The 'Invisible' Western Route of CPEC by Sulaiman Mandarn
The PML-N on one side, all the others on the other. That is the CPEC divide. While the federal government considers it a game changer for Pakistan and the entire region, the others consider it a game changer for only Punjab.
Almost all political parties from the smaller provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan complain that the focus of the CPEC is Punjab and that their provinces are left out. Even the PPP, which ruled the centre in the previous term, does not hesitate in calling it the China-Punjab Economic Corridor. That becomes a particularly jarring situation, given how the success of the project depends solely on these smaller provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Then there is the additional argument that these regions were historically left out of development as well and that this was a perfect opportunity to remove their grievances. Pick any socio-economic indicator of your choice, and you will see stark differences between the western and eastern regions. One analyst from Quetta tweeted that the CPEC is likely to exacerbate regional disparities and will increase inter-group tensions as growth will be exclusive; and, thus, will result in a weaker federation. This is alarming.
Political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan thus demand that the CPEC route needs to go through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The Baloch, however, are divided as some want the route to pass through Balochistan while others consider it only to be another extractive tool of the federal government.
In February 2015, the Awami National Party called an All Parties Conference to share its apprehensions regarding the CPEC route with other political parties. Given the opportunity to speak on the occasion, I had made it very clear, by showing documentary proof to the participating political parties, that the plan of the western route is no more on the books till until at least 2030 and that the original route has been hijacked by the PML-N government.
In response to the ANP’s APC, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged in another APC that the western route would be the priority route and would also be completed first. However, it was later clear that those were mere words, and the promise was not fulfilled. The following PSDP (budget document) didn’t have enough allocations for the promised western route and the same is the case with this year’s PSDP. The only road that is being constructed on the western route is funded by the ADB and work on it is moving at a snail’s pace. One can confirm this by having a look at the last three PSDP documents.
Senator Taj Haider, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on the CPEC, shared his committee report (available on the Senate of Pakistan website) in a talk show; the report said that the western route is not existent and that all projects are based in Punjab and Sindh. He made another startling revelation: that the Gwadar Port is a non-starter as the Karachi Port is going to be used for CPEC-related activities. I had also said in February 2015 that the plan on paper is to connect Lahore with Karachi through motorways and use the coastal highway for Gwadar at a later stage.
In a press conference on September 30, Ahsan Iqbal announced that the CPEC portfolio had increased to $51.5 billion as China was going to finance the ML-1 Railway Line. An extra $5.5 billion concessional loan has been agreed with China to upgrade Karachi-Lahore railway line. He added that the ADB would finance the remaining portion of ML-1 from Lahore to Peshawar which also mainly comes in the province of Punjab. This too is a project on the eastern route.
The Awami National Party called for country-wide protests on the issue and ran a social media campaign. In the meanwhile, the tweet of a senior Chinese embassy official did not confirm or deny the non-existence of western route of the CPEC.
A break-up of CPEC projects was given with 16 projects in Balochistan, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 13 in Sindh and 12 in Punjab. However, the number of projects is hardly relevant, considering the funds allocated against each project. As someone wondered: how can one compare construction of a primary school in Gwadar with a multi-billion dollar Orange Line in Lahore?
On the official website for the CPEC [www.cpecinfo.com], a list of all CPEC projects is given with details about each project. In the energy sector, there are a total of 16 Prioritized/Early Harvest projects of 10,400MW costing $15.5 billion where only one is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the Kaghan Valley and one in Balochistan on the coastal region. A list of eight other energy projects is given, costing $18.3 billion; these projects are termed ‘actively promoted projects’. Under this section, all the projects are either located in Punjab or Sindh with the exception of two in Balochistan and none in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or GB.
In the transportation sector, a list of eight projects is given in road and rail infrastructure which are entirely located on the eastern route of the CPEC. The only exceptions are the road project of D I Khan-Quetta highway and the Havelian Dry Port worth $40 million, both at the feasibility stages. The website shows the eastern route projects with a completion rate of 60 percent. The Karakoram Highway project is common to both the eastern route and ‘the invisible’ western route.
A list of other 10 projects is given, based in Gwadar and with a total cost of less than $1 billion. These projects are mostly related to make the Gwadar port ‘functional’. Interestingly, the Lahore Orange Line Project is shown in the list of projects under the CPEC industrial cooperation which cost more than $1.62 billion.
Summarising the information on the CPEC website and comparing it with documents of JCC meeting minutes, we find out that the major part of the $51.5 billion is to be spent on the eastern route while some portion on the common route – the Karakuram Highway – whereas nothing substantial is going to be spent on the western route. Nearly $45 billion is allocated for projects of the eastern route from different sectors whereas $6 billion is allocated for projects of the Gwadar Port and KKH.
All the information given above is taken from the official CPEC website, JCC documents and press statements of the federal planning minister. The message is clear: there is no western route. It is very unfortunate that Pakhtuns and Baloch are being sidelined from economic opportunities and denied their fair share.
The Punjab-dominated federal government has to open its eyes before it gets too late. These concerns are genuine. Labelling criticism as treason or as people working on a foreign agenda will further alienate the already sidelined people of the country’s smaller provinces.
The writer is a member of the National Youth Organization of the Awami National Party. The article originally appeared in The News on 12th October, 2016