China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Many Q's, Few Answers
TORONTO: As noise pollution is escalating on the Pakistani airwaves with one buzzword – CPEC – the secrecy shrouding the $55 billion economic project is getting denser by the day. The promises and vows to make this assortment of infrastructure and power projects transparent are getting buried deep. Being dubbed a game changer for Pakistan and a crown jewel of Pakistan-China friendship, the project is fast raising doubts that it has the potential to ripple Pakistan economy beyond repair.
Leave aside the non-sense rhetoric and childish propaganda to sell this scheme to illiterate Pakistanis, the leading economic watchdogs like IMF and others are bewildered by the lack of transparency that this project offers. The information trickling down from the project is raising more questions than answers.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his propaganda managers accompanying him are putting up a big show. The prime minister himself is on a six-day visit to China for a two-day forum along with all the four chief ministers. However, peel off the propaganda from the news and there is nothing left. All one is left with is rhetoric and promises, a classic government PR exercise.
The independent experts, nonetheless are expecting the answers to some fundamental questions:
- What is the actual financial layout of CPEC and how many projects it aims to build (all we hear is it is worth $55 billion up $9 billion of the total outlay. It’s not enough. What projects it added to the original plan?)
- Where these projects are being built (No one knows the exact answer to this fundamental question including the bicameral parliamentary committee on the CPEC)
- What is the cost of each project?
- What is the projection for completion?
- What is the interest rate on the foreign exchange for each project and what are the penalties if the project over-shoots completion time
- In toto, how much interest the nation would be paying and in how many years.
- What would be the mode and method of repayment. Would it be paid project wise or single total instalment?
- What would be the penalties, for late payments
- Pakistan owes $74 billion to foreign bilateral and multi-lateral donors, what would be the joint debt-servicing cost after the completion of CPEC projects
- What is the roadmap to pay-off the regular external debt and CPEC debt. Has the government or the planning commission prepared any feasibility to retire all this debt
- Who will build these projects. Chinese companies or Pakistani companies or jointly
- Will there be open and transparent bidding and tendering
- Where the raw material come from. Pakistan or China
- Will the projects be build and operate or own build and operate
- In case China owns, builds and operate then how long the ownership would reside? Till retirement of debt or what
These are few very fundamental questions the government and armed forces of Pakistan owe the answers to its public. There has never been a serious effort on the part of government to address these questions. And there has been few efforts from Pakistani media to ask them publicly because of the dangers of being labelled as a traitor or unpatriotic. That is why there are few facts and plenty of conspiracy theories floating in media market regarding CPEC.
Even if somehow answers to all questions cometh forth, the whole CPEC plan in the backdrop of Pakistani regional and ethnic context could be a destabilizing factor for national harmony. If Punjab gets more projects just because of its sheer territorial and demographic size, Balochistan and KPK would definitely suffer internal destabilization as the vast majority in these two provinces already believe that Punjab is eating up the country’s resources and since the military is also considered as Punjab dominated so it can set off a wave of resentment which would be counter-productive to the ideals of CPEC.
China’s military presence on the mouth of Gulf would make CPEC an effectively military alliance rather then an economic project. The United States, India and Iran would definitely view Chinese presence in Gwadar port a military strategic move to control the world’s busiest energy supply route. It would for the first time open up a land route for energy for China which may attract all kinds of China competitors to Balochistan, thus making the volatile province restive and volatile. The instability might re-ignite the separatist tendencies in Balochistan and this time round it would be too hot to handle for Pakistan.