The government has set up Pak-China Relations Steering Committee to remove hurdles in the execution of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, underscoring that Islamabad has finally decided to give a push to the multibillion-dollar strategic initiative.
“In order to streamline and expedite coordination, finalisation and execution of CPEC projects, the prime minister has been pleased to constitute Pak-China Relations Steering Committee,” read an order issued by the PM Office on Monday this week.
The terms of reference and composition of the steering committee indicate that the government now seems serious about CPEC after putting the strategic initiative on the back burner.
The 15-member committee comprises representatives of the government, armed forces and intelligence agencies. This makes the body different from the Cabinet Committee on CPEC.
“The role of the steering committee is more operational in nature while the cabinet committee is a policymaking forum,” said Minister for Planning Asad Umar while talking to The Express Tribune.
Pakistan and China had launched CPEC six years ago with an initial investment portfolio of about $46 billion, which was subsequently increased to $60 billion. However, the actual investment remained far below that mainly during the tenure of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
The share of projects that are in the pipeline is $28 billion, according to the CPEC Authority presentation to the cabinet body in January this year.
So far, 17 projects worth $13 billion have been completed while another 21 projects having an estimated cost of $12 billion are being implemented.
“The steering committee is more of a coordination forum and it will hopefully ensure better consultation and coordination before proposals are presented to CCoCPEC (Cabinet Committee on CPEC),” said Federal Planning Secretary Hamid Yaqub Sheikh.
Sheikh will also be the secretary of the steering committee and the planning ministry will act as the secretariat of the steering committee.
The PM Office order showed that Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar would be the chairman of the steering committee. Umar is also the chairman of the Cabinet Committee on CPEC.
Other members of the committee include national security adviser, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, foreign secretary, secretary interior, secretary railways, secretary power, secretary finance, secretary planning, CPEC Authority chairman and Gwadar Development Authority chairman.
The Director General of Joint Staff of the Joint Staff Headquarters, Chief of General Staff/Director General Military Operations, Chief of Staff Naval Headquarters, and Director General Intelligence/Analysis of the ISI are also the members.
The terms of reference of the committee include overseeing and steering the progress on Sino-Pak cooperation under multiple domains, and review progress on various projects and devise pursuance implementation and feedback systems to avoid delays, according to the documents.
The steering committee will also be responsible for creation of inter-ministerial synergy and removing hurdles and impediments in coordination, finalisation and execution of projects.
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In January this year, the Cabinet Committee on CPEC had held a couple of meetings to give a push to the stalled CPEC projects. It had directed the ministries to remove irritants in fast-paced execution of the projects and gave them a stern warning that if the task was not completed within a week, they would face the music. But nothing has moved so far.
The Pakistan Coast Guards and Pakistan Navy had also not evacuated land as of March, which hampered work on phase-II of the Gwadar Free Zone. There was also delay in construction of breakwater and capital dredging of berthing area.
A meeting was also held in the Foreign Office on Thursday over finding a way forward on the issue of seeking relaxation in the power purchase terms agreed under the CPEC energy framework, said the sources. Pakistan is seeking relief in repayments of principal loan being availed for setting up power plants.
However, sources said that there was a new momentum and resolve to show progress, particularly after a meeting between the planning minister and Chinese ambassador to Islamabad, held over a month ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2021