February 3, 2019
While the panelists, by and large, gave their approval to the CPEC, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, they however, expressed certain reservations as they spoke at a panel discussion at the Adab Pakistan Festival at the Sindh Governor’s House on Saturday afternoon. The topic of the discussion was, “Socio-economic development under CPEC”.
Noted columnist Zahid Hussain said that we mustn’t go headlong into the venture and should ask ourselves many questions before taking the final plunge. He questioned the wisdom of the Orange Line project on which, he said, a mighty amount of two billion dollars had been spent. He asked if it was really worth it.
He cited the Orange line project and said that the benefits of the project were dubious. How, he said, we could be sure that the CPEC would not go the same way.
On the question of the project vis-à-vis the neighbouring countries, people were sceptical about India’s attitude, but then Fatemeh Aman from Washington DC said that the Iranian port of Chahbahar and Gwadar were not competitors. Besides, she said, the Chinese had already reached Chahbahar, and India and China were not competing in Central Asia either.
She thought that this would be a good opportunity for Pakistan and India to mend fences with each other which, she said, would give impetus to regional trade, all to the benefit of the people.
For Afghanistan, she said, that it would provide opportunities to the country for investment and development. Thus, she drew a positive picture of the CPEC.
Panelists wanted to know how the project would benefit the people of Balochistan, an area through which the corridor passes.
Dr Ishrat Hussain, former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and former dean of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi University, said that $1billion had been earmarked for the socio-economic development of the province. He said the CPEC would trigger development for the deprived people of Pakistan.
He brushed aside the ambiguity about the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) by informing the audience that there would be no special concessions for the Chinese companies in the SEZs, saying uniform concessions would be available to all the nine SEZs.
He said that in the near future, China would be the world’s largest economy; so, Pakistan should better benefit from the situation by mending fences with her neighbours.
Later, in the question-answer session, a questioner wanted to know about the deal the labour would get in the SEZs to which Dr Ishrat replied that there would be no special concessions. It would be uniform for everyone.
He said foreign companies were most welcome to come and invest in SEZs but said that thus far none had evinced interest in coming.
Dr Hussain said that the main emphasis was to boost exports and that was how we would be able to repay our debts.
A questioner wanted to know the fate of the women workers in Gilgit-Baltistan, to which Dr Hussain replied that the role of women in the area’s development was exemplary and they would be accorded their due importance.
The session was moderated by Vaqar Ahmed. Dr Hussain said that now the emphasis would be on solar energy and wind power. He informed the gathering that China’s yield per acre was 40 to 50 per cent more than Pakistan’s, from which, he said, Pakistan could benefit.