Another controversy has been stirred like the Kalabagh Dam and the motorway alignment. The controversy could go on for long and damage the national cause yet again. There is no sensible reasoning in opposing the route alignment under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The basic idea behind the building of the CPEC was to link up the deep-sea Gwadar Port to Kashgar in western Chinese province of Xinjiang. This is a transit route facility to be given to China. In return, many areas along the route will be developed, boosting the economy of Pakistan as a whole.

The route alignment connects all four provinces including Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. To say that route has been altered by the government is not true as multiple feasible studies have yet to be carried out.

Led by the Awami National Party (ANP), an All Parties Conference was held on 17 February in Islamabad that demanded ‘not to accept the alternative route to be built under the CPEC’.

It is ANP that also led the controversy against the construction of the Kalabagh Dam in the 1980s. This time the party is not leading a solo debate. Many parties have joined it. They are the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islama (JUI-I), Watan Party, Balochistan National Party, National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and some members of human rights organizations and civil society activists.

They demand that the route must go through Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) so that the smaller provinces, neglected areas and backward communities can gain the benefits of the CPEC. They believe that the map of the original route was changed by the government. They want Quetta and southern districts of the KP to be a part of the proposed route.

The route connects the whole of Pakistan to China. It is well-connected and balanced considering the geographical conditions of the country. Balochistan, Sindh, Azad Kashmir, Hazara and Gilgit-Baltistan would be well-connected by the CPEC. Hazara Division would occupy the most central space under the CPEC.

In fact, about 1000 km area of Balochistan will be covered under the route if it goes from Gwadar to Turbat, Awaran, Panjgor and Khuzdar. If the route goes from Gwadar to Quetta and then Zoab, the Balochistan area that would come under the route would be 1300 km or about 50% of the total route. Is the province being exploited?

Similarly, over 400 km area of Hazara Division comes under the route alignment. These districts are Haripur, Abbottabad, Mansehera, Badagram and Kohistan. If the alignment was made from Quetta to Zoab and then to Dera Ismail Khan, the KP area would extend to another 210 km, increasing to 610 km and the KP area share would increase to 23 % if the total length of the route would become 2,658 km from Gwader to Quetta, via Zoab, D.I. Khan to Hasanabdal and to Kohistan. Is it exploitation of the KP province?

From Dina the route goes into Mirpur and then to Muzaffarabad by decreasing the distance of 150 km via Rawalpindi. The route would connect to Muzaffarabad through a road from Balakot and Garhi Habibullah. The Mirpur-Muzaffarabad route will be around 260 km, having a share of 10 percent of total route alignment.

The CPEC is not a ‘Punjab-dominated’ project. If the upper route was adopted, only Bhakkar, Mianwali and Attock districts would be connected and the area of the route would be around 433 km or 16% and if the route comes from Rahim Yar Khan to Hasanabdal, it would be 865 km, increasing Punjab’s route share to 33% understanding that Punjab is the second largest province in terms of area.

The proposed sites of freight terminals and industrial parks would include Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Jacobadad, Kholu, Loralai, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Kashmore, Bhakkarm Abbottabad, Gilgit and Sust covering Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, KP, and Gilgit-Baltistan. It should also include some parts of Azad Kashmir.

It is not true that Balochistan and KP would be deprived of opportunities to be gained under the CPEC. It is wrong to suggest that the route is avoiding those areas where insurgency has been going on. Therefore, the CPEC route alignment controversy is baseless and an unfounded reality only meant to delay the project that is going to be inaugurated when the Chinese President visits Pakistan in April.

There is no question of depriving or neglecting backward areas and districts disturbed by terrorism. Terrorists have been hunted out throughout the country, not just in specific areas or districts. Not only technological considerations will be taken into account, but distance and economic feasibilities will also be considered by planners, geographers, civil engineers and other experts. Routes should not be based upon political considerations and propagandas.

n    The writer is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He is an expert on Japan.