Why is PML-N being so secretive about CPEC’s investment plan?

Published: January 25, 2017
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It is unfortunate that the Sino-Pak friendship is being questioned. PHOTO: REUTERS.

If the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) wasn’t already an enigma, the recent debates regarding its pros and cons have muddled this into an even bigger mess. On one hand, there are the knockers who didn’t shy away from labelling it as the future East India Company (EIC), and on the other, we have the blind patriots – the ones that hold CPEC at the highest level of sanctity, that merely questioning the transparency regarding CPEC’s projects amounts to treason for them.

Undoubtedly, these directionless debates have a lot to do with the suspicion and political sensitivity created by the government around the CPEC framework. However, to me, both prevalent views are far-fetched and perilous to national interests.

At first, to equate China’s role, within the context of the CPEC project, with that of EIC is simply an embellishment. Such an over-statement has been countered by various writers in recent days, rather successfully. And quiet evidently, a strict comparison of both is fallacious and misplaced for the simple reason that the days of claiming ‘EIC is like colonialism’ are long gone. Since Pakistan was in a weak state, China’s investment should have been welcomed. China already has deep pockets, thus one should not expect the country to take anything away from us, the way the EIC robbed the subcontinent of its resources.

However, the EIC analogy cannot be completely disregarded. The days of colonialism might be past us, yet, states no longer employ the weapons of the colonial era to subjugate other states, as capitalism now does it for them. In the words of Kwame Nkrumah,

“Capitalism is but the gentlemen’s way of slavery.”

For a state to thrive in this era of capitalism, its financial independence is integral. When a state is financially dependent on another, the way our country was on Saudi Arabia and the United States, that is when a phenomena like that of the EIC in the subcontinent occurs.

Nevertheless, it is the second view that seems more precarious. Nonsensical patriots, who are trying to make CPEC a sacred cow, are forgetting that it is not China’s gift via the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to the people of Pakistan. If that were the case, then there would be nothing to ponder over. But to our dismay, most of the projects under CPEC are loans which we, the public exchequer, will have to pay back. Unfortunately, the mysterious CPEC framework agreement has not been revealed yet, thereby, we do not know about the terms and conditions encircling the proposed $51 billion investment. In the words of the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan,

“I don’t know out of $46 billion [in CPEC deals] how much is debt, how much is in equity, and how much is in kind.”

Thus, turning a blind eye to the whole thing is not patriotism, but on a very conservative scale, it is imprudence.

Both the views advanced in the CPEC debate have been poles apart. Ignoring the fact that we as a nation are currently facing a paradox – where on one hand, there is the necessity for such an extravagant investment in our country and on the other, the fear of subjugation at the expense of such an investment.

The antidote for this problem lies with the government, who is primarily responsible for the smooth and uncontroversial functioning of the corridor projects. Unfortunately, the PML-N government has made this matter more ambiguous by building a smokescreen around the CPEC framework agreement. Secondly, and more recently, the ignorance towards Public Procurement Rules in CPEC projects means that the impetus for speculations has been renewed. There is an inherent need for the government to step up and put an end to all the speculations by implying transparency in the CPEC projects.

It is unfortunate that the Sino-Pak friendship is being questioned at a time where a collaboration between the two friendly states is at an unprecedented high – the reason being the lack of transparency around this collaboration. Thus, an onus also lies on the Chinese counterparts as well; they must realise that giving loans through backdoor channels won’t help their cause. For the success of their ‘One Belt One Road’ plan, of which CPEC is an integral part, they need to make sure that the people of Pakistan are engaged and given a sense of ownership in the corridor. The US-Pakistan relationship must serve as a lesson to be learnt – despite the fact that the US injected billions of dollars into Pakistan over the last decade, they were still disliked as a country.

For now, as a nation, we have to redeem ourselves from this state of disunity and realise that by labelling CPEC as a form of colonialism, or making it contentious, might dissuade our foreign investors. Similarly, turning a blind eye to accountability would mean renting Pakistan out on the terms and conditions of investors. Therefore, positive criticism and calculated pressure must be exerted on the authorities to ensure that we are provided with the chance to utilise our strategic location. Firstly, to warrant a profit out of the loans we are availing, and secondly, to result in economic prosperity rather than a burden of unpayable debts.

Usama Munir

Usama Munir

The author is a Queen Mary University of London Alumnus and currently a practicing corporate lawyer, based in Lahore

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.