A slowdown in completion of projects?
Since its inception, the CPEC has come under close scrutiny from various stakeholders so that the government was compelled to call an All Parties Conference in May 2015 to dispel their misgivings and achieve consensus over the ambitious Chinese initiative. Despite misplaced reservations over eastern and western routes, perpetual national political crises, Indian phobia, as well as the vexing security situation in Balochistan, the grandiose venture proceeded at an impressive pace with most of the Early Harvest projects completed in time. But over the past couple of months, a perception has grown of a lessening of official interest, slow-down in projects, and a dilution of the earlier spirit, drive and close coordination that had characterised the mega-project.
Since 2013, Ahsan Iqbal, the former federal minister of Planning, Development and Reform, played a pivotal role in removing all bottlenecks, bureaucratic, fiscal and political, ensuring that the work proceeded smoothly and building a good rapport with his Chinese counterparts, who are pretty finicky about whom they deal with. Keeping this in view, his surprise move to the Interior Ministry in a cabinet reshuffle that may last for as little as 45 days or a maximum of eight months, is astonishing and inexplicable, to say the least, as it has created a yawning gap in the efficient monitoring of the CPEC projects and disrupted the coordination with the Chinese by removing a face familiar to them. The Army Chief has repeatedly vowed that the CPEC projects will continue regardless, the Chinese government fully reciprocates this view, and the new Prime Minister has assured the Chinese Ambassador of taking a personal interest and supervision in this regard. But a danger sign is the reported bid of bureaucrats in the Prime Ministers Secretariat to fill the vacuum by grabbing control of the CPEC projects for themselves, and this internal contention and resultant uncertainty can rightly give rise to alarm. The government must evolve an effective and efficient mechanism on top priority to ensure that all the CPEC projects remain on track and Chinese concerns are allayed.