The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a project that both neighbouring countries hail as a game changer for this entire region. However, there are voices that we do not hear often, and these voices are sceptical of the official narrative. Should the state brush their concerns aside and label them as anti-national? What the Pakistani state needs to do is to hear the legitimate concerns of smaller regions and provinces regarding CPEC.

In a report published in Dawn yesterday, the locals of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) have expressed fears that the CPEC project has little to offer to the people of the region. The concerns that local small businesspeople express carry weight, as they feel uneasy with the arrival of big Chinese and Pakistani companies in the area. Despite the tall claims made by both sides regarding CPEC, no one has cared to explain how the project is going to bring positive change to the lives of people of GB. People of the area also fear that the project will also have drastic impacts on the environment and small-scale businesses of the region. They are yet to be compensated for the acquisition of their immovable properties by the government for Karakoram Highway.

However, it is not only the people of GB who have raised their voices for what the project holds for them. Governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are also not happy with the way CPEC is being executed.

Although so much has been written on CPEC by government officials, supporters and enthusiasts, and even by critics and detractors, the truth is that very little is known about the project. However, there is still time for Islamabad to take all local stakeholders on board. One thing that is clear is Pakistan has not negotiated with the Chinese government on its terms.

However, CPEC is not a welfare programme but a trade transit route. To expect it to generate progress and welfare equally is unrealistic. The government’s public diplomacy has failed to make this distinction resulting in unrealistic demands by marginalised regions.