China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is facing mounting criticism with each passing day. Not a day goes by when politicians from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) do not criticize the federal government for using CPEC to benefit Punjab only. CPEC, which was supposed to be a game changer, has become controversial because of the way the ruling party PML-N has twisted it to benefit its own constituency of Punjab only.
In a recent meeting on Senate Standing Committee on Communication, CPEC was termed as China-Punjab Economic Corridor. I would go a step forward and term CPEC as China-PMLN Economic Corridor. They way PMLN government has dealt CPEC project only proves that it’s an arrangement between China and PMLN and not between China and Pakistan.
In month of May this year, criticism on the way CPEC was dealt was at its peak. In such a situation Prime Minister called an All Parties Conference (APC) on CPEC on 28th May. In that APC he agreed to prioritize western alignment over eastern alignment. Prime Minister did not concede any major point and politicians form Balochistan and KP termed it a greater victory due to their naivety.
It was decided in the APC of 28th May that a Special Parliamentary Committee would be constituted to oversee progress on CPEC. When this committee was formed Senator Mushahid Hussain was appointed its Chairman. Legislators of Balochistan and KP had major reservations on CPEC so ideally the chairman should have been chosen from either of two provinces. However Mushahid Hussain was chosen because PMLN wanted him to be the chairman and that’s it.
In a little over week, the promises of Prime Minister, made in APC, were proved to be lies when federal Budget for 2015-16 was unveiled. According to that budget for Fiscal year 2015-16 Rs. 20.8 billion were allocated for western route and Rs. 95 billion were allocated for eastern route. That’s only the infrastructure projects, majority of energy projects have also been allocated to the western route which falls in Sindh and Punjab.
On one hand federal government led by PMLN is continuously ignoring western provinces in CPEC and on the other hand it continues the game of deception. Federal ministers, especially Ahsan Iqbal, keep on repeating that western route would be completed first. He even announced that this route would be completed by December 2016 and missing links of 650 Kilometer would be added. However what he did not mention was that it was going to be grade-2 road unlike a motorway that would connect Lahore with Karachi as a part of CPEC.
Furthermore, in order to diffuse the protest momentum created by Awami National Party (ANP) on the issue of CPEC, Prime Minister met ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan on Wednesday. In this meeting Prime Minister agreed to increase width of western route from two lanes to four lanes. Again, ANP supporters on social media started calling it a victory in their naivety. Prime Minister did not abide by the commitment that he made on 28th May APC so what’s the guarantee that he would honor a verbal commitment with Mr. Asfandyar this time? Secondly CPEC is much more than just a road with 2 lanes or 6 lanes. Discussion about economic zones, energy projects, control of Gwadar port and profit sharing mechanism between center and provinces is missing from the protest discourse relating to CPEC, which is very unfortunate.
How the PML-N government is ignoring the western provinces in CPEC is just one aspect of the debate. Another important issue is the feared demographic change in Balochistan in aftermath of successful implementation of CPEC. Population of Balochistan at the moment is not more than 10 million according to estimates. If Gwadar port becomes operational and people began to settle in the coastal areas of Balochistan then the demographics of the provinces can turn upside down. Nationalists in Balochistan fear that native Citizens of Balochistan will turn into a minority in their own province.
When economic activity will kick off due to CPEC, it would not be possible to prevent the influx of people from other provinces into Balochistan. However what can be done is to pass legislation which bars the newcomers for having voting rights in Balochistan for an indefinite period. This suggestion is under consideration in the corridors of powers and must be implemented as soon as possible to address concerns of People of Balochistan.
Moreover, plight of people of Gwadar is also missing from the entire discourse surrounding CPEC. Apart from an Airport and expressway, which are required for operations of port, there is almost no project in CPEC that is for welfare of people of Gwadar. The city which is single handedly responsible for making the $45.6 billion investment in Pakistan possible is nowhere in the priority list of government when it comes to improving the living standards of people.
With an attitude like that, the government is not interested in making CPEC a success in the long run. PML-N has to give up its narrow minded policy of only benefiting its constituency at the expense of other under-developed regions of Pakistan. A truly national spirit is required in dealing with CPEC which PML-N has failed to display so far. This simply means that controversy and criticism on CPEC will end no time soon.