It is heartening to learn that after the departure of the PTI government, key CPEC projects are back on track. We are told that confidence between the two countries was restored after Pakistan’s security forces successfully smashed a terrorist cell behind the killing of three Chinese teachers at Karachi University. Realistically speaking, much more needs to be done to speed up the ongoing CPEC projects and reach agreement on those which despite being crucial continue to face hurdles.
The PTI leadership lacked the motivation to speed up a project initiated by its much-maligned predecessors. There were complaints that government departments left the majority of directives given by the Pak-China Relations Steering Committee unimplemented, despite federal minister Asad Umar chairing the committee. That even warnings failed to con gvince the bureaucracy to show progress indicates the lack of inclination in the PTI leadership.
There were delays in the implementation of projects when then PM Imran Khan’s advisers were under IMF influence, Power and Petroleum SAPM Tabish Gohar being one, questioned the terms and conditions agreed with the Chinese power companies. The government approached not only the Chinese government but also Chinese companies individually, asking them to sit with the Power Division’s top brass for review of Power Purchase Agreements and rate of return. Will the present government defy the IMF pressure? .
The most significant project facing delays is the Main Line 1 (ML-1) upgradation project. We are being told it has been revived. But has it?
The highly ambitious ML-1 project includes dualisation and upgrading of the 1,872km railway track from Peshawar to Karachi which would revolutionise the railways system. The hindrance that lies in its way is its estimated cost, which was $7.2 billion in 2020, and which is likely to have gone up on account of rise in cost due to inflation. Pakistan had sought over $6billion Chinese loan. There were however questions about the country’s ability to pay back the loan. Pakistan was also required to seek relaxations from the IMF, as under the existing IMF deal Pakistan does not have space to provide sovereign guarantees above a certain level. The World Bank had meanwhile warned that the project’s debt servicing was not sustainable. Does the govt have a strategy to overcome all these hurdles in the way of ML-1?