The recently concluded Belt and Road Summit gathered 29 heads of states and governments, and delegations from nations around the world and international institutions. It appears that China is all set to lead the geo-economic international order. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the six corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative.
A leading newspaper published a document that contains significant details regarding the long-term plan for the CPEC from the Chinese perspective. The minister for Planning, Ahsan Iqbal, expressed displeasure at this ‘leak’ and there have been intense but largely uninformed TV debates on the CPEC. We have a somewhat better sense of how policy-makers in Beijing view the mega initiative and this vision must be well known to the policy circles in Pakistan. The publication of master plan, even if it is an older version, is important for Pakistanis considering the recalcitrance of the government to disclose any meaningful concrete details so far.
The real issue here is lack of transparency. Unfortunately, the government has been anything but forthcoming when it comes to CPEC. That is something, which must be rectified urgently. Furthermore, the risks to CPEC, even as identified by the Chinese documents themselves, are significant. Security concerns and political instability are major concerns. No such grand infrastructural vision — regardless of how well-intentioned or well-conceived it might be — can make up for a proactive plan on the part of the Pakistani government. The Pakistani state will have to be very clear as to precisely how any gains accruing to the country from CPEC will be divided amongst its population, and how the various political, inter-provincial, ethnic and other tensions are to be managed. There will have to be some vision for how middle- and working-classes can be successfully included in the much-vaunted prosperity that the Corridor projects are supposed to bring. A project that enriches merely Chinese investors and Pakistani elites could, in the long-run even have a negative impact on Pakistan’s stability, if it exacerbates the existing inequalities.
A greater challenge that needs attention of both Pakistan and China is India’s reservations and its non-participation in the BRI summit. This has raised questions about future Indian strategy to deal with the deepening China-Pakistan economic and defence cooperation. The long road to getting CPEC going and the question of how to manage the fruits of the corridor require serious deliberation. The government should take the Parliament into confidence and there should be an open debate. That’s the least a democratic government should be doing. *