PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif and MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui come out after a meeting in Karachi on Wednesday.—AFP
PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif and MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui come out after a meeting in Karachi on Wednesday.—AFP

KARACHI: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif landed in the business capital of the country on Wednesday and in one fell swoop, promised to address the years-old issues of Karachi’s development — in what appeared to be an attempt to win hearts in the city.

During a fast-paced day-trip, which saw the PM back in Islamabad before sunset, he and his team lifted the hopes of his political allies, as well as the people of Karachi — making commitments about the early completion of mega water supply schemes, plans to import thousands of air-conditioned buses and added financial assistance to the provincial government from the centre for the swift completion of development projects.

On one hand, the visit served as a confidence-building measure for the country’s businesses, showing that some kind of planning was being undertaken to revive the economy, while on the other it boosted the morale of his political allies ahead of the formal selection of the federal cabinet.

Minutes after landing at PAF Base Faisal, where he was received by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and his cabinet, PM Sharif drove straight to the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum to pay his respects. Within minutes, he was at CM House where he attended and chaired the provincial cabinet meeting to discuss and decide the Public Sector Development Programme and outstanding issues between the provincial and the federal governments.

Says KCR to be included in CPEC; promises swift work on water supply, uplift projects

This was the first meeting chaired by the prime minister at the CM House since 2015, when then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif presided over the Sindh cabinet session, as ex-PM Imran Khan didn’t visit CM House during his time in office. The meeting was also attended by senior MQM-P leaders Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Khawaja Izhar and Kanwar Naveed, on the special invitation of the prime minister.

The PM briefly interacted with the media after the meeting and, without taking questions, gave some sketchy details of his two hour-long sitting with the Sindh cabinet. Riding the wave of cordial relations between past rivals-turned-power partners, the PM sounded amenable to all proposals extended by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in Sindh.

PM Sharif appreciated Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah, saying he had extended a few requests to the CM.

“I was told that the K-IV water supply project would soon be partially completed. But I have asked the relevant authorities to fully complete it by 2024. We cannot compromise on water supply projects.”

He said he had extended a proposal for importing thousands of air-conditioned buses for Karachi by roping in major transport companies and facilitating them through bank loans and other incentives.

“I wanted to bring the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) back under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). I will formally request the Chinese government to include KCR in the CPEC projects,” he declared.

A statement issued by the CM House later offered details of issues discussed in the meeting chaired by the PM. Among other key issues, the Sindh CM “requested” the prime minister to finance Rs10 billion for K-IV augmentation works as the funds committed by donor agencies would flow in January 2023.

“At this, the prime minister said that his government would support the Sindh government to complete augmentation works well in time,” said the CM House statement.

“The chief minister requested that the prime minister direct Nepra to approve tariff rates for K-IV. He also urged the PM to make all the required funds of K-IV available so that it could be completed in time. The prime minister vowed to provide all the required funds in time and directed the chairman Wapda to start work on war footings to provide water to the city.”

CM Shah also requested him to issue the necessary directives for issuance of sovereign guarantee for mega projects under public private partnerships and allocate Rs10 billion per year to finance provincial governments annual obligation of Rs32 billion.

During the meeting, the chief minister told the prime minister that the Hyderabad-Sukkur Motorway project was approved by Ecnec in 2022 at a cost of Rs 165.7 billion, under public private partnership. The project envisaged the construction of a 306-kilometre long, six-lane wide, access controlled fenced motorway.

“The Sindh government provided Rs7 billion in 2017 as its 50 per cent share but the work has not been completed.” At this, the prime minister directed the National Highway Authority (NHA) to complete the project at the earliest.

The prime minister asked for a written request when the CM Sindh asked for the Centre’s favour to write off a loan worth Rs17.505 billion and interest payment of Rs.12.027 the provincial government had acquired for the Right Bank Irrigation and Drainage (RBOD) Project].

In the evening, the PM along with the Sindh CM drove to MQM-P headquarters in Bahadurabad where he was welcomed by scores of party workers, its elected members of parliament and senior leaders. The visit appeared more as a goodwill gesture since the meeting between the two sides lasted less than half an hour. A brief statement issued after the meeting announced the creation of a new university in Karachi – one of the oft-repeated demands from the MQM-P.

“The MQM leadership felicitated the prime minister on his election. They assured to work closely with the federal government for the welfare of the residents, the development and progress of the province, particularly of Karachi. The prime minister appreciated the coalition parties’ resolve for the public welfare,” the statement said.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2022

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