LIKELY SLIPS-BETWEEN THE CUP AND THE LIPS
CHINA-PAK ECONOMIC CORRIDOR
We are in our right to celebrate a unique opportunity this nation got to improve our economic lot that may lead to improved law and order, alongside positive political developments. But before we start expecting too much, we ought to weigh and analyse the pre-requisites to start such a grand venture and its implications for our economy and the polity; both internal and external.
The most important aspect is to understand the type of huge investment that China is making. How much of it is aid, grant, loan, investment etc.? So far such breakdown is not available to public. We hope such details are available to the government, with all its implications. If it is all investment (or most of it), that is more likely, then how much of it will be done through Chinese companies and what portion will be available to local entrepreneurs through Chinese Banks and at what interest rates? What is the rate and timeframe of paybacks that the Chinese companies are planning at? If expected profits do not come through, who is the undertaker or guarantor? Who is going to provide the materials, machinery, transportation and manpower employed along the entire length and breadth of the corridor? Will it be open bidding and competitive process according to Chinese or Pakistani laws? Now these are too many questions but very important ones to be clearly resolved before we get blinded by the glittering figure works only. We only hope that the people at the helm of decision making regarding this big chance and change are working or already worked out all such details.
It may not be a comfortable spectre to see the entire length and breadth of Country flooded with Chinese companies, machinery and manpower, working entirely at their own terms and conditions. Why I raise these issues because we have seen some shoddy MOUs and Agreements made in the past giving little attention to our short and long time interests. And many of such ventures went sour, challenged in the courts or were of little value to us. Cases in point are Riko Dek, Turkish Power Ships, NATO Containers etc. In the end we would not like to see all our local rules and resources being circumvented, own vehicles paying heavy tolls and foreign vehicles plying free because of the nature of investment and requisite payback compulsions.
Now to look into all these aspects a powerful ministry is required to be nominated, headed by an experienced, honest and competent minister with a personality that can coordinate and convince successfully, to all involved, to clear all bureaucratic hurdles ensuring rapid implementation and national interests. That focal ministry must be manned by our best available officers and men. It must bear the total responsibility for the successful progress of the project. I hope our government is already sensitive to this aspect and must have done something accordingly, hitherto unknown to the general public. For its implementation a large well organised entity dispersed over the entire corridor will also be required to oversee and report all progress and problems while implementing huge projects nearly simultaneously. So far nothing of sort is happening on ground. These huge organisations cannot be raised and trained in few days or weeks. Thinking of outsourcing the entire responsibility is expecting too much from our existing quality and capacity of entities. To ensure world class standards we would also be requiring world class consultants for which we should have been busy shortlisting them already. If work is already in progress, it is not known to general public; if they matter at all.
We also need to keep working vigorously on improving the law and order situation that mercifully is improving fast. Armed Forces along with police, Rangers and other agencies may be given this exclusive responsibility without petty political considerations. They should remain accountable to the government but be allowed, assisted with appropriate law making to carry out their tasks professionally and completely. Without a cordial, tension free and peaceful environment between major institutions the dream of economic corridor is not likely to materialise. In fact the huge reservoir of disciplined and trained manpower (some of them with technical experience and skills) of serving and retired armed forces personnel, other institutions and civil society can be very profitably employed to implement this great opportunity project. Some of the secretaries, CEOs, MDs, retired generals, marshals and admirals are sitting with great planning and execution abilities. Most of the retiring soldiers are under fifty years with a lot of vigour left along with a disciplined orientation, comparatively speaking, because of their training. Let us not waste this national talent just because of petty prejudices.
The importance of political consensus and requirement of collective understanding regarding this opportunity goes without saying. Honourable Prime Minister did an excellent job by ironing certain initial apprehensions of various political quarters. But this is not likely to be the end of all problems, genuine or motivated. The steering committee must include wise, competent and honest politicians from all provinces for their inputs and monitoring to keep resolving the issues as they crop up, rather than allowing them to simmer and expand to unmanageable proportions. Interior and focal ministry may ensure continuous understanding in this regard. Clear delineation of responsibilities and benefits well in advance, with mutual understanding, may mitigate such problems. Generally a centralised planning and execution, with fair and rightful distribution of benefits can add to successful completion of projects.
We also need to work a lot on the foreign policy front. Convincing and actually offering all the neighbouring countries to come forward and benefit from the advantages of the emerging corridor, thus removing many irritants and oppositions. The wary Americans need to be taken into confidence that this is purely an economic venture that can benefit many of their allies and open the world for Afghanistan and some Central Asian nations. Everyone may not get convinced, and then we have to employ our total power potentials to go our way in spite of all opposition and resistance. A part time foreign office arrangement is not likely to work. Services of some very competent, serving and retired diplomats of eminence need to be given this onerous task.
Now I am not saying that all that has been mentioned above has not been considered or not being planned. However, it is not well known to the public. They are having very high hopes with this chance of the century. It may be because of my ignorance that I have not been able to know what all major and vital steps are being taken in this regard. But the purpose of highlighting all this is to draw the attention of respectable prime minister, hard-working finance minister, competent planning ministry, minister for defence, advisor on foreign affairs and national security advisor to see that there is nothing that they have missed. In fact they must be doing much more than indicated in this humble effort.
Lt Gen (retired) Naeem Khalid Lodhi