Karachi: The China Belt and Road Program has found new life in Pakistan with a $ 11 billion project signed last month, driven by a former lieutenant general who has revived an infrastructure plan that has languished since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office two years ago.
The countries signed agreements on June 25 and July 6 for two $ 3.9 billion hydroelectric projects in the disputed Kashmir region, and the others to improve the South Asian-era colonial railroad with $ 7.2. billion – the most expensive Chinese project in Pakistan.
Khan’s government appointed Asim Saleem Bajwa last year to run the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority, which oversees more than $ 70 billion in projects from power plants to the highway. He also joined Khan’s cabinet in late April, becoming one of more than a dozen former military officers currently in important government roles as the army expanded its influence in the country.
Chinese funding has helped rid Pakistan of the electricity deficit that has prevented exporters from fulfilling orders and large cities without electricity for most of the day. However, the implementation of several investments seems to have stalled since Khan came to power, with no new projects announced in 2018 and very few in 2019.
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the initiative in 2013, the World Bank has estimated that around $ 575 billion of energy plants, trains, roads, ports and other projects have been built or are being worked on around the world. Its progress has been slowing down More recently, it has been dogged by accusations that China lures poor countries into debt traps for its own political and strategic advantages.
“The reality is that many CPECs, such as the wider Belt and Road, have been paralyzed,” said Jonathan Hillman, a senior colleague at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan “is a flagship ship for China Belt and Road, so the need to show progress is even more important.”
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In a tweet Last month, Bajwa said some detractors had given a “false impression” that CPEC had slowed. Not only is the work step on the project taken recently, but a lot of earthwork has been carried out to launch a phase two project that also includes a special economic zone to lure Chinese producers, agriculture, science, technology and tourism, he wrote
“The prime minister is very urgent in this matter,” Abdul Razak Dawood, Khan’s adviser on trade and investment by telephone. “We feel that we have to get more hydro in our energy mix. “
A spokesperson at Bajwa’s office said he could not immediately comment.
The Pakistani army is already responsible for securing every Beijing-funded project that is spread across the country, from mountains near the Chinese border to the desert in Gwadar where China operates ports. His role has become increasingly important after the terrorist attacks on three Chinese-related projects last year.
“There is no doubt that the arrival of PM Khan is slowing the pace of CPEC projects,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a senior colleague at the Islamabad-based think tank, Tabadlab, and former headmaster. advisor to the foreign ministry. “The new energy and agreement we see today is almost entirely due to the possibility chairman after settling, and added to Prime Minister Khan’s cabinet. “
There are indeed deep concerns about Islamabad’s ability to repay its debts under this program. The Center for Global Development has listed Pakistan among eight countries facing debt sustainability problems because of this initiative. The state must pay China more than double the amount owed from the International Monetary Fund over the next three years, according to an IMF report last year.
For its part, Beijing said its projects in Pakistan have made great progress over the past six years. “China firmly supports the development of CPEC and is ready to work with Pakistan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press conference in Beijing on July 7, adding that future cooperation would focus on social development, livelihoods, industry and agriculture in addition to infrastructure development.
The two hydroelectric projects are based in Pakistan-run Kashmir, an area in the heart of tension with arch-rival India. Neighbors had fought three wars – two in Kashmir – and last year a terrorist attack in the controlled part of India caused the most serious military escalation in more than a decade.
A $ 2.4 billion Kohala hydroelectric project is being built on the Jhelum River in Muzaffarabad, only 100 kilometers (62 miles) from where the two armies exchanged fire. The Azad Pattan project – which will cost $ 1.5 billion – is being built on the same river.
“China and Pakistan might also be hostile to India,” Hillman said. The two hydroelectric projects are in Kashmir, and the railroad is part of a much longer plan, and is still a long way to go to connect China and Pakistan with trains, also through occupied territories, Hillman said.
Some countries have experienced problems with Belt and Road projects or have had to rework plans after complaints of corruption, soft contracts, heavy debt burdens, environmental damage and dependence on Chinese imported labor for local recruitment.
Pakistan renegotiates projects to improve the railroad system of British heritage. Initially it was estimated to cost $ 8.2 billion but was reduced to $ 6.2 billion, according to the national railroad minister. The final amount is higher than the revised cost but is still $ 1 billion less than originally estimated.
The three new projects have been discussed for some time before this month’s announcement.
“Even though these are difficult projects to cross the line compared to low hanging fruits such as coal and LNG power plant projects announced at the start of Chinese financing projects,” said Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, “China is important ally for Pakistan to continue to grow. “- Bloomberg
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