ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development expressed serious doubts about the government’s strategy for the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project on Tuesday.

Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal briefed members of the committee on specific aspects of the project — eastern and western routes, railway links, economic zones and power projects — but could not satisfy them.

On a demand by the committee, the minister provided a copy of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the governments of Pakistan and China, but he could not convince the members under which agreement roads, railways and other facilities would be provided on the corridor.

“In fact the government is concealing facts which are creating serious doubts, especially among the people of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh,” Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, the chairman of the committee, said.

“Minister Sahib, you have failed to satisfy almost the entire committee because you too seem to be uncertain about many issues relating to the CPEC,” he said.

He asked Mr Iqbal why things were not being made clear so that the nation could know about merits and demerits of the project. “Members of the committee are patriotic Pakistanis and they are concerned because huge investment is involved in the CPEC,” Mr Mashhadi said.

Mr Iqbal took more than half an hour to answer a question by senators Salim Mandviwala, Hasil Bizenjo and Mohammad Mohsin Khan Leghari whether or not Lahore’s Orange Line train project was a part of the corridor.

Mr Mashhadi said the minister was uncertain about the train project because he was of the view that in a way it was part of the CPEC.

Sherry Rehman of the PPP and Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party said the MoU on the CPEC was not clear on eastern/western routes, railways, economic zones and power projects.

Mr Iqbal said such critical questions irked the Chinese government and made the project doubtful.

Mr Mashhadi observed that officials of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), Pakistan Railways and heads of CPEC-related departments were also uncertain about their projects along the corridor.

The minister claimed that the first section of the corridor’s western route from Gwadar to Quetta would be completed by December this year. Fata, Zhob and Gwadar universities on the western route will be opened this year.

“It’s a totally wrong impression that work on the western route has started,” Usman Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party said, adding: “Even the alignment of the western route has so far not been finalised.”

The minister said Lahore’s Orange Line train project was not part of the CPEC framework. The Punjab government, he added, had been working on the project for four years in an effort to provide a robust transport facility to the people.

Interestingly, architecture, construction and operation of the train project have been entrusted to the Chinese government and its estimated completion time is 27 months.

The project was initiated after an agreement signed between the governments of Pakistan and China in May 2014. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had signed the agreement from the Pakistan side at a ceremony also witnessed by President Mamnoon Hussain and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Mr Iqbal said the federal government had not allocated any fund for the train project. The Punjab government was executing the project from its own budget and resources, he added.

About investment in energy and transport infrastructure, the minister said Chinese private companies would set up energy projects in accordance with the energy policy of the Pakistan government.

Bakhtawar Mian adds: The National Highway Authority (NHA) has completed spadework for 682km western and eastern portions of the CPEC and work on road schemes will start next month. This includes a 288km western section of the road from Burhan to Dera Ismail Khan and 394km Sukkur-Multan eastern portion.

This was disclosed during a briefing given to the newly appointed communications secretary, Khalid Masood Chaudhry, at the NHA headquarters on Tuesday.

The meeting was informed that a 335km section of the Karakoram Highway from Khunjrab to Rai Kot had been completed while Hazara motorway (Burhan-Havelian) would be completed by March next year.

Some major projects amounting to Rs91 billion were awarded on a BOT (build-operate-transfer) basis. Among them are the Karachi-Hyderabad motorway (M-9) and upgradation of Islamabad-Lahore motorway (M-2).

The secretary expressed his satisfaction over the progress in various projects and expressed the hope that these would be completed in time.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2016

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