Analysis: China-Pakistan corridor or labyrinth?

Updated February 18, 2015

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Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Chairman, National Development and Reforms Commission, inaugurate 'Pak-China Economic Corridor Secretariat' in Planning Commission. - INP/File
Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Chairman, National Development and Reforms Commission, inaugurate 'Pak-China Economic Corridor Secretariat' in Planning Commission. - INP/File

IF you’re confused about the controversy around the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), don’t bother going online to clear things up. You won’t find a thing.

For instance, since much of the controversy is about the route of the road link between the deep-water port of Gwadar and the mountain border crossing of Khunjerab, simple common sense would want you to locate a map of this route.

The government is being assailed for having changed the route, which apparently under its original plan ran from Gwadar to Quetta, then up to Zhob before veering east towards D.I. Khan. The government is being criticised for having changed this route to go straight east from Gwadar towards Khuzdar, then slightly northeast to cross the River Indus near Ratodero and connect with the road network in Sindh. The government is strenuously denying that any route changes have been made, arguing that there are two routes being pursued, and on the request of the Chinese, the second route is being built first simply because it is cheaper.

Also read: Corridor furore

A visit to the website of the Planning Commission, which is overseeing much of the project at this stage, shows a link titled Pak-China Economic Corridor under their “About us” tab. You might expect to find some useful information that could clear the air on the route controversy on this link, but all you find is a series of press releases, and photographs.

The news item at the top is headlined “Early finalisation of projects under China-Pakistan economic corridor.” The news item tells you about a “high-level delegation” that visited Beijing on Feb 2 “to hold meetings with Chinese authorities”. The authorities are then listed and a photograph at the top of the release shows the delegation, which includes the minister of state for foreign affairs and the water and power secretary. The release contains statements given by both individuals at the event they attended, but no statements from their Chinese counterparts. Assurances are floated of “high-level interest” in the CPEC in Pakistan and that the government of Pakistan is “taking all the required measures” to see early implementation of the projects.

Other news items appear below but nowhere on the entire site do you find a listing of all the projects under the CPEC, no map of the routes, no tender documents for work currently under way or in the pipeline. In short, all you’ll find on the Planning Commission website is press releases about meetings and photographs of smiling officials shaking hands.

You could try the website of the National Highway Authority next, whose chairman has been appearing before committees in the legislature to explain the route. You would search this site in vain too trying to find out anything about the CPEC.

There’s a tab titled “Projects”, and two links under it, one titled “progress report” and the other titled “project details”. The first link opens up a page with two additional links, which if you click on them bring you back to the first page. The second link, titled “project details”, opens up a list of 100 projects of various types — roads, bridges, interchanges — many of them begun in the early 1990s and concluded more than a decade ago. Nothing on the CPEC.

Another link shows you the tenders floated by the NHA, which consists of images of press ads for tenders and requests for proposals, but nothing identified as being part of the CPEC. There is a tender for work on the N70 highway that runs from Qila Saifullah in Balochistan to Multan. One wonders if this is in connection with the “original route” of the CPEC road network, but there is nothing to indicate.

Next you might turn to the twitter feed of the minister for planning, who tweets under the handle @betterpakistan. You’ll find plenty of detail about all the people the minister has been meeting recently, and even a few tweets about the CPEC on Feb 6 and 10.

In one, he exhorts “vested interests should not come in the way” of the corridor project. In another, we are told that “Gwadar will be linked thru several routes incl Quetta and Ratto Dhero”. Nowhere do we find a map of the routes, any information to substantiate the government’s claim that there is no route change, and that work is being carried out on both routes.

Given the scale of the controversy, you would think the government would have made more of effort to release information that substantiates their claim that the whole controversy is about nothing, that no route changes have been effected, that the two stipulated routes are both being worked.

Given the plethora of platforms through which they could release this information, it is puzzling that it hasn’t been done so thus far. In fact, in a press conference held by the minister for planning specifically to clarify the controversy, no maps were shown nor distributed, and no supporting documentation to establish that work on what they’re calling “the original route” were produced.

So don’t bother to search online if you want to know more about the CPEC. Just sit back and wait to see what happens, because an assurance from the government is all you have to work with.

Published in Dawn February 18th , 2015

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