ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to provide army-backed security to Chinese companies with deep pockets coming into the country.

The federal cabinet decided in principle last week to allay fears of investors from China by ensuring foolproof security, given that Chinese workers have on a number of occasions come under attack in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s areas bordering the tribal region.

An aide to the prime minister told Dawn that security situation was the only hurdle in the way of foreign investment.

“In every meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had with Chinese businessmen and companies in both the private and public sectors during his visit to China last July, serious concerns were expressed about the fragile security situation,” he said. The prime minister’s first foreign visit during his current tenure was to China, which was followed by several trips made by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The PML-N is banking heavily on Chinese money to fulfil its election-campaign promise to reduce electricity loadshedding.

The issue came under discussion during a cabinet meeting held on Feb 25. It was decided that the best possible security would be provided to Chinese investors and the only option left with the government in this regard was to assign this task to the army since it was felt that over the years police had lost their credibility as reliable security providers.

Replying to a question, the official said that not only had the military top brass been consulted, but they fully supported the move.

The government conveyed this decision to the Chinese authorities after thorough deliberations with all quarters concerned.

A minister said the step would go a long way in improving the confidence of foreign investors willing to invest in Pakistan but were fearful for their security.

Of the expected $50 billion investment from China, $35bn will be in the energy sector. The government is working on 16 projects in which Chinese investors have shown interest. These include nuclear, solar, coal and hydro-electric power projects. The government is hoping that these short- to medium-term projects will start generating power within five years.

According to Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, China has also agreed to invest in upgrading the Raikot-Islamabad section of the Karakoram Highway, constructing the Karachi-Lahore motorway, 10 coal-based power projects in the Gadani Power Park and upgrading the Gwadar Port. An integrated development plan for Gwadar town includes infrastructure facilities and construction of an airport.

The two countries have formed working groups for jointly planning, identifying and prioritising projects in different sectors.

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