When it comes to a project as big as the $45 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, reasonable people can disagree over what is the most prudent course of action. Yet, the uproar that took place in parliament recently, and a subsequent press conference by Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, devolved rather quickly into name-calling and threats of secession. We understand passions run high when it comes to what may well be the largest infrastructure project in the country’s history since the completion of the Sukkur Barrage. But this sort of behaviour — where the government is accusing the opposition of treason, and the opposition is accusing the government of ethnic bias and threatening to launch separatist movements — is unbecoming of elected representatives. At the heart of the disagreement is what route the corridor should take. We believe that the senators from Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are correct in insisting that the corridor should be used to rectify one of Pakistan’s greatest economic inequalities: the fact that the bulk of the transportation infrastructure is concentrated almost entirely in Sindh and Punjab. The corridor affords the country the opportunity to create a similar level of infrastructure in Balochistan and K-P.
We understand the government’s view that the corridor should be operationalised as soon as possible. It is even reasonable to suggest that the existing infrastructure in Punjab and Sindh be utilised to get Gwadar Port up and running as soon as possible, especially given the urgency the Chinese government — the project’s key sponsor — feels in connecting its western hinterlands to Gwadar. But we are inclined to agree with PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar on this matter: if the corridor is allowed to take a temporary detour through Punjab and Sindh, it will create a set of interests which will seek to ensure that the permanent route through Balochistan and K-P is never constructed. The need to appease the Chinese is reasonable, but Pakistan’s national interest is served by ensuring that the two provinces don’t feel like being ignored and get the infrastructure they need to prosper. They have waited too long for this opportunity.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2015.