Liv­ing with the New Norm of a Con­tro­ver­sial CPEC

The Diplomatic Insight - - Special Supplement on China Pakistan Economic Corr -

For those peo­ple as­pir­ing to see a smooth im­ple­men­ta­tion of the China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor free of in­ter­rup­tion from political wran­gling and me­dia ag­i­ta­tion, there can be hardly any less aus­pi­cious way in which year 2016 could have be­gun with. With the fed­eral govern­ment and a grand al­liance of al­most all op­po­si­tion par­ties pitched against each other with re­gards to the CPEC route, and the for­mer ac­cus­ing the later as traitors, the later ac­cus­ing the for­mer as liars, thus leav­ing the two sides with no com­mon ground on which to de­velop any di­a­logue, this dead­lock doesn’t seem to of­fer any prospect of quick so­lu­tion. Alarmed by this new wave of con­tro­versy which is hi­jack­ing CPEC as a political hostage, Chi­nese govern­ment, which has long taken a light pos­ture in this Pak­istan’s do­mes­tic quag­mire seem­ingly be­yond its own ca­pac­ity or re­spon­si­bil­ity to iron out, in a rare but solemn move, has urged Pak­istani lead­ers to solve the is­sues be­tween them­selves, in an ef­fort to cre­ate a fa­vor­able con­di­tion for the timely com­ple­tion of CPEC. How­ever, with a pan-party, in­ter-prov­ince com­mon sense of na­tional iden­tity largely ab­sent, any sus­tain­able na­tion­wide agree­ment on CPEC routes and projects would be more of an al­lur­ing dream than a re­al­is­tic pos­si­bil­ity. If a buzz­word can be bor­rowed from China’s own eco­nomic lex­i­con to de­scribe the en­vi­ron­ment that CPEC is in, it is that the con­tro­ver­sial politi­ciz­ing of CPEC has be­come a New Norm that we have to live with, with the only al­ter­na­tive be­ing a more dam­ag­ing Zero Op­tion, read leav­ing CPEC in the back­burner al­to­gether. Sound­ing self-de­featist, but ground re­al­ity of Pak­istan’s political land­scape and in­sti­tu­tional setup dic­tates that it is the only re­al­is­tic op­tion to live with the politi­cized con­tro­versy in the process of CPEC con­struc­tion, while at the same time tak­ing due dam­age con­trol mea­sures to pre­vent the whole pro­ject be­ing de­railed, to the joy of hos­tile for­eign ob­servers with US and In­dia be­ing on the top of the not so short list. I think I need to pause here a lit­tle bit to ar­ti­cle might not be taken as an­other source of con­tro­versy which we al­ready have an over­abun­dance of. Firstly, since it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to take an ab­so­lutely neu­tral stance on this is­sue with con­cerned par­ties di­vided into two camps, any ar­gu­ment this ar­ti­cle makes in fa­vor of ei­ther main­te­nance or change of sta­tus quo is purely based on my recog­ni­tion of the rea­son­able­ness of nec­es­sary in­vest­ment made on un­eco­nomic ba­sis for the gen­eral good of the CPEC as a whole); Se­condly, any idea or ar­gu­ment I re­but­tal against in this ar­ti­cle shall not be seen as an in­sult against the in­di­vid­ual or the group of peo­ple who make them in the any ef­fort of set­ting the record straight would nec­es­sar­ily in­volve hurt­ing those stick­ing to the bended one, and that heal­ing their emo­tional wound is the re­spon­si­bil­ity more of an psy­chi­a­trist than of an econ­o­mist). Af­ter th­ese this ar­ti­cle largely in the frame­work of an­swer­ing some most fre­quently asked ques­tions with re­gards to the CPEC. 1. Does the shorter dis­tance make the western route eco­nom­i­cally more de­sir­able? To an­swer this ques­tion, we have to go back to the very ba­sic con­cept by mak­ing a quick ref­er­ence to an ADB re­port ti­tled Op­er­a­tional­iz­ing Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dors in Cen­tral Asia, pro­motes or­ga­ni­za­tion of eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties to cre­ate jobs, in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity, strengthen eco­nomic clus­ters, and con­trib­ute to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try, as dis­tinct from a trans­port cor­ri­dor, which en­sures con­nec­tiv­ity (within the coun­try, within the re­gion, and with out­side the re­gion) as well as from a tran­sit cor­ri­dor, which en­ables smooth tran­sit through coun­tries. De­spite not be­ing in a po­si­tion to know whether the Chi­nese govern­ment con­sulted with the ADB with re­gards to the nam­ing of the CPEC, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion log­i­cal to as­sume that the mere fact that CPEC was named as CPEC rather than CPTC or any­thing else speaks vol­umes of what China was ex­pect­ing from and Pak­istani govern­ment was agree­ing about this mega pro­ject. The ADB re­port, be­sides giv­ing a went one step fur­ther in draw­ing a gen­eral pic­ture of what each of them might look like re­spec­tively. A tran­sit cor­ri­dor, the re­port rightly ar­gues, is fo­cused on point-to-point trips, with lit­tle role for any­thing in be­tween; An tran­sit ob­jec­tives of greater speed and re­li­a­bil­ity in point-to-point move­ments, fo­cus on in­creased den­sity and va­ri­ety of eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in the cor­ri­dor space. Ap­ply­ing this to the CPEC, a shorter dis­tance doesn’t make as much eco­nomic sense as some ar­gues it does. As the corol­lary of this shorter dis­tance the­ory, its ad­vo­cates are also try­ing to make the less dense pop­u­la­tion in KPK and Balochis­tan a big plus, ar­gu­ing the cost of land ac­qui­si­tion is lower than what would be ex­pected in over congested Pun­jab and Sind. It would have been a win­ning ar­gu­ment no one can dis­agree with if we were talk­ing about a point-to-point tran­sit or trans­port cor­ri­dor, yet the true color of CPEC be­ing an eco­nomic cor­ri­dor means that it has far more func­tions than merely of­fer­ing China an im­proved qual­ity of trans­porta­tion which en­ables

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