Fiddling with CPEC

In the given scenario, the government is presented with a choice. Either keep the DESCON chief as Adviser on Commerce or implement the $62 billion CPEC projects smoothly

Finally, the cat is out of the bag. The British newspaper Financial Times, published Abdul Razak Dawood. His ‘grievances’ were well reflected in his interview published in Dawn on January 8, 2018. He openly complained that his company DESCON could not even get a smaller project against the Chinese companies under the CPEC framework. His claim was that Chinese companies have tax holidays on the import of equipment and machinery required to complete the infrastructure projects. Hence, Pakistani companies have no level playing field.

The phenomenon of being ‘costlier’ is not new for Pakistani companies. Usually, they are, hence they lose international bidding. Only lust for exaggerated profits kicks them out of context. It may not be the case with DESCON bidding for the CPEC projects. But at the moment, it is sheer conflict of interest between the DESCON chief and CPEC regime. This ‘conflict of interest’ story will not end here with the rebuttal from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. It will continue until the vested interest of the ‘investors’ within the PTI are fulfilled. Symptoms of this have already started appearing. On the one hand, the government is preaching honesty and loyalty to the land of pure, while taking up austerity measures. On the other, the investors in PTI are all out to deface the scope and mandate of ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Any misguided fiddling with the CPEC projects would harm the peace of their completion. This would indirectly increase the cost of the projects and would reduce the benefits they would offer both Pakistan and China

This is readily apparent from the appointments of the Chief Ministers and Governors. Accepting ‘investors’ into the federal and provincial cabinets has negated the entire PTI philosophy and it’s hyped up objectivity. Meanwhile, the media and opposition have been asked to refrain from criticising the PTI government for three to six months so that they could work freely. If this argument is accepted, then who will raise their voice against the new government’s policies and measures, should they impact the masses negatively? Tariffs have been raised on electricity and gas. There has been a huge rise in the prices of specific agricultural fertilisers — another measure which is said to benefit Tareen. Land-grabbers and timber mafia remain active all over the country, while the government takes action against encroachments and launches another 10 billion tree (saplings) Tsunami.

Making CPEC controversial is the most recent and worst example of this conflict of interest. Dawood is insisting that his interview was taken out of context by Financial Times. Assuming this is true, then what about the other interview published in Dawn eight months ago? Both have similar content, except the more recent one is harsher, reflecting more of his spite. In the given scenario, the government is presented with a choice. Either keep the DESCON chief as Adviser on Commerce, Textile, Industry, Production and Investment or implement the $62 billion CPEC projects smoothly.

Any misguided fiddling with the CPEC projects would harm the pace of their completion. This would indirectly increase the cost of the projects and reduce the benefits they would offer both China and Pakistan. Controversies around CPEC would provide opportunities to the project’s detractors to endorse their concerns, in favour of the US trade war against China. The US and India are already trying to pressurise Pakistan into curtailing the multi-billion dollar project.

The fact that China is lenient to us to proves that it is a sincere ally — though it should not be forgotten that CPEC offers it many economic benefits too. Regardless, PM Imran Khan should think several times before taking any decision that could favour any other country against China in the region

Sending a junior bureaucrat to receive the Chinese Foreign Minister coming for a three-day visit to Pakistan was an attempt to undermine China’s importance in our economic development. The government’s capitulation to US aspirations in mere hours during the meeting between PM Imran Khan and Mike Pompeo reflected the government’s intentions for the future of the region — once again leading the US proxy war for nothing. Despite serving the US interest, Pakistan remained unpaid of the US$ 800 million from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) in the last nine months.

Despite Mr Dawood’s offensive statements, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi — who was in Pakistan over the weekend — indicated that Beijing is willing to have discussions pertaining to CPEC again. In this regard, options to extend the loan repayment period, among other plans, are being pondered upon.

The fact that China is lenient to us to proves that it is a sincere ally — though it should not be forgotten that CPEC offers it many economic benefits too. Regardless, PM Imran Khan should think several times before taking any decision that could favour any other country against China in the region.

The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.