The Nation interviewed Asim Amin, General Manager (Design), National Highway Authority (NHA), Islamabad, to know about his views regarding the CPEC and the benefits it will bring to Pakistan. Following are excerpts of the interview:

How do you think, the CPEC Project will help Pakistan make inroads into the Central Asian markets?

The Central Asian Counties are landlocked or double landlocked. Their rivers and littoral are fed into inland seas or the ice-locked Arctic Ocean. On the contrary, not only they are rich in natural resources but also provide access to trade routes to all the regional powers. After the breaking of USSR, these countries are desperate to find access and markets to their buried treasures, as well as exploit their geo-strategic location for transit and cross-border trade.

With the development of CAREC wherein Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, under the umbrella of Multilateral Development Banks like ADB, World Bank, European Development for Reconstruction and Development etc. pledged to share their routes for bilateral trade and access to only ports of Gwadar and Karachi. If we look at the CAREC Routes without regional boundaries, the whole road network funnels into Pakistan coastal line. The above scenario requires Pakistani road infrastructure to be at its best when allowing large volume of transit trade. CPEC fulfilled a major requirement by providing North–South Motorway corridor. For East-West corridor, government of Pakistan is upgrading the road network from other resources. Pakistan geo-strategically located in a perfect location having 44.4 percent of world population around it. Pakistan can act as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Beyond shadow of doubt, the Central Asian and South-East transit trade in now transforming into a reality.

How, in your opinion, Pakistan will be reaping fruits of the project that is going to link Central Asia with South Asia through air, rail and road?

Among 10 CAREC member states (till date), Pakistan is the only country that has ports in warm waters (Gwadar, Karachi & Bin Qasim). The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation, or CAREC, Program is a partnership of 11 countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), supported by 6 multilateral institutions, working together to promote development through cooperation, leading to accelerated growth and poverty reduction. Moreover, Turkmenistan has world’s 4th largest natural gas reservoir, as well as excess electricity. Kazakhstan is home to 3 percent of the world’s oil, 4 percent of the world’s coal and 15 percent of its uranium. It has the world’s largest reserves of zinc, lead and chromite and it is in the top ten for supplies of copper, iron ore, gold and manganese. Geologists believe there is a lot more commodity wealth yet to be discovered in the states. Pakistan can prove to be a major evacuation route to export these resources through sea and rail (Integration of rail network is one of the major portfolios of CAREC countries). Central Asian States has a great demand of Pakistani fruit.

What are the socio-economic benefits of the project for Pakistan?

CPEC is a game changer for Pakistan and it would not be incorrect to term it as a fate changer. There is considerable increase in foreign direct investment. Creation of job opportunities as well as employment for Pakistani labour in huge quantity for construction of mega infrastructure projects is a good indicator. There will be at least 9 mega Economic Free Zones in all parts of our country, including AJK. Gwadar will be fully functional and shall compete with any modern port in the region. With deficiency of electricity being eliminated and having surplus, will revive the industrialization process that almost came to a standstill in the past. With road and railway infrastructure at its best, the economic growth rate will boost up to 6-7 percent. Improvement in industrialization will enhance Pakistani exports that will improve our foreign reserves. It’s now utmost important that Pakistan must train its young human resources to abreast with technical skills to provide future development requirements. Major investments are required in this regard. Safe and flourishing Pakistan is in the best interest of China. China is struggling to keep its growth stable and competitive, as the cost of manufacturing within its homeland is on a rise.

Do you think the CPEC project will help in restoring confidence of other nations in Pakistan in terms of security and defence and how the CPEC Project is going to contribute in the country’s economy?

One of the main reasons of law and order/terrorism is poverty. With better future economic prospects and creation of job opportunities, the situation will definitely improve. For example, after completion of N-85 in Balochistan, the size of major towns grew rapidly, meaning economic activity is on the rise. Small kiosks are emerging along roadsides. With livelihood associated with traffic and road itself, sense of ownership will develop. The first phase of Gwadar Free Trade Zone is completely booked and applications for Phase-II are regularly pouring in. The only handicap is water and power. In phase-I, small amount of water and power is available within the port itself. However, for Phase-II, there is almost nothing. Government is planning 300 MW power plant but that too will not provide the needs for industrial units like steel fabrication and other serious stuff. War footing actions are required in this regard. It has been stated by Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning Development & Reforms that at international forums all around the world, governments are inquisitive and are showing interest to participate in CPEC already.

It is a general perception that NHA projects take a long time to complete. What do you say in this regard?

Primarily the delay upon the construction of the project may be associated to a number of factors, few of which are: a) Overstretch of development portfolio against the project in execution and new projects started. Shortage of funds is the main source for projects to linger on. b) Our construction industry has not employed modern management techniques rather they are still dependent on ‘Munshi’ system. c) At times major modifications are made during execution stage.

How much loss overloaded vehicles cause to national highways network annually?

Overloading is a real menace to our roads. When overloading is coupled with high temperature, even single overloaded truck can play havoc. Other lethal combination is overloading with high tyre pressures that act as knife, and induce cracking/rutting. NHA is employing high quality weigh stations on every entry of Motorway systems to stop over loaded trucks using the Motorway systems and damage assessment is worth billions of rupees. It is envisaged that the CPEC will bring about major transformation in trucking industry. Now an overloaded truck takes 72 hours or more to travel from Karachi to Lahore. With CPEC motorway and modern truck, it will take just less than 10 hours. With reduction in travel time and increased number of trips, the truckers will get more benefits.

Some Balochistan projects are lingering on for quite some time. What, in your view, is delaying the projects?

Yes, law and order situation and lack of funding in previous regimes delayed construction of Major Route N-85 in Baluchistan considerably. But under the instruction of Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan and his vigilant monitoring, NHA and FWO worked day and night to achieve the targets and completed the projects. NHA has undertaken a mega portfolio of more than Rs 1,000 billion; never in the history. The land acquisition and preparatory works like planning and designs were done in record time. Construction activities are going on full swing and Insha Allah, completion will be done in record time as well.