Pakistan’s Minister for Planning, Development and Reform says that the news report claiming to have ‘revealed’ the CPEC ‘master plan’ was half-cooked and an attempt to defame the initiative. He’s right on both counts. The report presented a seminal working document prepared by the Chinese side as the actual Long-Term Plan and it was laced with negative commentary. So, will the minister be kind enough to tell us what our response to the Chinese proposals entailed and what was finally decided in Beijing over the last weekend? Will he tell us what the real deal is?

Actually, more worrisome than this recent attempt to drag CPEC into dirt is the non-transparent way in which the minister and his government have gone about the business of managing CPEC, whether it is the long-term planning or the implementation of projects initiated under it. The minister says that the news report was based on a document that had become redundant and it sought to distort the ‘final draft’ discussed on the side-lines of the OBOR summit in Beijing. So, will he be kind enough to share the ‘final draft’ with the nation? That would nip all the distortions and speculations in the bud.

After all, don’t these distortions and speculations signify a failure of his ministry? Why is there such a dearth of information on what is being planned under the umbrella of CPEC? Why should a half-cooked news report be our only source of information about how this national game-changer will develop? Shouldn’t the Ministry of Planning be more forthcoming with information about what it is doing in this regard and what it is proposing?

In fact, shouldn’t it engage the citizens of Pakistan, the most important stake-holders of the initiative, in defining the future contours of our cooperation with China? That’s clearly too much to ask of a ministry that didn’t even bother to share with us what our Chinese partners had proposed for the long-term. That document had to be ‘revealed’ to us through a misleading news report, which was as exclusive as it was half-cooked.

It presented the Long-Term Plan proposed for the CPEC by the Chinese Development Bank (CBD) and the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) as if it were an ultimatum from the IMF and not recommendations put on the table for discussion between two partners. It mentions right in the beginning that the finalisation of the Long-Term Plan figured on the top of the agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Beijing, but it is clueless about the ‘abridged version’ and the ‘final draft’ prepared by the Planning ministry for discussion with our Chinese partners. The news report is oblivious of the role our Planning ministry was supposed to play in amending and augmenting the proposals to suit our national interest.

The Planning Minister now tells us that his ministry worked with the CDB and the NDRC to develop an ‘abridged version’ of the Long-Term Plan proposed by them and, after incorporating inputs from provincial governments and concerned ministries and departments, a ‘final draft’ was prepared which was approved by the prime minister and his cabinet. Interestingly, this is the plan that Pakistan would like China to agree to but the minister doesn’t want to tell us what it is. Why should it be such a secret?

The minister’s stance that he cannot reveal the ‘final draft’ of the proposed Long-Term Plan before it is approved by our Chinese partners is hard to digest. The Long-Term Plan is, as he says, a live document that the two sides have agreed to modify when needed and review periodically. Why should the Nawaz government keep it so close to its chest? What is it that it doesn’t want us to know until it is done?

Even the exhaustive consultative process that, according to the minister, took place to finalise the draft, seem to have taken place behind the back of not only the public but also the special committee of the parliament constituted to oversee CPEC whose members are as ignorant about it as the rest of us. The provincial governments of PTI in KP and PPP in Sindh and opposition parties have complained of being left out of the loop and they accuse the Nawaz government of hijacking the CPEC to serve its petty partisan ends. How else does one explain the lack of transparency around CPEC?

What, after all, has been proposed in the ‘final draft’ by the Nawaz government? Does our government have ideas of its own for Pakistan’s development and have they been incorporated in the ‘final draft’ to be discussed with our Chinese partners? Or, given the proclivity of our leaders to follow orders of donors without asking too many questions, is the ‘final draft’ just a rehash of Chinese proposals, tampered here and there to advance petty political and corrupt objectives? Can we trust the government to act in our national interest and plan for public welfare? Does it have the will and the capacity to do such things?

We must appreciate the difference between our promising engagement with China and the slavery of the empire. In the case of China, we have a say in which way we’d like our cooperation to go. The possibilities are endless and how we decide to proceed depends as much on us as it depends on China. We could turn it into a cooperative partnership or foster another relationship of dependence. At the end of the day, it depends on our leadership and its vision.

Instead of blaming our Chinese partners for proposing a plan that fits in with their vision of national development, perhaps we need to focus more on the response of our government and whether it has made any effort to protect and promote our national interest while formulating the ‘final draft’ for the Long Term Plan of CPEC. Some of the concerns expressed about the proposals are valid. But who is supposed to address them and ensure that our cooperation with China is truly a win-win scenario?