The last two weeks have been full of uproar with regard to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), generated in most part by the statement of Abdul Razak Dawood, which suggested that the CPEC project may require renewed assessment. The subsequent arrival of the Chinese foreign minister, and later, the meeting of the Chief of Army Staff with Chinese President Xi Jinping, underlines the commitment of both nations to this project. It is vital to understand that Pakistan must embark upon any and all strategic initiatives which provide the nation with opportunities to enhance trade and make a difference in the livelihood of Pakistanis. The One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, of which CPEC is an integral part, can produce great dividends if handled correctly, with the steps necessary for its planning and execution set in place in a timely manner.
The newly formed Pakistani government must move forward with absolute clarity on CPEC, which in turn means that it must deploy the brightest minds of the country, who fully understand the associated dynamics such as regional sensitivity of each province, and the economic activity which must be generated in each domain of Pakistan's geography. These deployed teams (governmental, political, business, bureaucratic) must demonstrate the vision and ability to comprehend the long-term effects of these investments and create eco-systems within each sphere of these investments which could diffuse the usage and the profitability of these efforts into the local masses and to the nation. This will require meticulous planning and superb execution which could be leveraged to enhance the coordination among various governmental agencies including the security of these investments and that of the people working on these projects.
CPEC is a project of vital importance to our nation and it must not be examined with a biased political viewpoint; rather, each political party must have a plan to participate fully in this initiative and help the government, as well as their local bodies, in initiating multi-faceted projects which could help the local communities in accelerating their livelihoods by creating new industries and complementing the existing ones. In the past, the PML-N government faced difficulty in bringing various political parties on the same page, even though a basic, common understanding was fostered early on. This arose primarily because the leadership was rocked by various crises during its tenure and despite the best of intentions, they were unable to keep an eye on the ball during their last year with regards to CPEC. That being said, it is imperative that the previous government's initiatives in relation to CPEC should be propelled forward in full thrust. The current government should also refrain from engaging in any political points scoring activity in this regard. I would recommend that a complete briefing be carried out with relevant persons from the previous leadership to understand objectively the essence of each project, and then move forward with plans which could accelerate these developments, with renewed clarity and zeal.
Transition periods are the toughest time in the lifecycle of any project as they tend to create lack of visibility and transparency. Furthermore, the viewpoint of the new leadership at the helm of affairs of these critical projects is not fully known and this creates a sense of fear, panic, and ambiguity which ultimately slows down the pace of these initiatives. It also has a long-lasting impact on the minds of new investors who are still trying to comprehend the landscape of Pakistani business. In the past, during my time as Deputy CEO of a major Chinese enterprise in Pakistan, my Chinese colleagues often shared their viewpoint, which demonstrated their lack of trust in the Pakistan government's implementation of projects, as the execution framework was not shared with them. In addition, the government's policies with regards to Chinese induction in the country, the legal framework required to carry out the project, the understanding of bureaucratic and hegemonic structures which exist in Pakistani bureaucracy, and the understanding of the local governmental bodies, were not fully known to the Chinese. The government also did not act fast enough to create a comfortable and business friendly environment which could assist the incoming investors and highlight the areas which would require their attention in order to run their business effectively in the Pakistani markets. Thus, the new Prime Minister and his team must ensure that this transition period is dealt with smoothly by developing a comprehensive plan and ensuring accountability at each level of its governmental operations.
We must realize that a project of this magnitude gives rise to a multitude of fears for all Pakistanis. This is a key area which must be dealt with swiftly by the new government. Unlike Pakistan, China is run by the Communist Party of China and the long-term objectives and priorities of the government are clear to most Chinese. China has demonstrated an enviable track record of an unprecedented 10% average GDP growth over the last four decades and is in fact the first developing nation to become a greater power. It has also experienced smooth leadership successions which provided stability and protection against a hard economic landing. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the successive political governments have been plagued with challenges such as corruption, tensions with bureaucracy and armed forces, decaying policing, shuffling of the PMs etc. This has eroded the confidence of Pakistani masses in their leadership. The new PM must provide effective policies and bridge this gap with the Pakistani people to alleviate fears from their minds. Moreover, it is extremely important that the Pakistani industries are given a level playing field with the Chinese, so they can compete effectively instead of losing business to their Chinese counterparts. This includes comparable subsidies, lower gas & electric rates and any other advantages that Chinese manufacturers are provided by their government.
It should be a fundamental requirement of any foreign collaboration that our assets should not be sold below market value and that any extraction of key minerals and resources must be objectively assessed before being permitted. The planning required to ensure our economic interests must be carried out extensively and the government should develop legal frameworks, policies and procedures which can address these vital points at the federal, provincial and local levels. A comprehensive campaign must be put in place and a periodic assessment of these projects must be completed to gain public trust. The most essential aspect is the allocation of the right leadership to these projects, who are honest and have a critical understanding of issues relating to both politics and business.
CPEC should not be used as a political slogan, but rather a comprehensive opportunity which, if leveraged correctly, could be one factor to change the destiny of our nation. However, much hinges on how we assess, execute, and use this endeavor for the benefit of our people. Above all, political bickering must be avoided, and national interests must supersede any and all personal priorities.
(The writer is former Deputy CEO, ZONG, as well as a top business strategist and management consultant.He can be reached at [email protected])