The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a party meeting he chaired to choose his successor, that the Chinese government initiated CPEC project in Pakistan because of him. Considering the pressure, in the wake of his unceremonious ouster, one can ignore this beguiling of self for the time being. However, since the PML-N government is still in control of the parliament with a new prime minister, the misconception about CPEC being a special favour to Nawaz Sharif needs to be addressed and possibly stripped out. The CPEC project could have begun in the Nawaz Sharif era, but its seeds were sown much earlier. The PPP too, had its share of effort in the fruition of the project. It is a typical tendency, in Pakistan, to take credit of owning the whole pie, if someone happens to make a substantial last minute contribution to complete the product. Just as Nawaz Sharif takes the credit for making Pakistan a nuclear power, only because he ordered the explosions in response to India’s audacity to do so in the late 90s. Coming back to CPEC, let it be known that the Chinese government has also said that Nawaz Sharif’s departure would make no difference to the project, that CPEC is a national asset with regional implications and has nothing to do with the dynastic politics of this country. The internal political dynamic of Pakistan and the threat emanating from India makes CPEC a matter of concern. The real taste of CPEC could have been better savoured had mindful and Pakistan-oriented policies been devised. Not that Pakistan will have any fewer benefits, but besides becoming a security providing country and a co-builder of the economic corridor, Pakistan’s indigenous business interests could have been linked to the project as well. Such thoughtfulness could only be summoned to serve in an atmosphere of political stability. Since its creation, Pakistan is fighting an unending war against corruption. The ball of accountability had been set rolling many times before, but the latest style of taking out the elected prime minister on corruption charges has no precedent in the history of Pakistan. Only time will tell if this was genuine accountability, or just another witch-hunt to deepen ulterior motives.

In the meantime, CPEC is a reality that Pakistan needs to guard and make as useful as possible.

Pakistan-India relations have been based on mutual enmity. And because Pakistan’s political structure has supported the military narrative more than the political one, India, because of its hostile regional presence towards its neighbours, became Pakistan’s archrival and biggest enemy. India has had reservations on CPEC on many counts and has openly objected to the project on many occasions. CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan; a region, which India claims is part of its territory. This has caused a commotion in Indian circles, and a complaint in this regard has been lodged many times in China. The unrest in Balochistan and the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav, the Indian spy who had openly confessed being deputed in Pakistan with the sole agenda of sabotaging CPEC, confirmed India’s restlessness on seeing Pakistan making economic headways in the region. On the flip side, India is also part of the One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) mega project of which CPEC is just one part. Therefore, whether one likes it or not, OBOR, with its inherent ability to connect, would sew in India as well in this mega regional connectivity project. The beauty of this initiative, however, lies in its potential to connect the regional states even those having an inherent bias against one another within the security paradigm. If taken up sensibly and with a mission to iron out differences, the Kashmir dispute could find a solution as well, given the economic dimension that CPEC bestows. For Pakistan, the task is especially humongous if seen through the security prism. The real challenge lies in making CPEC beneficial for Pakistan.

There have been many criticisms against CPEC, some factual, while others are in place only to create misconceptions. One area that does need attention and has been neglected so far is the deployment of the Chinese managers, skilled and technical staff throughout the project. This not only raises the unit cost of labour after taking into account other expenses such as housing, wage premium, security and so on, but it also takes away the opportunity to put to use Pakistan’s talent pool in the project. Had the government been planning, these professional positions could have been transferred to Pakistanis by having them trained by Chinese trainers. Such an initiative demands coordination and above all the development of vocational and technical training institutes both in the private and public sectors.

So far, no such initiative has been taken, and the general grievance that Pakistan would in fact, be more burdened with debt and Chinese domination carry weight. Embroiled in domestic politics, with corruption at the centre of all allegations against the politicians, any policy initiative in making CPEC become more Pakistan-oriented does not seem to be the priority of the leadership in Pakistan.

Be it CPEC or any economic foray, if comprehensive benefit is to be accrued, Pakistan’s internal political dynamics matter more than the external security situation. In this context, Pakistan is in dire need of a clean, responsible and dedicated leadership and bureaucracy, not only in the centre or provinces, but also in every institution. Ultimately, it is the institutional framework of a country that takes the mission forward on the back of the vision the leadership provides at the helm of the affairs.