ISLAMABAD: With the controversy surrounding Panamagate and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s extended stay in London following heart surgery dominating headlines, progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) seems to have taken a backseat.

The project seems to have become another source of tension between the civilian and military leaderships, and security sources tell Dawn that, as of late, the Chinese have been suggesting that the government formally rope in the army to ensure smooth execution of the project.

A security official privy to the development said the Chinese were “unhappy with the overall management of the project, particularly the involvement of various ministries”, which were causing unnecessary delays. They envisioned the creation of a separate ministry or authority to deal exclusively with the CPEC.

Asked if the military leadership was also interested in assuming a formal role in the implementation and monitoring of the project, the official said the corridor was crucial to the country’s economic and strategic interests. “Therefore, we are ready for any role that will help make it a success.”

Sun Weidong, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, called on Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif on June 7. An official statement released after the meeting stated: “Matters of mutual interest, including regional security and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, came under discussion.”

PM weighing pros and cons of Chinese proposal to rope in army for expediting project

Sources say that over the past few weeks, the Chinese have repeatedly tried to prevail upon both the civilian and military leaderships in this regard.

The army has already created a special division to provide security cover to CPEC-related projects.

On June 23, President Mamnoon Hussain held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Head of State Council Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. After the meeting, President Hussain was quoted as saying: “Pakistan is committed to the timely realisation of all projects under CPEC.”

Last Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met visiting Chinese Minister for State Security Geng Huichang. During the meeting, the two agreed that top priority would be given to the security and timely implementation of CPEC.

Management issues

The project is currently being overseen by a special section set up at the Prime Minister Office — with Ahsan Iqbal’s Ministry of Planning and Development serving as the focal ministry.

The idea of creating a separate ‘CPEC Development Authority’ — which will provide all stakeholders, including provincial governments and the army, a formal forum to give their input — has been doing the rounds for quite some time now.

In addition, a Senate committee has suggested that pending the creation of a new authority to oversee the affairs of the corridor, control of the project be handed over to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) — which oversees matters involving the provinces.

China openly expressed its concern over the lack of consensus on the CPEC across the political spectrum when its embassy in Islamabad issued a statement in January this year. It urged political leaders to “address their differences in order to create favourable conditions” for the completion of the project.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy had expressed the hope that “relevant parties should strengthen their communication and coordination on the matter”.

Talking to Dawn, Ahsan Iqbal said he was unaware of any such development and insisted: “The Chinese are very happy with the arrangement we have in place for CPEC.”

But a government official privy to discussions with the Chinese said the proposal to rope in the army had been on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s table for some time now.

“It seems the PM is not happy with the idea, but let’s see how he responds to the latest Chinese assertion. Personally, I think giving the army ownership of CPEC will only help ensure its trouble-free implementation. The military establishment has the manpower and technical expertise required,” the official, who didn’t want to be quoted on record, told Dawn.

He said the ruling PML-N wanted to tout the CPEC as one of its major achievements during its campaign for the next general election and would like to keep it firmly within its control.

However, the PML-N leadership has so far parried this suggestion, believing that such a move will force them to share control over the corridor with others.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2016



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