Friday, May 29, 2015

Daily Times Editorial May 30, 2015

Consensus at last There is no gainsaying the fact that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is vital for the development of Pakistan. Unfortunately, a great deal of misgivings and reservations had been voiced by various political parties after the CPEC was announced during the visit of the Chinese president. The main bone of objection was the growing perception that of the three alignments along which the corridor would be built, the western, central and eastern, the last may be developed first. This, the critics objected, would privilege Punjab, already the country’s most developed province, and deprive the underdeveloped provinces and areas of the country, particularly along the western alignment, of the golden chance of pulling themselves out of the stagnant development hole in which they had languished since independence. The stakes were so high that the controversy threatened to stymie the Chinese investment of $ 46 billion for the entire project even before it had got off the ground. It is a matter of great satisfaction therefore that the All Parties Conference (APC) called by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday arrived at the badly needed consensus after he announced during his address at the APC that the western alignment of the corridor would be the first to be built, linking Kashgar in China with Gwadar on Balochistan's coast. This route will pass through some of the most underdeveloped regions of the country, all lying essentially west of the Indus River. The benefits need no advocacy. The route is not just road and rail connectivity north-south, it also envisages the setting up of energy projects and industrial zones, thus bringing the advantages of modern economic activity to these least developed parts of the country and likely to prove a transformatory phenomenon for the people along its path. It remains to be seen just how these regions will change from a tribal/subsistence agriculture region into a powerhouse of modern industry and commerce, linked through the corridor with the outside world. The impact within and externally can only be imagined and there is cause to celebrate the extraordinary lift it will provide to the lives of Pakistan’s western provinces/regions. While the ownership/consensus approval of the CPEC and its initial western alignment by all the parties represented in the APC brings a sigh of relief to Pakistanis as well as our Chinese friends who are poised to begin work on the corridor, the government has wisely decided to constitute a parliamentary committee and a working group with representation of all the provinces to address any remaining reservations regarding the entire project and decide the location and nature of industrial zones, etc. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal must be lauded for his untiring efforts in the past few weeks to meet the criticisms and reservations head on and expend a great deal of time and persuasion on bringing the party heads on board, including background one-to-one meetings with party heads before the APC, which prepared the ground for the consensus that finally emerged. Some incorrigibly suspicious minds are still cogitating the idea whether the PML-N is undertaking the CPEC for political advantage in the next elections. Factually, the contention makes little if any sense. For a start, the CPEC will not be completed till 2030 (if then). It is therefore a long-term project that will transcend not just this government’s remaining tenure but perhaps many more. By the time the next elections roll round in 2018, the CPEC in all its complexity will probably be a work-in-progress, and that too one in the initial phases. Second, the attitude of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in appreciating the role of all parties in arriving at the consensus in terms that congratulated all of them and was generous with credit to all political forces is admirable and in conformity with the real nature of the mega project. It is a national endeavour, and therefore should be ‘rescued’ from any attempt to paint it in partisan political colours. The game changing CPEC will transform not only Pakistan toward modernity, including its least developed western regions, it will prove transformatory for the region and, by extension, the world. Carping criticism therefore runs contrary to the lofty aims of this national project.

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