ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday chaired a meeting in which representatives of all political parties were briefed on the proposed route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
The premier assured the leadership of all political parties that the government is ready to remove their apprehensions regarding the proposed route of the CPEC project.
Sources told Dawn.com that the government also decided to set up a parliamentary committee on the suggestions of the participants of the All-Parties Conference to oversee the CPEC project.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had said last month that the prime minister would convene a meeting to take all political forces into confidence on key national issues – CPEC project, election reforms, rights of the provinces and NFC award – to develop a consensus on how to overcome hurdles in these matters.
The project is part of Beijing's “Belt and Road” plan to expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia. It will give China easier access to Middle Eastern oil via the deepwater port of Gwadar.
The project generated controversy with political leaders particularly of smaller provinces alleging that the project had been altered to benefit Punjab.
|Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with other leaders at the All Parties Conference. — APP|
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal on May 2 challenged politicians who had accused the government of altering the route of the CPEC to substantiate their allegations with evidence.
The minister offered assurances that "not a single inch of the originally proposed route has been changed" and that "such baseless allegations" were not in the nation's interest.
|A proposed map of the China-Pak Economic Corridor. ─ Photo credit: Planning Commission of Pakistan|
The route apparently under its original plan ran from Gwadar to Quetta, then up to Zhob before veering east towards Dera Ismail Khan.
The government was criticised for having allegedly 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 has however strenuously denied that any route changes were made, arguing that two routes are being pursued, and on the request of the Chinese, the second route was being built first simply because it was cheaper to do so.
Iqbal while addressing today's conference said that a joint coordination committee for the CPEC will be set up to facilitate the formation of working groups of experts, drawing Pakistan-China relations out of a political context and steer them towards a strong economic relationship.
The minister said, "The fundamental basis for the creation of the CPEC was to take Pak-China relations from a geo-political paradigm towards geo-economics", adding, "The aim of the MoU was to enable the government to cooperate in the planning and development of the Economic Corridor and facilitate and intensify economic activity along the corridor."
The Joint Cooperation Committee will be co-chaired by the Minister Planning, Development & Reforms and Vice-Chairman National Development and Reforms Commission of China, who will overlook joint working groups for planning, energy, transport infrastructure and Gwadar.
Each working group corresponds to a component of the CPEC highlighted by Iqbal. The long-term plan will target development in Gwadar, including socio-economic development; the energy crisis, including power shortfall and poor transmission and distribution networks; infrastructure including road, rail, aviation and data connectivity; and industrial cooperation, which includes the setting up of industrial parks and economic zones.
Iqbal assured attendees that all provincial capitals would serve as fundamental nodes for the CPEC, upon which the corridor would be constructed. He said that Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar were marked as nodes, so that no province would be deprived of the benefits of the corridor.
According to the PM Office statement, Nawaz Sharif said that the federal government is also extending its support to the provincial government of Balochistan on the Reko Diq project, while the roads towards Gwadar will join the hearts of the people of Pakistan.
“I assure all of you that Gwadar will become an international port in near future,” he added.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the CPEC is a national project, which will benefit the people of Pakistan and bring prosperity to the region. Qureshi also appreciated the role the PML-N leadership played in the CPEC project.
Former President and Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari said that his party fully supports the CPEC project, and that all the political parties should support the CPEC project for the betterment of the country’s future.
Karachi attack comes under discussion
At the opening of the APC, the prime minister said that political party leaders would 'go to Karachi together' to assess the situation in the wake of a sectarian attack on Karachi's Ismaili community earlier on Wednesday.
"They are peaceful people, and have always thought of Pakistan's betterment, they have an important role in the strengthening of the country ... This incident is an attempt to spread chaos."
Requests were made for the meeting to be summarised because of the horrific attack.