Nothing – be it a catchy summer lawn or an expensive winter costume – remains perpetually in fashion… except anti-Punjab slur: incessantly trendy. It is always easier to criticize than to present a positive case, and it is always more convenient to hit a ‘soft target’ than to exterminate deep-rooted evils. The article titled “China-Punjab Economic Corridor” adopted a similar, convenient route, instead of treading a more constructive – though difficult – path towards genuine improvement. I will logically tailor my argument by first negating the invalidities in the said article then presenting my own positive case.
Adnan Aamir assiduously reflected his reservations but at many times in a fallacious manner. The writer called CPEC the “China-Punjab Economic Corridor” for two reasons. Firstly, according to him the route was biased in the favour of Punjab. But mere passage of route through the Punjab is not enough to generate this assumption. The intrinsic benefit of the eastern route is that it is almost readily usable and more secure than alternate routes. However, not much of the road is needs to be constructed in Punjab and many areas of KP and Sindh fall along the proposed route. The eastern route has two further benefits: less cost and less execution time. But should this eastern route be used at cost of western route? That will be discussed later.
The second reason given by Adnan Aamir for calling it a Punjab-centric plan was the distribution of projects. According to the figures quoted by the writer himself, Punjab will get $11 billion out of total $28 billion which clearly portrays a diametrically opposite picture with Punjab receiving only 39% of the total investment against its roughly 60% population, while Sindh is getting $9 billion or 32% of the chunk. Should we still call the plan Punjab-centric?
Moreover, the writer had pointed out two or three projects proposed for Lahore but he committed a fallacy by deducing general conclusions from it. It is often argued that the development in Quetta or Karachi does not necessarily translate into the development of the whole of Baluchistan or Sindh. Similarly, development in Lahore alone cannot be considered as largesse for the whole of the Punjab.
Still further, the writer stated that the Karachi-Lahore Motorway is ‘meant for Lahore’, but how it is meant for Lahore and not otherwise, is left unaddressed. Will it not pass through underdeveloped hinterlands of Sindh? Will it not benefit KP which will be directly linked to Karachi through an already existent Lahore-Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway? If the sole reason is that it links Karachi to Lahore, then what about the larger Kashghar-Gwadar route? Why is it said that it is not meant for Gwadar but for Lahore, through which it passes? If someone tries to malign Punjab using above arguments, he descends into murky contradictions himself.
Now, coming to the positive case: we should make sure that the eastern route should not be used at the cost of the western route. There are many reasons for that. Northern and Central Baluchistan, Southern KP and Western Punjab are some of Pakistan’s least developed areas and no opportunity like CPEC for the development of these areas should be missed. Only the interconnected mesh of roads that covers all parts of the country can guarantee the sustainable success of CPEC.
Furthermore, CPEC should not be kept under wraps and it should openly dispense benefits to all sections of Pakistan. All political parties should be taken on board by the government, and, on other hand, nationalist parties should avoid issuing threats to make it a controversial issue like the Kalabagh Dam. Should any development for Punjab be a forbidden fruit for the sole reason that it is already more developed? But yes, the government needs to bring other provinces at par with Punjab and the contracted 39% share of Punjab in CPEC is an encouraging initiative in this regard.
Another thing needs to be clarified, here. Allegedly, the China package covers the Karachi-Lahore Motorway but not the Kuzdar-Ratodero or M8 Motorway. This is a deliberate measure and a good one as the Chinese money is in the form of loans which has to be paid partially by the provinces. The Government of Pakistan, instead of putting burden on the fragile coffers of Baluchistan, funded the M8 motorway for Baluchistan, itself – a measure that should be appreciated rather than loathed.
Moreover, the government has to make sure of two things regarding CPEC: crystal clear transparency and its implementation on war footing. All projects included in CPEC, specifically those regarding Baluchistan such as Gwadar International Airport and Nawabshah-Gwadar pipeline, should be initiated on the ground at the earliest. We should understand that at present there might be – seemingly – some limited benefits of CPEC in certain developmental sectors but there is no drawback whatsoever. Therefore, CPEC should be seen in totality, and we must not quibble over preconceived prejudices. Furthermore, in whatever dimension we might portray China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality that its ultimate beneficiary would not be Sindh, Punjab or KPK, but Gwadar and Baluchistan.
Kant once said “We see what we want to see”. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to see the sinister, superficial and synthetic fissures which have kept us backward for decades. Or if we want to see ourselves moving forward together as a nation. So, what should be our choice? No prizes for guessing!