Even though the government moved swiftly to deny any rollback of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), comments reported in a section of the press quoting a federal cabinet member of putting the entire project on review has sent a wave of unease throughout the province.
Pakistan People Party (PPP) lawmaker Nighat Orakzai on Tuesday submitted a calling-to-attention notice in the assembly secretariat in which she demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan inform them, including the senate and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) assembly along with the public regarding the government’s plan of review agreements made with China for CPEC.
“After a meeting of Chinese delegation with the Pakistani officials, news started circulating on social media that work on CPEC has been put on halt for a year and an article was also published by a UK-based newspaper, The Financial Times, which stated that the CPEC agreement will be reviewed again,” Orakzai stated in her notice.
She added that if such a decision had been made, it was taken without taking the parliament and the provincial assemblies and the public into confidence and will harm the public interest.
The notice further said that the move will delay completion of the projects with which jobs and lives are associated.
“The destiny of public, which the project will change, has been put at stake,” it said.
She also inquired about the status of the Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline Project and asked the premier to inform the public on both projects since people jobs, lives, the country’s economy and its development are associated with the two projects.
She asked the government to clarify its position and to explain if the delaying tactics are not to please foreign forces.
In the Financial Times report which Orakzai referred to, the Prime Minister’s Advisor for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment Abdul Razzak Dawood was quoted as saying “The previous government did a bad job negotiating with China on CPEC — they didn’t do their homework correctly and didn’t negotiate correctly so they gave away a lot.”
He continued that Chinese companies had received breaks on a host of things including tax which gave them an undue advantage over Pakistani companies.
“I think we should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together,” he was quoted as saying.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Commerce, Dawood had claimed that his statements had been taken out of context and emphasised that Islamabad’s commitment to the multi-billion dollar project remains unchanged.
The document “rejected the report especially its title”. The ministry said both Pakistan and China had reiterated their “all-weather strategic partnership” and reaffirmed commitment to CPEC during foreign minister Wang’s visit.
“Pakistan reassured the Chinese side that CPEC is a national priority. China also highlighted the significance of CPEC… There is complete unanimity on the future of CPEC.”
Meanwhile, China’s embassy in Islamabad also took notice of the FT report and decried it.
“It is a firm consensus between China and Pakistan that CPEC is a mutually beneficial project and both the governments will carry it forward according to the needs of Pakistan and for the development of Pakistan,” the Embassy said in a statement.
“Such ill-intentioned reports based on distorted and misquoted information only demonstrate that the report contributor has total ignorance and neglect of the CPEC or China-Pakistan traditional partnership,” it added.
The report follows the creation of a nine-member committee by Prime Minister Imran Khan to evaluate CPEC – the most ambitious part of BRI. The $62 billion-initiative includes a grand revamp of Gwadar, road rail links and power plants worth US$30 billion. Dawood sits on that committee.