CPEC and smaller provinces

Islamabad:  In the atmosphere of suspicion over the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the prime minister’s consultative meeting, which has led to the setting up of a high-powered 10-member committee, is a prudent move. Apart from the prime minister’s assurance of his personal involvement in the smooth enforcement of the CPEC, it has also been agreed upon to constitute a special cell at the Ministry of Planning and Development for effective coordination and information-sharing. Notwithstanding all these measures taken by the government to dispel doubts and concerns of the smaller provinces, the federal and the Punjab PML-N-led governments need to rise above petty regional interests, or so to say, the interests of particular stakeholders in order to cement the tottering bonds of cohesion of the smaller provinces vis-a-vis the federation, defusing secessionist sentiments and clearing off the long-established narrative that ‘Punjab is monopolising beyond what is its rightful share’.

This becomes all the more important when the smaller provinces are already voicing their concerns over the alleged move to change the eastern route of the CPEC, and over a number of aspects of this mega project related to economic zones and infrastructure development, which have not so far been made public. Being the larger province, Punjab deserves a larger share, which it always gets, but in the face of its comparatively far better conditions, with a sound and developed infrastructure compared with the smaller provinces, which are entirely a shambles, the CPEC must be made, in the broad national interests, an avenue for the smaller and more backward regions to develop their infrastructure, ameliorate their conditions and benefit from the projects at least on a par with Punjab.

Constitutionally, it is a rightful device laid down in the Constitution whereby it is guaranteed that the backward regions should get every opportunity for progress and prosperity. It is high time the federal government developed a broad national consensus on major projects without taking crucial decisions that concern the whole federation single-handedly and ensures a transparent and equity-oriented implementation of the CPEC. This will ensure that elements of distrust and alienation are clamped down upon, thus nipping in the bud fissiparous tendencies. This can make Pakistan a unified and strong federation.