CPEC and the change of face

Khaleeq Nazar Kiani

No one was expecting the departure of General (R), Asim Saleem, from the CPEC authority so early. As an experienced and good media handler, he knows how to remain in the limelight by using the power of social and electronic media. Last month, he arranged the Prime Minister’s visit to Gawader with the big media team and portrayed the very glorifying picture about the development of Gwadar. Many top anchors were invited for the coverage of the visit, and Prime Minister launched many projects.

It was all that time when the people of Gawader were protesting for water and electricity in the scorching heat near 50 degrees centigrade. Gwadar is not linked with the national grid, and there was a project to connect the Gawader with the national grid, which has not taken practical shape and is still in the paper. Pakistan imports 100 MW of electricity from Iran for the whole of Makran Division.

The power supply from Iran reduces in the summer season due to high domestic demand over there. A 300 MW coal-fired power plant was approved at Gawader in 2017, but its construction work has not been started. To overcome the water shortage, the Chinese company agreed to provide water to the residents of Gawader from its desalination plant.

How industrialization is possible in the absence of water and electricity is a million-dollar question. The reality is that the power plant and interconnection of Gawader with the nati-onal grid will not complete in the remaining two years of the PTI Government, so that the thing will remain the same, and there will be no significant change.

The creation of CPEC authority in 2019 and the appointment of General (R) Asim Saleem was a kind of confidence-building measure and to normalize the situation with the Chinese by the military leadership, which has been damaged due to corruption charges leveled by the PTI Government in the CPEC projects.

Mr. Razak Daud, advisor to Prime Minister for commerce, is on record that CPEC “unfairly benefits Chinese companies” through tax breaks and many other incentives that are unavailable to local counterparts. These remarks were unacceptable to the Chinese, who had invested billions of dollars when no country was willing to invest in Pakistan.

Initially, the PTI Government slowed down the work on CPEC projects, but when it realized the mistake and tried to speed up the work, the other side chose to go slow. Things were not moving fast, and the cold response from the Chinese side was evident.

In the last three years, only two Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meetings were held, which is the apex body for taking the decisions about CPEC projects. The first meeting of JCC was held in 2013, and the 7th JCC meeting was the last one of the Nawaz Government. The 10th JCC meeting was scheduled this year but postponed due to the unfortunate incidence of the killing of Chinese engineers working on the Dasu hydro project.

The appointment of Khalid Mansoor as Special Assistant to Prime Minister on CPEC affairs is now an effort to normalize the working relationship with the Chinese from the civilian side. He is a trusted person of Asad Umer, enjoys a good reputation in the corporate sector, and has vast experience in energy and petrochemical projects. He is the man behind the development of the Thar coal mining project. He knows the working style of Chinese companies and can negotiate better with them.

His appointment is a blow to the PTI Govern-ment’s narrative of expensive energy projects becau-se he was instrumental in some big energy projects under the CPEC umbrella. Mr. Khalid Mansoor opted to work as SAPM and not as chairman of CPEC authority.

One thing is clear now that the idea behind the establishment of CPEC authority was without rationale. Its creation was a futile exercise that will now work as a spare body of the Ministry of Planning and special initiative.

The real challenge to Khalid Mansoor would be to handle and gear up the multi-layered bureaucracy. The sailing of papers/files in the Government setup is not as smooth and swift as in the corporate sector.

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