NOW, more than ever, transparency in the CPEC project has become crucially important. As a report in this newspaper yesterday showed, the economic corridor goes far beyond highways and power plants, and its scope needs to be understood by everyone and its implications extensively debated in public. The denials issued by the planning minister via his Twitter account, calling the story “factually incorrect”, and one that is aimed to create fear, make little sense. The general sentiment is pro-CPEC; and this newspaper also supports the project. But that does not mean the government has carte blanche to negotiate the terms of this massive enterprise entirely in secret. The people have a right to know what exactly is being negotiated; this is especially crucial given the scale of the joint enterprise.
The government is now claiming that an “abridged version” of the Long-Term Plan has been shared with key stakeholders, including industry and the provincial governments, and that their feedback has been incorporated. But why has only an “abridged version” been shared? Even this looks almost identical to the longer version upon which yesterday’s story was based — except that the details have been removed. Saying that the story was based on a “redundant document” sounds disingenuous at best. Pakistan’s feedback on the plan was discussed at a Joint Cooperation Committee meeting held in Karachi on Nov 12, 2016. The plan was finalised on Dec 29, 2016. Less than two months separate these two dates. How many revisions did the Pakistani government manage to incorporate in the Long-Term Plan during this period considering there was only one “special bilateral meeting” in between?
The larger issue here remains one of greater transparency in the execution of CPEC. If there are reservations on the part of China to widen the debate on the project, then it becomes the government’s job to explain to their Chinese counterparts that our political traditions demand greater transparency. All economic documents that contain plans for the medium term are public documents in this country. This includes the five-year plans and the IMF agreements. The CPEC Long-Term Plan cannot be an exception, especially since it goes further than any past economic plan in terms of its impact on the economy. There are no reasons to fear CPEC, nor should there be an automatic aversion to greater Chinese entry into our economy. But any anxieties on that count can only be alleviated through greater disclosure of the terms on which the project is being negotiated. Keeping matters secret, then issuing indignant denials that will clearly not survive scrutiny, only fans anxiety. The government should immediately prepare to reveal the full extent of the understandings it has entered into with the government of China, including placing whatever document that has been signed as the lead agreement on CPEC before parliament.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2017