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Army chief calls for open debate on CPEC

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa addresses the CPEC Logistics International Forum organised by the National Logisitcs Cell in collaboration with other stakeholders on Wednesday.─INP
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa addresses the CPEC Logistics International Forum organised by the National Logisitcs Cell in collaboration with other stakeholders on Wednesday.─INP

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa wants civilian institutions to step up to the plate and fully benefit from the opportunities coming the country’s way because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and called for an open debate on various aspects of the project.

In his keynote speech at a seminar organised by the National Logistics Cell on CPEC Logistics on Wednesday, Gen Bajwa said people must benefit from the CPEC for which “leadership, collaborative spirit and capacity building at a much higher pace and level” would be required.

The army chief then said that while the Army provided security to the project, “other national institutions will have to come forward and play their respective roles”.

He twice underscored the need for the “national institutions” to play their role for optimally benefiting from the opportunity provided by the CPEC. “We as a nation can only benefit from this historic opportunity if we prepare ourselves to embrace it. All national institutions will have to make a deliberate effort to ensure success of the CPEC,” he noted in his speech.

The CPEC projects, both Chinese and Pakistani officials say, are progressing well, but on several occasions officials in private discussions point to problems in the execution of the multi-billion dollar infrastructure and connectivity project, which is seen here as a game-changer.

Says no one should have any doubt about Pakistan’s commitment to the project

Gen Bajwa, listing some of the areas that required the government’s attention, said greater focus was needed on education, training and skill development of the youth; improvement in existing laws and regulations for facilitating trade and investment and infrastructure development. Emphasising the need for a “unified development framework”, he said, industrial and urban development was needed for transforming “the trade corridors into economic corridors”.

Analysts believe the project is being weighed down by coordination between federal and provincial governments, lack of clarity about projects and transparency issues.

The army chief called for a fuller and open debate on “all aspects of CPEC” so that policies best suited for the country could be framed.

Such a call for open debate on the CPEC is unprecedented, analysts say.

Improved security

Noting that the military was up to the job of providing security, Gen Bajwa said: “We are making steady but sure-footed progress in making Pakistan a terrorism and extremism-free country”.

He maintained “Pakistan is much safer than before. Peace has been restored in Fata and adjoining areas. Normalcy is returning to Pakistan’s economic hub of Karachi… Similarly, the law and order situation in Balochistan has improved.”

Reaffirming the commitment to the CPEC, he said, “Army and law enforcement agencies are vigilant and are determined to providing foolproof security to the CPEC. No one should have any doubt about our commitment to the project.”

Besides talking about the needs for reforms within the country, the general used the occasion to take a jibe at India for pursuing a divisive agenda.

“CPEC is also affirmation of our efforts for a peaceful and prosperous region. Unlike some countries of South Asia, we believe in focusing our energies on peace and inclusiveness, rather than divisive competition.”

India, whose relations with Pakistan most often remain tense, is now involved in tense standoff with China over the Sikkim border dispute. India has sent in reinforcements to the Sikkim border.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2017