India is only sidelining itself
If anyone needs to know who kept the flag of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) hoisting while the Sharif brothers were abroad, among others few individuals, it was Asim Khan, the unsung hero of the ruling party who kept serving the party’s cause.
He was the lone soldier at the PML-N media cell who successfully engaged with the electronic media as all the other old and outdated PML-N media gurus had no clue how to deal with the new trend of TV channels. Quite interestingly, after emergence of social media after the PTI and Imran Khan phenomena, Asim Khan again emerged as a lone flag bearer on this front with no resources in hand, created a huge audience even on this front.
Of late, Asim Khan has taken himself a huge cause to serve the country by joining Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal to help implement China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as Special Assistant to Planning Minister on Strategic Initiatives and Development Communication. He is also Program Director for Peace and Development.
DNA sat down with Asim Khan to discuss various strategic and economic aspects of CPEC with an insight into its implementation.
Question: Wouldn’t it have been better if the government had quantified more clearly some of the initial advantages of CPEC? The project took off some while ago, yet there’s still much mystery about when and where the initial benefits will accrue?
Asim Khan: No doubt there was a time when the people were unaware about CPEC and its immediate benefits to them as well as its socio-economic impacts. But with the passage of time things unfolded as the government, especially the ministry of planning being the focal ministry on this multi-sectoral cooperation framework generally called CPEC, engaged with fraternities and its stakeholders through development communication network across the country. Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal himself put a lot of effort and successfully created development discourse taking onboard regional, national and international media.
He didn’t only keep himself available for the stakeholders but visited the whole country focusing on the areas which were direct beneficiaries of the CPEC projects. Indeed, there is no mystery rather things are crystal clear on part of both China and Pakistan. At the moment, nothing is hidden from the people of Pakistan. So far as communicating the quantified results and portraying financial projections and economic benefits is concerned, it’s just a matter of time. We being in the government are very well aware of our responsibilities. People always expect accurate and authentic information from their government. This information and the desired data has to be received through credible mechanism that might be further verified. For this purpose, the ministry of planning, development and reforms has established the CPEC Center of Excellence in collaboration with the Pakistan Institute of Development Economic (PIDE), which itself is the prime institution for economic research. More than 28 top scholars have been engaged into research work to bring forth authentic economic and financial projections of this gigantic CPEC framework. The Center of Excellence is working under the direct supervision of the federal minister for planning and development and it bears full backing of the economic, social sector, infrastructure, IT, communication, science and technology and food and agriculture experts placed in the ministry of planning, development and reform. The first challenging task for the MPDR and CPEC Center of Excellence was to prepare the Long Term Plan (LTP) which has been completed and already shared with the provinces seeking their input and feedback. The long Term Plan would serve as foundation for the generation long mutual co-operation between all weather and time tested friends, China and Pakistan. Once it is finalised by the Pakistani government, it would be shared with the Chinese for further improvements and finalisation. When it is unveiled, no question would remain unanswered.
Q: Unfortunately the project has been dogged by controversy since the beginning. The latest warnings refer to the burden of colonialism, etc. Why this unjustified reference is being drawn to CPEC and what is the government’s plan to countering such groundless allegations?
AK: Like many other apprehensions, “colonisation” is another illogical and baseless “buzzword” which the poor morons and CPEC haters are using against China to create further doubts on CPEC and mislead the people. Needless to mention that Pakistan and China are all weather and time tested friends. CPEC is a fusion of Vision 2025 and China’s One-Belt One-Road philosophy. This is not the first time we are partnering in any front. We had been tied into strategic partnership for decades. CPEC brings forth a transformational paradigm, moving from geo-strategic to geo-economic partnership between the two countries. China’s huge investment in energy, infrastructure and suggested industrial sectors doesn’t provides any extra ordinary mileage to either of the partnering countries rather it offers a win-win situation and equal opportunities to both China and Pakistan. Hence, no question to compare CPEC with East India Company. China is putting into lot of sincere efforts to help Pakistan to improve socio-economic indicators in Pakistan. We shouldn’t forget that China brought mammoth investments of US$46 billion when Pakistan was being singled out as an ungovernable and a security state. At that time, no other country rather not even an individual foreign investor was willing to bring even a single penny in term of investment but Chinese investment brought a historical turnaround and today Pakistan is being considered as the safest bet for investing billions of dollars in different sectors. The fear of colonisation is being spread at a moment when the fourth pillar of CPEC is all set to open an altogether a new era wherein the country is going to emerge as the manufacturing hub in the world and especially in this region. Accusations are being fabricated and the rumour mills are suggesting new excuses to malign this cooperation between Pakistan and China. Whereas the reality is that the Industrial cooperation is still in its inception phase.
Briefly, I would maintain that no special incentives are being given to foreign companies and organisations for operations in Pakistan to ensure the protection of domestic industries. A working group has been established in regards of to setting up of economic zones under CPEC, established working group will take on board all relevant stakeholders in the process of finalising a business model and developing a framework for investment in the special economic zones. The working group will consult in detail the officials of all relevant line ministries, provincial governments and Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry to ensure smooth functioning of special economic zones to be setup in the mid to long-term phase of CPEC. The government is ensuring at all levels that no policy is initiated which may hamper the local industry and unfairly favour foreign investors. Minister Iqbal stated that all policies are directed to create a favourable eco-system for domestic and foreign investors to ensure strengthening of Pakistan’s economy.
Q: Over the last few months a number of countries, including Iran and Russia, have expressed interest in the regional connectivity that the CPEC novelty is bringing. What is the future of this outreach?
AK: CPEC plays very important role in making OBOR successful. Interest shown by foreign countries proves the potential of Pakistan’s economy. Strategically, Pakistan has improved its position globally since CPEC became a reality. The government of Pakistan is keen to attract foreign investment from countries other than China to benefit the local people. Federal government is welcoming any FDI and encourages joint venture to keep control and help the local industry to meet international standards. Many countries have started the process of negotiations and the results will be visible shortly. In principle, all the afore-mentioned countries are very important regional players and are encouraged to participate in CPEC, taking advantage of the road/railway network, using full potential of the silk route and later on bringing investments in industrial clusters along the corridor.
Q: Do you feel India’s antagonism has lessened over time, considering the cold shoulder its initiatives have invited internationally?
AK: If India prefers staying isolated and irrelevant from CPEC, it would not benefit it regionally, politically and economically. Having partnered with China on OBOR and entering into CPEC framework, which in a true sense spans over almost all sectors and walks of life, Pakistan an alleged failed state of till 2013 is now taking off as an emerging state and a fast growing economy as well as a strategically stronger and stable than ever. If India continues with her existing aggressive policy, no one but India herself would miss the train of enormous opportunities. Strategic isolation within the region apart, it would face economic setbacks and fateful disasters. But circumstances are evident that Indian government and its intelligentsia has gradually realised that CPEC is a daylight reality which is being accepted by many developed countries,antagonism would no more work and help her survive stronger way. India has realised the fact that becoming part of CPEC will reap more profits rather than opposing the Mega project. Additionally Support from the Chinese government has further silenced India’s voice. Hence, coming months would show considerable decrease in Indian antagonism.