ch-pak-econ-corridorBy ALEENA ALI ——

Provincial lawmakers are threatening to resign in northwestern Pakistan in the wake of alleged backtracking by the federal government in allocating proposed Chinese investment in  Pakistani regions.

The flaring of political tension follows the revelation of a meagre share of investment projects for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which the lawmakers represent, and in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province to the west. The two regions are Pakistan’s least-developed provinces.

The discord threatens the completion of a number of critical investment projects in the country and disturbs the national consensus that had been reached on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor earlier this year. China and Pakistan share a border through which significant trade passes.

The newly released information apparently shows that the agreement excludes the building of strategic routes and highways in the western region of the country, and prioritizes investment projects in the relatively more developed northeastern region.

“The western route is of strategic importance to the provinces of KP and Balochistan, who are important stakeholders in the project,” said Pervaiz Khattak, chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, according to The Express Tribune.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government will obstruct any infrastructure project passing through the province unless the federal government ensures the construction of a route through the region, Dawn News reported Khattak as saying Monday at a news conference in Peshawar..

The federal government has denied any deviation from earlier agreements. The western routes are under construction and are scheduled to be completed in 2018, according to remarks by Ahsan Iqbal, federal minister for planning and development, as reported in The Express Tribune.

The Chinese Embassy has made efforts to clarify any misunderstandings and reduce political tensions. “It is reported on an Urdu newspaper recently that the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan informed the chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that the western route doesn’t exist in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This is untrue and misreporting,” a Chinese Embassy spokesperson said in a statement last week, according to Samaa TV.

The assurances of the federal government and the Chinese Embassy have failed to reduce political tensions, as provincial lawmakers threaten to submit their resignations and civil-society groups have expressed support for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor includes a number of energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan. They are financed by Chinese firms and banks, and are part of China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road scheme that aims to provide new transit routes for Chinese goods through Pakistan.

Investments included in economic corridor amount to $46 billion and are forecasted to generate substantial economic benefits for Pakistan. “If successful, the energy and infrastructure projects will create the sorts of necessary preconditions for Pakistan to achieve growth rates of 7 to 8 percent, rather than the levels it has been achieving thus far, which have been around 4 percent or lower,” said Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank in Washington D.C.

“CPEC may enable Pakistan’s economy to transform itself into the kind of emerging market that it has the potential to be,” Small said.

The achievement and maintenance of a national consensus has been stressed by Chinese officials in the past. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad urged that “relevant parties should strengthen their communication and coordination” in response to the emergence of political divisions earlier this year, according to a report by Dawn News.

(Written by Aleena Ali; Nov. 3, 2016)

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