So, why is the Pakistani media going gaga over the Chinese President’s visit, the sack of goodies he brought with him amounting to $46bn and the 53 MOUs signed between the two countries? Well generally, Pakistan doesn’t have too many international leaders coming to the country and patting it on the back and calling us their ‘iron brothers’ – we are more used to the John Kerry style hectoring us about why we are not doing more or the Obama style of flying over our airspace to land in India to sign defense and other agreements. More recently, we have been threatened even by our pygmy UAE ‘friends’ and subjected to the annoyance of our other ‘all weather’ good friend for not putting feet on the ground in its Yemeni playground. Many a western diplomat has sniggered and rolled over laughing when Pakistanis have talked about the relationship with the Chinese which is supposedly ‘deeper than the ocean and higher than the Himalayas’. So finally, it seems the Chinese have put their money where their mouths are. Investments at $46bn, if they transpire, would be far greater than what the USA gave to Pakistan since 9/11 when we fought ‘their’ war on terror which became ‘our’ war on terror.

So what are we getting? $34bn in the energy sector and $11bn in infrastructure in roads and railways is being promised. The Chinese are promising to generate 16, 400 MW of electricity through hydro, wind, solar and coal sources; over 10,000 MW by 2018. If they focus especially on the environmentally friendly energy sources this would be a great development for the people of Pakistan who see up to 20 hours of load-shedding in many parts of the country. The first investment project of $1.7bn has already been announced with a 720 MW Karot Dam in Jhelum to be built by the 3 Gorges Corporation and they have plans of over $5.5bn totaling 2000MWs alone. $4bn has been promised to upgrade railways network infrastructure and building a dry port at Havelian as well as providing locomotives. Bilateral trade between the two countries is to be enhanced from its existing $16bn to $20bn within 3 years.

So promises galore are floating around; however, there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip as they say. In 2013, the government had announced the Gadani Energy Park which was supposed to produce over 6,600 MW for the country – despite the ballyhoo with which it was announced, the project has been abandoned due to lack of necessary guarantees wanted by the Chinese. Nonetheless, all credit goes to the government in accomplishing this deal. They now need to take the next step to ensure that the MOUs are realized and do not become mirages and this will only happen through a chain of accountability in the project.

First the government needs to clearly identify for the nation what areas will fall under the economic corridor. The PML-N government needs to ensure that it comes outside its provincial worldview in which Lahore and then Punjab is the epicentre of the country and ensure, in the words of President Xi Jinping, that the economic corridor ‘benefit all Pakistanis’. Second, a clear list of projects needs to be identified as falling within the ambit of this corridor and the population needs to be told what these are; advertised through the media as well as put on the finance ministry and other relevant ministries websites for transparency. Third, a special specific civilian ‘taskforce,’ needs to be setup to work on undertaking, regulating and monitoring the projects and providing updates on a regular basis to parliament. The cell should not get lost in the bureaucracy of the planning commission or the EAD. Instead, it should be headed by a qualified minister who works with a core committee of other senior ministers, Chief Ministers of the relevant provinces; also, that minister should not be Mariam or Hamza Sharif. The good thing about the Sharif Brothers is that they like accomplishing things fast and usually within the tenure of their governments, so 2018 has been set as the first phase of the project.

Getting many of the different stakeholders in society involved in this plan is a good idea as is setting up the joint think tank, RANDI, to ensure cooperation and knowledge sharing between the two countries; but, it is hoped that the quality of work coming out will be more thought out then the unfortunate choice of name, whether it be pronounced in English or Urdu. To address concerns, expressed by top Chinese leadership over security and safety of its citizens and work on the corridor, the army has already announced it will set up a special security division that will comprise of nine battalions headed by a major general. Apart from 5000 personnel from the army’s special services group it will also have police and other civilian armed forces.

So why go gaga? This investment amounts to almost 20% of our current GDP of $250bn, and if realized it will improve our physical infrastructure, resolve the energy shortage issues, allow development in many areas hitherto ignored by the state, including FATA and Balochistan regions; certainly, those Baloch chiefs who are power hungry and keeping their people suppressed will not be too happy with their economic empowerment. So maybe the question should be, shame on the electronic media for not going even more gaga and asking tough questions on the details during this period. However, the ratings game ensured that while the Chinese president was in town, 90 percent of Monday’s talk shows still continued to focus on the NA-246 elections!