The government is right to prioritise the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and push ahead with its implementation, but it would be a mistake to minimise the political controversies that are growing around it.
The assemblies of two provinces, KP and Balochistan, have lodged protests about the change in the route as well as the lack of transparency in the projects connected with the corridor project. In response, the prime minister ordered the removal of what the Minister for Planning and Development described as “irritants” in the implementation of the project.
It is not clear what the prime minister meant by ‘remove’, but describing the concerns of the provincial governments as “irritants” is a poor choice of words.
One hopes that it is nothing more than that, because if the government is genuinely dismissive about the politics swirling around the CPEC project, then it would be a mistake.
How does the government intend to remove these irritants? Would it be by meeting the aggrieved parties, listening to their views, and engaging with them with a view to ultimately dispelling their suspicions? Would it be by bringing more transparency to the implementation of the CPEC projects, so that it becomes clearer what is being implemented where and on what terms?
Or would it be simply by first ignoring these aggrieved voices, followed by vilifying them and terming them Indian agents? Much depends on the approach the government intends to take in response to concerns such as the change of route of the CPEC corridor, or the lack of transparency in the award of contracts and the terms offered to investors.
The tone adopted by Mr Iqbal in his talk with the media on Wednesday did not inspire confidence that the government intends to adopt an attitude befitting a democratic leadership.
Saying that the country needs to show unity for the successful implementation of the project is one thing, but referring to those protesting the inequitable sharing of the benefits of the project as “Indian agents”, and saying that those raising “provincial concerns” need to be “singled out” has a menacing ring to it that the project could do without.
It is true that the CPEC project will benefit from a show of national unity, as would any other project, but the government should also realise that such unity needs to be earned with political skill, not through remarks bordering on intimidation.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2015