ISLAMABAD - Bringing the political leadership across the spectrum on same page, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif managed an All Parties Conference (APC) to stand behind the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the decision to construct first the Western corridor, which would link Gwadar with Kashgar.

Premier Sharif, chairing the second APC on this subject, here at the PM House, said the political leaders endorsed the project. The meeting was convened to discuss the CPEC, its route, related projects and to seek suggestions to ensure that all provinces get equitable benefit from the mega project. The earlier APC on the CPEC was held on May 13, but it remained inconclusive.

Federal Minister for Planning Ch Ahsan Iqbal and Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique briefed the participants on various dimensions of the project, including construction of rail and road network to link the whole country with the Corridor for the collective benefit of people of Pakistan.

Denying any alteration in the original route, Ahsan Iqbal said that they wanted to be part of the economic activity generated with the opening of the corridor and would not let this major economic link to become mere a passage for shuttling of the containers from China to Gwadar. Saad Rafiq briefed the participants on the upgradation of rail routes and told them a new rail track would be constructed to link Gwadar Port with national rail link.

It was also agreed upon in the meeting that a parliamentary oversight committee would be formed to monitor the pace of work on the corridor and its related projects, including the economic zones to be established along the route, while working groups would also be formed to further allay the concerns of the provinces, if any, regarding the projects associated with CPEC.

The Western route (or section), which would be built on priority, would move from Hassanabdal down to Mianwali-DI Khan-Zoab and link it to Gwadar, and majority of the opposition parties from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan wanted construction of this route on priority.

JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, who strongly insisted on giving preference to the Western route, after the meeting termed CPEC an economic explosion that would be a game changer for the people of Pakistan. Jamaat-i-Islami Amir hoped that the execution of the project would bring with it economic prosperity to the whole of the country.

MQM leader Farooq Sattar cautiously gave approval to the project saying that some reservations were yet to be addressed. He demanded the government allocate some funds from the CPEC for the port city of Karachi.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his satisfaction over the political ownership of the project taken by the national leadership and made it loud and clear that government would ensure transparent execution of the project. He thanked the national political leadership for their support and said a parliamentary committee would be set up for oversight of the CPEC and its associated projects. He said a working group would also be set up to address the reservations of the provinces.

He said the CPEC would help Pakistan achieve its cherished dream of becoming a developed country and the project would not only help economic growth of Pakistan but also benefit other countries of the region. He said the CPEC would help equitable development across the country and noted with appreciation the role of China in this regard.

The prime minister thanked the political leaders for joining him on an issue of national importance and said gone were the days when political leaders of rival parties were involved in bickering and agitation. On the contrary, he said now all political forces stood together to work for development and progress of the country and strengthen democracy.

He termed it a healthy tradition and hoped and prayed that the good convention of collective decision making on vital national issues continues. He said unprecedented investment from China was pouring in the country as numerous projects were in the pipeline. Stressing the need for evolving consensus on the CPEC, he said that difference of opinion was a positive thing as it helps in bringing about improvements.

The PM said the last APC remained inconclusive owing to the tragic Safoora incident in Karachi. He appreciated the fact that terrorists involved in that incident were nabbed and vowed that those responsible for killing around 45 innocent people would get an exemplary punishment.

Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, who had given a detailed briefing at the previous session, briefly updated the participants and said the world today saw Pakistan as the focus of Chinese investment and they too were keen to invest. He clarified the misconceptions about the project and said it was not confined to a single physical route rather it was a concept that included roads, airports, ports, energy and development projects in the whole country.

He said the $46 billion Chinese investment was for several energy, road and rail projects all over the country. He also gave a breakdown of various projects and clarified that the Orange Line in Lahore was not part of CPEC. He said no new road is being constructed as part of the route; rather, existing road network would be improved with enhanced interconnectivity to the benefit the whole country. He said roads along three major alignments would be upgraded for improved North-South connectivity.

Ahsan Iqbal said a working group comprising representatives of the provinces would study the feasibility of setting up viable economic zones along the Western, Eastern and Central routes. He invited the representatives of political parties for their input and suggestions in this regard. He said the projects along the western alignment would be completed by 2016.

The meeting was attended by representatives and heads of political parties. The Pakistan Peoples Party delegation was headed by Syed Khurshid Shah, PTI team by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, ANP’s by Asfandyar Wali, MQM’s by Farooq Sattar, JUI-F by Fazalur Rehman, JI by Sirajul Haq, BNP by Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini, and PML-Q by Mushahid Hussain Syed.