Pakistan News

CPEC controversy subsides

CPEC controversy subsides

AFTER months of fiery speeches and denials, the controversy surrounding the route of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has fizzled out as quickly as it had begun.

It was back in January that the debate suddenly erupted when ANP lawmakers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa began threatening to turn the entire corridor project into “another Kalabagh dam” if the route was altered in any way and went on to raise the spectre of danger to the federation. Both the KP and Balochistan assemblies passed resolutions against a change in route subsequently, as lawmakers belonging to parties from both provinces joined in.

The federal government reacted angrily at first, arguing that there was no change, and only a reordering of priorities. It went on to argue that it was the Chinese who had requested the eastern alignment to be completed first due to security concerns.

Also read: Parties pledge to take full political ownership of CPEC

Positions hardened over the months, with government ministers suggesting that those who were driving the controversy were advancing an agenda set by RAW and telling us that complete transparency would be maintained during the implementation of the project. Meanwhile, the threats from lawmakers of both western provinces refused to subside, creating an impasse.

Now it turns out the government has folded its cards in one quick move following the multiparty conference on Thursday.

The western alignment of the route, which runs from Gwadar to D.I. Khan before entering Punjab, will be built first the government conceded and the furore subsided almost immediately.

While it is laudable that the government has not allowed this issue to escalate any further, the speed with which the whole episode fizzled out does raise a few questions. What happened to the government’s claim that the Chinese wanted to build the eastern alignment first? Was that untrue? And what about the work that has already begun?

Will the PSDP for the next fiscal year be reworked to include projects for the western alignment of the corridor?

The rapid retreat that the government made at the conference shows that some of the arguments it was presenting in its defence were disingenuous at best. And it also needs to be kept in mind that in some key areas, the government has not yet lived up to its commitment.

This is particularly the case where transparency is concerned. The website of the Planning Commission continues to present only the sketchiest of information on projects under its CPEC link, along with a map of Pakistan showing only the major cities.

It is not enough to simply allay the concerns of specific lawmakers; these projects and their specifics need to be shared with the wider public as well. Public projects have disclosure requirements in our country, as well as laid-down rules that must be followed.

Now that the controversy has been tackled, perhaps the larger concerns on transparency should be the next focus.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2015

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