Whenever a project is hailed as the answer to Pakistan’s economic woes, it is followed by whispers of discontent. These whispers have become louder with time as the specifics of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) remain shrouded in mystery. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has put his foot down and warned the centre that his government will not allow the CPEC to pass through the province if it is denied the promised share of 13 percent as per the original plan.

It is not an unreasonable demand as the project was acclaimed to be very beneficial for the underdeveloped provinces of Balochistan and KP. Both provinces have had their fair share of setbacks - terrorism, insurgency, dismal state of education and infrastructure- and could greatly benefit from the injection of funds that the CPEC promises. CM Khattak has put forth the axiomatic assertion that Punjab unfairly claims the rights of smaller provinces and that everything was being manipulated to benefit the country’s largest province. The same allegations have plagued the Kalabagh dam project for decades resulting in its abandonment. Hopefully CPEC will not be met with the same fate.

The CM has rightly pointed out that the CPEC was not just a road and instead, it was a combination of many projects, including electricity, gas, LNG, fiber optics and industrial zones. Yet many of the road projects had begun but none that were falling in the boundaries of KP. Provinces are rational in their concern of being sidelined, which has happened very often under the Sharif Governments – both past and present. Empty assurances will not do and transparency is key to ensure the success of the colossal venture.

The opposition parties had initially been on board with the project and should refrain from making it more controversial that it needs to be. But while no one is denying the countless benefits that the CPEC will bring to the country, considering Pakistan foreign debt has increased to over $65bn, the biggest criticism of the CPEC agreement lies in the way the deal is being conducted. The terms and conditions are completely withheld from the public and hence the element of accountability and transparency is absent. The State Bank governor recently brought up his apprehensions as well, arguing that it is important for the bank to know the structure of CPEC deals. The transparency of government deals is essential for upholding the democracy, as well as ensuring that the structure of the deal is such that it provides short- and long-term benefits to all Pakistani citizens regardless of which province they belong to.