CPEC politics

Updated May 07, 2016

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IT was never going to be easy to preside over a large and disparate enterprise like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and a lot was written and said about the challenges that lie ahead when we embarked on this road. But nobody said it was rocket science.

The politics around CPEC has been taking a turn for the absurd lately, driven in large part by the inept handling of dissent by the government. Just look at the developments of the last few days alone.

On Friday, the prime minister used the occasion of the inauguration ceremony for the Sukkur-Multan stretch of the motorway being built under the CPEC umbrella to lash out at political opponents who are demanding an investigation into the Panama Papers.

He likened them to ‘terrorists’ because in his view, they wished to stall progress in Pakistan.

Only a day earlier, the federal minister for planning refused to speak at a seminar in Peshawar on CPEC because a dissident was present in the audience, holding a stack of documents that he claimed was proof of the government’s failure to honour some of its commitments regarding the project.

The dissident leader had to leave the auditorium with his people before the minister took the podium to deliver an address that centred largely on his so-called Vision 2025, only tangentially related to CPEC.

Then we had the chairman of the Senate committee on CPEC announce that all committee members would go on a three-city tour of China, where reportedly Chinese officials are expected to address the reservations of members from the smaller provinces.

If this is true, it will set new standards in absurdity — why should a group of legislators from a democracy travel to another country to learn the art of consensus-building on local issues?

In all likelihood, the visit will be little more than a pleasure trip, the success of which will hardly be measured in terms of the ideas the committee members return with.

Tantrums, name-calling and junkets are not the tools of consensus-building in any democracy. There has been a visible erosion of maturity in Pakistan’s politics ever since the Panama Papers crisis broke out.

By using the platform provided by a CPEC project to tag all his opponents as ‘terrorists’, the prime minister has gone the extra mile in immature politics.

He has not only cheapened the promise of CPEC, but trivialised the grief of thousands of victims of terrorism by using the term in so casual a manner to brand his political opponents.

And the Senate committee, with their junket, has turned the detailed and deliberative nature of their task into a joke. There is little doubt that CPEC could be a game changer for the country. But by the looks of it, there is one game that it will not change and that is the game of Pakistani politics.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2016