Securing the corridor

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With the security cost of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor set to go up by at least 20 percent, China has pledged to support Pakistan in providing security to the corridor. The pledge came as China’s third-ranking military official, General Fen Changlong, led a delegation to visit Pakistan last week. Having met both Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, General Fen expressed the hope of close cooperation to ensure the security and management on the CPEC. Over 200 security-related incidents on the 870-kilometre Balochistan stretch of the corridor have been reported since work on the road started. With General Fen set to visit India next, it is expected that he will tout the regional benefits of the corridor while raising some of Pakistan’s concerns over Indian interference in destabilising the CPEC project. The visit came as the political heat on the CPEC was raised once again, with an opposition walk-out from the Senate over the neglect of the western route of the trade corridor. Earlier this year, an All-Parties Conference was convened during which the ruling PML-N made promises that work on the CPEC would benefit all provinces. However, as the investment has started pouring in from China, all the energy, transport and infrastructure projects initiated till now have been in Punjab.

In a letter to PM Nawaz Sharif, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah has also expressed reservations on the CPEC projects. Shah’s letter calls the initiatives taken ‘Punjab-centric’ and has asked the PM to adhere to the agreement that was consented to in May’s APC. However, the opposition leader has maintained that the CPEC is an important development opportunity for Pakistan, but there is a need to take all stakeholders on board. With billions of dollars of investment on offer, sharing the pool is a fair demand on the part of provinces as an unequal development strategy does not bode well for the economic future of the country. Moreover, it also raises concerns over the strength of the federation where smaller provinces have often criticised Punjab for taking more than its share. Another key concern should certainly be the escalating security cost of the corridor, with the army set to create a separate 10,000 division to provide security to the corridor. Development is always an act of balancing priorities. The government faces the tough ask of ensuring security and balancing regional development as the CPEC investment flows into the country.