Revitalising CPEC.

CHINA has been a steadfast friend of Pakistan. No two views about that. Our northern neighbour came up with a multibillion-dollar project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, at a time when Pakistan was in the throes of terrorism, and no country was willing to invest in it. However, has Pakistan optimally availed the enormous opportunities that CPEC could have yielded? The jury is still out.

Pakistan did manage to generate enough electric power to say goodbye to the brutal 16-hour-long daily load-shedding. Thousands of kilometres of highways were also built, bringing into the mainstream far-flung parts of the country. But alongside these two priority areas under CPEC, Pakistan was expected to build nine Special Economic Zones. That did not happen. So, the Chinese industries started shifting to countries where they could establish and operate seamlessly. Pakistan missed the train. Besides the delay in making SEZs, Covid-19, political and policy instability, and non-ease of doing business were responsible for CPEC's slowdown.

The moot point is whether CPEC can regain the momentum it had generated in the first few years since its launch in 2015. The visit of our prime minister to China this month has certainly provided a timely fillip to CPEC's ongoing projects and potentially new investments. The joint statement after the visit reaffirmed the 'all-weather strategic cooperative partnership' between the two countries. It was also agreed to 'continue the momentum of CPEC's high quality development'. It was a clear signal from both countries' leadership that the implementation of CPEC projects must be revitalised.

Can CPEC regain the momentum it had first generated?

Notwithstanding this reassuring message, there is a degree of curiosity as to why there was no clear announcement to start any major projects, such as the proposed multibillion-dollar ML-1 railway line project. The joint statement only 'appreciated' the project and called for its earliest implementation. Likewise, the leaders agreed to 'speed up progress' on Gwadar port and Khunjerab border port. However, no specific projects were announced. On some level, it is felt that China might be waiting for clarity regarding the next government in Pakistan. However, it can be argued that leaders provide only broader guidance, and work is to be done at the working level. If that is the case, it falls on the Planning Commission and concerned authorities to pursue a results-oriented approach...

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