Understanding the real potential of CPEC

By Zamir Ahmed Awan

CPEC has been termed as the economic jugular vein of Pakistan. Reviewing the economic history of Pakistan, one can see many ups and downs of Pakistan’s economy, but for a couple of decades, it is deteriorating continuously. Without blaming any political party or individuals, it has been witnessed that Pakistan has missed several opportunities in the past. As a nation, as Muslims, we should not repeat the same mistakes again and again.

I term CPEC as oxygen to the ailing economy of Pakistan. It is a great opportunity for Pakistan to take off economically. CPEC is an open-ended framework and can include any project beneficial for Pakistan, by mutual consent. This blessing should be used in the best interest of Pakistan.

CPEC’s positive impact on Pakistan

The course of load-shedding in the 21st century has been reduced to a great extent. Some of the under-construction power projects are in the advanced stage or near completion and will ensure the complete eradication of load-shedding. Some more projects are in the pipeline and will cater to the future needs of the country. It is expected that with the launch of SEZs, rapid industrialization, will need much more power in the days to come.

The extensive network of roads in the length and breadth of the country has improved the transportation sector. The transportation of passengers as well as cargo has enhanced a lot. Access to big cities or big markets for industrial and agricultural products has been improved, including the agri-products of the far-flung areas as they now have access to markets in the big cities. It has played a great role in the rural economy and in backward areas. The enhanced economic activities have been seen throughout the country.

Direct jobs created under CPEC are 75,000, but indirect might be multiple of these figures. CPEC has created many opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises as well as individuals. However, the actual job market will be seen when SEZs will be operational.

Historically, Pakistan was a pro-West nation and was depending on the Western world for economic developments. But unfortunately, there was a “planned strategy” that there will be no Pakistan beyond 2015. Some of the Western powers prepared such plans and even started implementation to make the disappearance of Pakistan from the World Map.

The existence of Pakistan today, I strongly believe is the will of Allah (God). This is the only country, established on the basis of Islam, and our slogan is the meaning of Pakistan – KalmaTaiyyabah. Although there exist many enemies of Pakistan, internally as well as externally, this country still exists. It is only the will of Allah.

Under a planned agenda, Pakistan was harmed, sanctions were imposed, isolated politically and economically, especially after the Abottabad incident in 2011, Pakistan faced tough times from the Western world. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) were used as a tool to coerce Pakistan economically. Pakistan was passing through the worst economic conditions from 2011 to 2013

Pakistan joins the mega-development project of BRI

Fortunately, China announced Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Pakistan being the closest friend has joined the mega-development initiative. Under BRI, there were six planned economic corridors, CPEC is the flagship project and in the most advanced stage among all six corridors. The people of Pakistan are direct beneficiaries of CPEC and reaping the fruits of CPEC.

Pakistan has received only 42 Billion US dollars investment in the first 65 years of Pakistan’s history, but under CPEC, when President Xi visited Pakistan in 2015, 51 agreements / MoUs were signed, worth 46 billion. Later on, it increased to US Dollars 62 billion. However, due to the limitation of capacity, only 25 billion has been realized yet. But I believe, Chinese have no restriction to invest in Pakistan, and it can cross several hundred billion if Pakistan can digest and enhance capacity.

It was a special blessing from Almighty Allah, when the West wrote off Pakistan and put restrictions, sanctions, and isolated Pakistan, as it led to China generously investing in Pakistan. The West has put restrictions on the transfer of technology to Pakistan and banned Pakistani students to get advanced subjects in certain areas while studying in the West, but China has generously opened its doors for Pakistani youth to get higher education. It is worth mentioning that Chinese universities in the top 500 world-ranked universities are increasing rapidly.

Unlike the Western aid, which was based on male intentions and drained out in corruption, Pakistan received foreign aid in the past from the Western world, but a major portion was gone in the corruptions, among the donors as well as the ruling elite. The actual portion of these foreign aids used on the ground was rather very small and having a negligible trickled-down impact on the common man in the society. However, CPEC has a direct impact on the public.

Power projects resulted in reduced load-shedding, directly impacting the life of the common man. The convenience of transportation dues to road network under CPEC is also for the common man in the society. The difference between CPEC and Western aid must be understood and differentiated clearly. There is no need to blame the donors only, as if our ruling elite is honest, there must be a different impact on society.

Under CPEC, China has built few coal-fired power plants. Pakistan is blessed with an abundance of coal reserves. Only Thar coal is huge enough to meet the energy requirements for Pakistan in the next 500 years. No doubt, coal can pollute the environment. But if you gather the precise data, you will know that there are many countries that are still using coal for power generation, including some developed countries.

On the other hand, technologies have been developed to make coal less polluting. I would like to quote the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant constructed by China, it is very environment friendly, as they used latest technologies to control pollution. Coal is our domestic natural resource, and very cost-effective. It is up to Pakistani scientists, engineers, technologists to use coal for cheaper electricity. The government may facilitate in the form of friendly policies and attractive incentives only.

China bringing technological advances in Pak

China has built several nuclear power plants, Pakistani engineers involved in these projects should have developed capabilities to construct similar power plants in the future. China has introduced new technologies and methods in the construction of roads and bridges. Especially tunneling technologies are used in the construction of dams and roads in the mountainous regions. Now, Pakistani engineers and technologists should popularize such modern techniques in the construction industry.

CPEC can be a source of transfer of technology if there is a will. Government should play its part of the role and the public will contribute its due share. China is a leader in several emerging technologies and there exists a strong will that China wants to help Pakistan sincerely. For example, China is a leader in high-speed railways and ML-1 can be the best mode of transfer of technology.

China has opened its doors for Pakistani youth to get admission to Chinese universities. There are around 32,000 Pakistani students studying in China, from Undergrad to Master, Ph.D. and Post Doc levels, in diversified areas like Engineering, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Agriculture, Management, etc. There exists a huge pool of China graduates in Pakistan already, experts in various fields, and with experience ranging from fresh graduates to 40 years.

This workforce is a national asset and guarantor of the success of CPEC. They are not only experts in their major areas of study but also equipped with China-Knowledge, like the Chinese language, culture, customs, traditions, systems, politics, governance, etc. They can uplift Pakistan on the same lines as how China has emerged as a global power. Their China experience may be exploited in a positive manner.

Having said all the above benefits of CPEC, it is natural for someone to ask that if we are already reaping the benefits of CPEC then we should be satisfied and grateful. There is no need to worry or think beyond. But I have a question, if these are the only benefits of CPEC, or do there exist more potential? Are we utilizing the full potential of CPEC?

To be benefitted from CPEC, we need the right type of human resource. Whereas, the government is lacking such expertise severely. There is no competent translator of the Chinese language in the government of Pakistan, who can translate more than 60%, especially when oral meetings are conducted between the leadership of both countries. Depending on Chinese interpreters may save money for the Pakistani government, but it is not an option.

Can CPEC deliver more than what we have achieved already?

The heaviest investment under CPEC projects has gone to the power sector, but there is no single person in the Ministry of Water and Power or any power-related Government Organization, who can be trusted as a China expert. The Second highest investment under CPEC is on Infrastructure Developments – Roads, Ports, Airports, etc, but the Ministry of Communication or any related Government institution has no single China hand to interact with Chinese4 counterparts. Board of Investment, is responsible for attracting investment, but severely lacking China-Expertise.

As a result, most of the Chinese investors after interacting with BoI were disappointed and returned back to China, without investing in Pakistan. We may appreciate, that BoI has achieved so little, but the data reveals that the potential of investment from China is much more than it realized. Chinese Government, at its highest level of leadership, has been motivating Chinese investors to pour money into Pakistan, but our limited capacity could not avail the full potential and missed many opportunities.

We are talking about the second phase of CPEC, where SEZs are planned, rapid industrialization is expected, but do we have the capacity to attract Chinese investors or convince the shifting of Chinese industry into Pakistan, do we have relevant people to engage China positively?

Agriculture will be the focus of the second phase of CPEC, and this sector is vital for the Pakistani economy, are we engaging Chinese appropriately, do our people understand Chinese agricultural reforms, and development experience? I am afraid, there is hardly anyone in the Agriculture Ministry, or in Agricultural-related departments, an organization in the Government of Pakistan, who can interact and effectively communicate with Chinese. Whereas in Pakistan, there are a few thousand Chinese graduates in Agriculture – various specialization, who is not only subject specialists but also China experts too.

The second phase of CPEC and what we should know about it 

The second phase of CPEC is also covering the social sector, and it is an established fact that China has marvelous achievements in the social sector, there exists a huge opportunity for Pakistan to develop its social sector with the collaboration of China under the CPEC framework.

CPEC caters to a wide range of projects, which requires Human Resources of various kinds, but as a major category of human resources, required is “Engineers”,  fortunately, there is a major portion of China graduates as engineers. They are engineers in almost all specializations. Engineers are the backbone of a nation, especially, for industrialization, engineers may play a vital role. Unfortunately, China-Graduated Engineers are kept away from Government organizations, especially policy-making and decision-making processes. It is a big loss to the nation and injustice with the China-graduates.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his maiden speech, mentioned China in a very positive manner and announced that he would like to learn two things from Chinese experience – one to fight against corruption and second how China eradicated poverty. Such remarks from a Prime Minister, especially in his maiden speech were very much encouraging and reflect his vision and sincerely with the nation.

He also confirmed in his interview with a western Journalist, which has got fame “Absolutely Not” that he is facing a lot of pressure from the Western world against China. Prime Minister is brave enough to publicly express his pressures and not bowing. Similarly, in his recent interview with famous Chinese anchor Liu Xin of CGTN, he clearly mentioned his priorities and lines of action. It is very much encouraging and appreciated.

It is well understood that the rise of China has not been digested by some Western powers and they are over-engaged to contain China, counter China, and resist China’s rise. They are using Pakistan as a battlefield to achieve their anti-China agenda, which must be condemned and rejected. The government has clearly expressed its vision of partnership in peace and development with any country, any time, anywhere and at the same time avoiding confrontation, wars, tussles, destructions, against any country, any time or anywhere. Pakistan has a stated policy of peace and development and hoped the rest of the world may respect Pakistan’s vision and policy.

Can CPEC improve the economy of Pakistan?

China is a unique nation, with unique characteristics, and unique ethics. It requires appropriate China experts to communicate with China and interact in a manner that suits Chinese too. Only those who understand China can engage China positively. Western-trained, Western mindset, and Western lobbyists see China with Western glasses and frustrate China, despite closest friendship, we could not reap the fruits of CPEC in an optimum manner.

Keeping in mind the international pressures and emerging geopolitics, Pakistan has left few options and less time. No question to the leadership of PM Imran Khan, and no question about his vision on China and CPEC. He has expressed time and again pro-China remarks. But it is time to take action. He needs to take concrete steps on the ground to accelerate CPEC and reap the benefits up to full potential. We must set out priorities and achieve our goals, the sooner the better, economic independence is a real need of the time, and CPEC is the guarantor for the economic take-off.

CPEC is an opportunity that can not be missed, otherwise, our coming generation will blame us and may ask for accountability too. Prime Minister may give due significance to CPEC, expertise is available within the country and if there is a will there is a way, many people are willing to contribute voluntarily for the success of CPEC. It is time to engage the Chinese in a positive manner and appropriate measures must be taken by the Government on an emergency basis.

 Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan is a Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization) and National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at awanzamir@yahoo.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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