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CPEC indignation

Updated August 10, 2018

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A recent angry statement issued by the government about “media reports questioning the viability of CPEC” has only fuelled scepticism, instead of addressing concerns.

The statement appears to be in response to a few articles that appeared in the international media regarding the terms on which loans have been given by China; the articles have questioned the ability of the Pakistani economy to service these loans.

For a number of years, former minister for planning and development Ahsan Iqbal had used similar language to swat away sceptical talk and all the questions raised about CPEC — to little avail. It is similarly useless for the caretaker government to resort to such indignant language.

The fact is that uncomfortable questions as well as pesky media commentary swirl around the entire CPEC enterprise because of the sheer lack of transparency which characterises the project. Asad Umar, who is widely expected to be the next finance minister, has said publicly that his government will place all CPEC agreements before parliament; indeed, he must be held to this commitment.

Once the project is discussed and debated in parliament, with greater details provided, much of the irritating analysis and commentary will automatically go away, provided that the information bears out what the government is telling the people and their elected representatives.

Additionally, the new government must also place before parliament the full text of the Long Term Plan that was finalised with the Chinese side in November 2017. The previous government may have touted CPEC as a ‘game changer’ for the country, but it made a mistake by deliberately concealing important details about the project at the same time.

If CPEC is indeed a ‘game changer’, it is all the more imperative that its terms and conditions, and other details, be known, understood and debated by all stakeholders, including the public, when the next government begins its rule.

When the government tries to advance the project under opaque conditions, feeding a largely cosmetic public relations line to us all, then it naturally arouses suspicion and scepticism. One of the big challenges for the incoming government, therefore, is to remove the veil of secrecy wrapped around the project and encourage a more inclusive conversation.

That is what will finally settle this whole debate about what exactly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is, and how Pakistan can best manage it to serve its own interests.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018