The CPEC is a multidisciplinary project where systems integration plays a key role. The CPEC provides Pakistan a unique opportunity to master and upgrade new technologies and improve managerial practices that could find wider application in the country. The success in achieving this would, however, depend if Pakistan were able to develop dedicated institutions that are in a position to assimilate and transfer this cumulative experience.With a wider network of roads and highways CPEC would considerably improve connectivity and growth of provinces. The CPEC if implemented faithfully would change the face of Baluchistan and in the long term would be its greatest beneficiary. The central focus is on the development of Gwadar. Its deep seaport last year was officially leased to China for 43 years until 2059 and is now fully operational. The new airport is also near completion and great emphasis is being laid on improving the infrastructure which likely to attract foreign and local investment.
Interestingly, CPEC could be a major vehicle for promoting good governance through institutional reforms. But at the same time to achieve maximum benefit from the enterprise quality governance is critical. Regrettably, in Pakistan governance remains weak, so for those involved in the project their learning curve will have to be steep. The question is whether the government is giving sufficient attention to training and employing the right persons for achieving optimum efficiency. It is not that we do not have the potential to develop skills and improve governance but much will depend to what extent the government takes these issues seriously.
There has been criticism by K-P and Sindh leadership on the priority accorded to Punjab in allocation of resources or in the choice of route. First, the decision on these matters was not solely the prerogative of our government. The Chinese have a major say in these decisions and for them early completion of the project and security was a priority. Chief ministers have every right to advance the interests of their provinces but they should understand that other factors have to be given their due weightage. More importantly, CPEC should not be made controversial. The highest priority is being given to energy and infrastructural projects with an investment of $34 billion. As there are several coal based energy plants Sindh was the most appropriate choice for locating them. Vicinity to the Karachi port and its developed infrastructure was another major attraction. This decision should not worry other provinces, as the electric power generated is connected to the national grid and available to all provinces.
The CPEC faces hostility of India and is eyed with suspicion by US and certain Western countries. India misreads Chinese designs and considers that their expanding presence and influence in and around Gwadar are meant to promote their maritime ambitions and economic growth. It is wary that CPEC will bring China and Pakistan even closer and strengthen Pakistan’s economy. United States and the West are also uneasy with the growing influence of China in the region. Pakistan and China have been trying to assure the world that it is essentially an economic project meant to bring prosperity to the region. The projected cost of CPEC is $76 billion and $46 billion would be spent on Pakistan. This is an extraordinary investment that so far has no parallel. It dwarfs the assistance provided by the US since 9/11. The other characteristic of CPEC is that it opens up new vistas for wider cooperation between countries of the region. Thrust of CPEC is to bind regional countries together to bring about an economic transformation through enhanced connectivity. It aims at promoting trade among regional countries. It is Pakistan’s unique advantage of geography that has to be fully exploited to get the best results. Pakistan will be able to link with Central Asian states and beyond. Advantage for China is even greater as through the corridor it gets connected to Africa and Middle East through a much shorter route. China’s landlocked western region is home to the Uyghur community and has recently experienced a lot of instability due to the rise of East Turkestan Islamic Movement. It is expected that economic benefits flowing out of CPEC should help in addressing the grievance of the people of this region. Success of CPEC would require that there is greater synergy between foreign and domestic policies. The state of law and order will have to be better for successful implementation of the project and to earn confidence of China and regional countries. Whereas, there has been an overall improvement in the security situation but occurrence of minor and major incidents demand greater effort in this direction.
Media will have to play a major role in projecting CPEC for attracting investment and instilling confidence in the international community. The news that the first CPEC specific convoy completed its journey from Xinjiang to Gwadar was well received. There are innumerable tangible and intangible side benefits that need to be publicised. A very large number of foreign Information Technology companies have expressed interest in the CPEC project. There is, nonetheless, need to curb hype and exaggerated expectations as well. This is a project spread over years fruits of which will take time to materialise.
There has to be a continuous appraisal of the challenges facing CPEC in economic, financial and logistic areas. Human resource development has to be given high priority. At present it is the planning commission and the various committees that are responsible for evaluation. The political and cultural implications also need to be monitored for appropriate and timely response. Financial transparency is key for gaining confidence of the foreign investor and our people. The government has to be very open about all major and minor transactions that relate to CPEC. As most of the mega projects are being financed through loans on high interest rates it would be advisable if the government would be more transparent about their feasibility. Concrete steps should be taken to reduce prospects of corruption.