By: Malik Muhammad Ashraf

People often wonder why some countries are more developed than others and why some countries in Asia which gained their independence just about the same time as we did have gone far ahead in terms of economic prosperity. The simple answer is that their secret lies in the development of physical infrastructure: they have better roads, ports, highways, airports, power, water resources and human capital.

It is a universally recognised fact that no nation can leapfrog into the elite club of developed nations unless it invests in all the elements of infrastructure components. There are no shortcuts to economic progress. All modern growth models invariably rely on the development of infrastructure and the resultant industrialisation as imperative ingredients and catalysts for sustained economic growth of a country. The phenomenal economic prosperity and industrial development in the Asian countries – such as China, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia – during the last three decades is a testimony to this modern reality. High level growth cannot be attained without industrialisation and the gradual lessening of dependence on the agricultural sector.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has failed to achieve rapid industrialisation due to the wrong policies of successive governments. The approaches of the past governments were divorced from the emerging economic compulsions. However by becoming part of CPEC, Pakistan is poised to not only make up for the lost opportunities but also to become an economic power house within the next two decades. Apart from radically changing the dynamics of regional connectivity and trade, CPEC is going to act as a catalyst in the process of transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy.

CPEC is a mix of infrastructure projects, energy-producing units and industrial zones along the corridor routes. The development of infrastructure
under CPEC will lay a firm foundation for industrialisation. CPEC has been acknowledged as the perfect recipe for lifting the economic profile of the countries which are part of the initiative worldwide. Even the UN has recognised it as a collateral outcome of promoting peace through economic independence. To ensure transparency in the implementation of CPEC, China and Pakistan have also signed an agreement for a joint audit of selected projects. The agreement has been inked between the audit authorities of both countries.

The focus of the PML-N government on the development of infrastructure during all its tenures, notwithstanding the criticism of its detractors stemming from their narrow political ends, undoubtedly represents conformity with the ever-changing development dynamics. The Gwadar Port, three routes of the corridor and energy projects are the engines of growth in the country. Hopefully the special industrial zones to be set up at Bostan in Balochistan, Rashakai in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dhabeji in Sindh, Sheikhupura in Punjab, Moqpondas in Gilgit-Baltistan, Bhimber in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Mohmand in Fata in addition to the two projects of the federal government in Islamabad and at Port Qasim will also nudge the process of industrialisation in the country. The coming on stream of the energy-producing projects by the end of 2018 and plans to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity by 2030 will not only help to overcome the present energy crisis but will also cater to the future energy requirements of the country.

The scope of CPEC was further widened at the sixth meeting of the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) held in Beijing on December 28-29, 2016. The Bhasha Dam, the Peshawar-Karachi Railway Line, the Karachi Circular Railway, the Orange Line Train for all provincial capitals, Keti Bandar, special economic zones and three more energy projects in Sindh were included. Consequently the size of CPEC in monetary terms has risen to $57 billion. This development took place as a consequence of the participation in JCC of the chief ministers of KP, Balochistan, Sindh and GB. They were invited by the federal government to advocate their cases for more development projects in their provinces. At the end of the meeting, all the chief ministers reportedly expressed their satisfaction over the decisions made at the JCC meeting. The federal government’s decision to invite them in the deliberations of the JCC was commendable. This will silence whatever dissenting voices were emanating from the provinces with regards to the benefits of CPEC.

With this development, CPEC has surely become a national rallying point – above partisan lines. The credit for this goes to the vision and sagacity shown by the government as well as the positive response given by the provinces. It is a win-win situation for all. CPEC admittedly is an inclusive undertaking that mirrors a new source of unity and strength in Pakistan.

It is also gratifying to note that as a result of the policies pursued by the PML-N government, there has been a tremendous turnaround in the economy, duly acknowledged by world lending and rating agencies and international media. Pakistan’s stock exchange has been ranked as the fifth best in the world. Rating agencies have also improved the country’s ratings. Transparency International, in its three consecutive annual reports, has indicated a nosedive in corruption in Pakistan. No major corruption scandal has been reported in the media. The security environment, which is absolutely essential for the implementation of development projects and attracting direct foreign investment has also improved significantly as a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and implementation of NAP. These will steer the process of sustained economic growth in the country.

The civil and military leadership have an unswerving commitment to implementing CPEC projects and ensuring safety of Chinese personnel working on those projects and developed infrastructure. A special security division comprising 15,000 personnel has been created in this regard. Work on development projects at Gwadar is in full swing and the FWO has already completed the construction of 850 km of roads in Balochistan as part of the western route. It is estimated that with the completion of CPEC, the rate of GDP growth will increase by nearly three percent. That indicates how big a stake Pakistan has in the timely implementation of CPEC. It surely represents a transformational change that will accrue economic benefits to the country on a perennial basis.

The permeating situation in the country requires a national consensus on the economic policies based on vision and pragmatism. In other words Pakistan needs a charter of economy that enjoys the consensus of all the political forces to keep the country on track. That surely demands saying adieu to politics of self-aggrandisement, negativity and spreading despair and frustration among the public. The detractors of the present government need to see the reality and play their role, in conformity with the demands of their profession, in the advancement of the country. The opposition and the media undoubtedly have the right to engage in constructive and positive criticism and critical evaluation. However, these should be done with honesty of purpose.