Last time I checked Pakistan was a federation of four provinces. However, the current federal government of Pakistan apparently only considers Punjab to be Pakistan. When the incumbent federal government came into power it was called a Punjab-centric government from the outset. The 51 agreements signed between China and Pakistan, or more accurately Punjab, have proved beyond any doubt that the PML-N government is in power to serve Punjab only. Therefore it would be fitting for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to be renamed as China-Punjab Economic Corridor.
The President of China, Xi Jinping, was in Pakistan for a high profile visit earlier this week. The highlight of his visit was the signing of 51 Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and inauguration of 8 projects between Pakistan and China under CPEC. The total value of all these projects is $28 billion which is a huge amount considering the fact that the budget outlay of Pakistan for fiscal year 2014-15 was US$ 43 billion. These projects can prove to be beneficial for the economy of Pakistan. However, the way these projects were distributed among all four provinces made the entire deal controversial.
Out of the $28 billion worth projects, Punjab gets $11 billion, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) $2.5 billion and Balochistan gets nothing. That’s right, not a single penny out of $28 billion would be spent in Balochistan which is the most backward province in Pakistan. Sindh would get $9 billion from these projects; however the major chunk of that amount would be for the Lahore-Karachi Motorway, a project meant for Lahore. There is no justifiable reason whatsoever which can be floated to defend this unjust division of projects among the four federating units of Pakistan.
During the agreement signing ceremony that took place in Prime Minister House on April 20, only the Punjab Chief Minister was present. The other three chief ministers were not invited. It’s not just about invitations, no person from Balochistan and KP was chosen for the workgroups that finalized the details of CPEC with Chinese officials. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz Sharif orchestrated the show only to benefit their support base in Punjab.
This deal that was supposed to bring prosperity to Pakistan has become controversial from the outset. The KP Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak has openly criticized the federal government for preferring Punjab over other provinces. The legislators of Balochistan Assembly dubbed the agreements between Pakistan and China as between Lahore and Beijing. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Vice president of PTI, who also belongs from Punjab, has criticized the federal government for its Punjab-centric approach in distribution of CPEC projects.
The route of CPEC rail and road link was the first thing that triggered the controversy. The original route of CPEC would pass from the center of the country. It would start from Gwadar-Ratodero-Dear Allah Yar-Dera Ghazi Khan-D.I Khan-Hassanabdal and all the way to Kashghar. PML-N government has created confusion over the original route. They have come up with a mindboggling concoction that the CPEC would not be one road but a network of roads. That’s wildly untrue because as per the original plan, there would be one main route, ranging from 2 to 6 lanes. During the agreement signing ceremony, the government of Pakistan agreed with China on the eastern route that would take the Gwadar-Ratodero-Sukkur-Lahore-Islamabad-Abbotabad route. Clearly this route is meant to benefit Lahore at the expense of two backward provinces of Pakistan, Balochistan and KP.
Coming to the inaugurated projects, Lahore already has a Metro Bus service, but the government of Pakistan is establishing an Orange Line Mass Rail transit system in the city. China would provide $1.6 billion for this project. A branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China would be established in Lahore. And where would the China Cultural Centre be established? No prizes for guessing. Would it not be fair if these projects were divided equally among all four provincial capitals? I guess it would not be acceptable to the Punjab centric agenda of PML-N.
Protests have already erupted against what is being termed as China-Punjab economic corridor. Right and left wing parties in both KP and Balochistan are on the same page on this issue, which is a rare occurrence. Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal has already given his verdict on the protestors and he is in the process of distributing certificates of treachery. He said, “Hidden hands, some politicians, and also India are trying to make the multi-billion dollar framework [CPEC] controversial.” According to the criteria set forth by Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, this article must also be the work of hidden hands to sabotage the interests of Pakistan. Fortunately, for PML-N government, a draconian cybercrime bill is in the pipeline that would be used to crush any dissent to anti-federation policies of their government on internet.
The irony of the matter is that China has initiated the CPEC plan to develop its backward western regions. On the other hand, Pakistan is depriving its backward provinces of the benefits of CPEC. What PML-N government has forgotten is that it’s not 1955 when One-Unit was enforced to crush the demands of smaller provinces. It’s the 21st century and the people of Balochistan and KP would protest against the policies of PML-N government that are focused towards the prosperity of Punjab only. The one thing that has become crystal clear is that Nawaz Sharif is indeed Prime Minister of Punjab and Shehbaz Sharif is Chief Minister of Lahore. The rest of the country can go to you-know-where.
Author’s note: This article in no way intends to blame the common people of Punjab.