersed over the entire corridor will also be required to oversee and report all progress and problems while implementing huge projects simultaneously. So far no such thing is happening on ground. These huge organisations cannot be raised and trained in few days or weeks. Thinking of outsourcing the entire responsibility is expecting too much from our existing quality and capacity of entities.
We also need to keep working vigorously on improving the law and order situation (that mercifully is improving). Armed Forces along with police, Rangers and other agencies may be given this exclusive responsibility without petty political considerations. They should remain accountable to the government but be allowed, assisted with appropriate law making, to carry out their tasks professionally and completely. Without a cordial, tension free and peaceful environment between major institutions the dream of the economic corridor is not likely to materialise. In fact the huge reservoir of disciplined and trained manpower (some of them with technical experience and skills) of serving and retired armed forces personnel, other institutions and civil society can be very profitably employed to implement this great opportunity project. Some of the secretaries, CEOs, MDs, retired generals, marshals and admirals are sitting with great planning and execution abilities. Most of the retiring soldiers are under fifty years with a lot of vigour left along with a disciplined orientation, comparatively speaking, because of their training. Let us not waste this national talent because of petty prejudices.
The importance of political consensus and requirement of collective understanding regarding this opportunity goes without saying. Honourable Prime Minister did an excellent job by ironing out certain initial apprehensions of various political quarters. But this is not likely to be the end of all problems, genuine or motivated. The steering committee must include wise, competent and honest politicians from all provinces for their inputs and monitoring to keep resolving the issues as they crop up, rather them allowing them to simmer and expand to unmanageable proportions. Generally, centralised planning and execution, with fair and rightful distribution of benefits can add to successful completion of projects.
We also need to work a lot on the foreign policy front. The wary Americans need to be taken into confidence that this is purely an economic venture that can benefit many of their allies and open the world for Afghanistan and some Central Asian nations. Everyone may not get convinced, then we have to employ our total power potential to go our way in spite of all opposition and resistance. A part time foreign office arrangements not likely to work. Services of some very competent, serving and retired diplomats of eminence, need to be given this onerous task.
Now, I am not saying that all that has been mentioned above has not been considered or not being planned, but probably is not well known to public. It may be because of my ignorance that I have not been able to know what all major and vital steps are being taken in this regard. But the purpose of highlighting all this is to draw the attention of respectable prime minister, hard working finance minister, competent planning ministry, minister for defence, advisor on foreign affairs and national security advisor to see that there is nothing that they have missed. In fact they must be doing much more than indicated in this humble effort.
The writer is an ex-senior military officer also served as Federal Secretary Defense.