THERE are growing indications that things are not going as well with CPEC as we are being told. Since the government did not release any meaningful details following the recent, seventh round of the Joint Cooperation Council — the crucial forum where the details of the various projects that come under the CPEC umbrella are being negotiated between the Pakistani and Chinese sides — news has managed to trickle out that many of the projects considered central by Pakistan have suffered setbacks.

The first news related to the Diamer-Bhasha dam project that was the most recent addition to the bouquet of projects being considered under the plan. That information emerged during a parliamentary committee hearing in which a former Wapda chairman said that the Chinese were asking for terms that Pakistan was unwilling to give in order to finance the mega dam.

The next bit of news came after the meeting itself, when reports trickled out that the framework agreements for the Peshawar-Karachi railway project, known as the Main Line 1 project, as well as the Karachi circular railway, could not be signed during the meeting.

 

For the circular rail, there appeared to be good reasons for the delay, but for the ML1 project, it was merely stated that cost estimates will take another two to three months to be finalised.

Now comes a report that three important road projects, brought into the CPEC framework in the sixth JCC meeting held last December, have also suffered setbacks.

According to the report, the Chinese have developed new rules for approving financing for CPEC projects, and each of the latter will have to be resubmitted through the new procedures before financing can be arranged.

All of these might prove to be temporary difficulties, and the projects mentioned (except for the Diamer-Bhasha dam which appears to have been scrapped), could be back on track within months. Or this could be the moment when CPEC is changing gears, entering a new phase of its construction beyond the ‘early harvest’ power projects, and the enterprise is growing beyond the ability of the government to effectively manage.

As CPEC grows, its implementation becomes more complex and unwieldy given the small number of people involved in drafting the Pakistani position in the talks. The only antidote to the growing difficulties the government appears to be running into is greater transparency, which is becoming more urgent with the passage of time.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2017

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