Another political tamasha seems to be in the offing and some parties have already started to jump onto the bandwagon. We are told that the Nawaz Sharif government has proposed to its Chinese counterpart to change the route of the Khunjerab-Gwadar economic corridor. When the project was first announced, we were told that the corridor would bring prosperity to Pakistan’s least developed areas. Now it seems politics is taking precedence over economics.
The original route was planned to pass through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) to Zhob and then onwards to Quetta, however, the new route would almost bypass the two least-developed provinces of Pakistan. It will go through parts of Punjab and Sindh instead.
The matter was taken up in the senate where Ahsan Iqbal, the point man for prime minister Nawaz Sharif, denied that any such change was in the offing. But as is the case with many such things, a denial only confirms that this move is about to take place, or so believe the senators from K-P and Balochistan.
Senator Ilyas Bilour of the ANP warned that if the redrawing of the route does take place, the country will not remain united.
Haji Adeel, also of the ANP, called on China not to accept any changes in the original route and threatened that his party would not let anybody build this corridor if changes are made to the planned route.
He pointed out that the ANP had not only successfully opposed the One Unit of General Ayub Khan but also the construction of the Kalabagh dam. The party would launch a similar campaign against any altered route. Possibly this is the opportunity the ANP has been waiting for to rejuvenate itself politically.
It is believed that due to security reasons, the government has proposed that the route be changed to include parts of Punjab and Sindh. So far the PML-N and the PPP have remained quiet.
Given the scenario painted by the ANP, one fears that the corridor will face the same fate as a medical college that was supposed to be built a decade back in Balochistan with European Union funding but was finally shelved as no one could decide whether it would be built in the Pakhtoon or the Baloch majority areas of the province. The medical school is only one example. Many opportunities have been lost over petty politics.
It may be the kind of controversy that some parties and entities want to have in place to once again come back to power or favour. The ANP has some catching up to do. The party was trashed in the last general elections by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who were considered political infants at the time. The reason for the poor showing had more to do with ANP’s corruption while in power and less to do with the popularity of PTI.
Having said that, on the issue of the corridor, the ANP may
have a point. To counter terrorism, the government needs to
create economic opportunities in terror affected areas. So it
must invest where such a mindset proliferates. This is the catch-22 situation. We have to give economic opportunity in places where there are none. And the economic corridor promises to do just that.
The challenge is to get Chinese help to build the corridor in these restive parts of the country in the first place. Already we have seen Chinese contractors and their Pakistani counterparts being attacked by insurgents and militias. What we don’t want to see is that the project be stopped mid-way. This is not a project only of the Nawaz Sharif government. It is a project that will benefit all of Pakistan.
Opponents to the change in route argue that the federal government’s responsibility is for the entire country and not just a province that may have voted the government to power. But any change has to be taken after a national debate. Not by the back door. Otherwise we may see failure at the end of the road.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2015.