Syed Hammad Ahmad - China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and The One Belt One Road (OBOR) are in limelight these days. There might be two reasons. First, China recently hosted 29 heads of state and government at the Belt and Road Forum including a large delegation of Pakistani leadership, who signed many agreements and MoUs with the government of China. Secondly, a recent report published in a national newspaper which says that the economic corridor goes far beyond highways and power plants and there are many details which are still secrete from public.

‘CPEC Master Plan Revealed’ is a long report which shows serious concerns for Pakistan’s agriculture, industry and many other fields. According to this report, thousands of acres of agricultural land will be leased out to Chinese companies for different projects in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technology. Then there will be a fully equipped monitoring and surveillance system with 24 hour video recordings on roads and busy marketplaces will be built in cities from Peshawar to Karachi. A national fibre optic backbone will be built for the country not only for internet traffic, but also terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the `dissemination of Chinese culture`. The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan`s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. There will also be visa free entry for Chinese.

There is no denial in the facts that the OBOR is starting a new era for progress which is limited not only for one country but across Asia and Africa. It is knitting nations and regions into economic networks. The work has already started on infrastructure, industrial cooperation and new platforms of technology. Financial flows have found their way to some of the least developed parts of the world. The railroads, highways, ports and airports are being built which are redefining economic landscapes within countries and regions. China considers the CPEC a `flagship project` in the whole scheme of OBOR. This multibillion-dollar investment programme has added a new dimension to the friendship between Pakistan and China. From purely strategic and security cooperation spanning more than five decades, the relationship has now evolved into a dynamic economic and commercial partnership. Pakistan is also pursuing a vision of a peaceful, inter-connected and prosperous neighbourhood with great determination. The enhanced economic cooperation would benefit the present and future generations and reduce regional tensions and strife. Building the CPEC together, both Pakistan and China were reaping the early benefits of interconnected development.

But at the same time there are serious concerns among people about the transparency of CPEC. The PML supporters are convinced CPEC is a game changer while others believe there is something serious which is being kept secret. It is all because enough reliable information is not available to evaluate costs and benefits. Then there is another point which creates ambiguity is that if all other economic documents that have a far reaching impact on the economy are made public, then why this document is being kept secret? Thirdly, China is embarking on a historic venture with the OBOR initiative, and although the real fruits of the venture will take time to materialise, it is crucial for Pakistanis to know what exactly they are agreeing to, and what sort of changes they should expect. People want to know about the financing and affordability of the CPEC, and to which country will accrue the majority of gains in the years and decades ahead.

A democratic government is always answerable to its people. People believe that the government has not complete freedom to negotiate the terms of this massive enterprise secretly. The people of Pakistan have the right to know what exactly is being negotiated. If there are reservations on the part of China to keep it secret then it is government`s duty to take people into confidence through credible information.

No one can determine right now that whether it could be potentially beneficial for the country or not until till the terms and conditions are disclosed. The CPEC is mega project but still it can’t be an exception to keep it secret when it is clear that it has deep impacts on our economy. Any anxiety can only be alleviated through transparency in term and agreements on which the project is being negotiated. Keeping matters secret will give birth to rumours. The government should make everything clear in the parliament and should disclose all the agreements and MoUs with the government of China, including terms and placing.

The author is a freelance writer based in Lahore and one can reach by email:hammadahmad1971@gmail.com