Pakistan hopes to take CPEC into next phase with greater vigor: Ahsan Iqbal

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BEIJING,Jul 13 :Pakistan is looking forward to taking the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into the next phase with greater vigor and hopes to see the fruits of the CPEC benefit not only China and Pakistan, but the whole region, said Ahsan Iqbal, the Minister of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives.

Ahsan Iqbal was talking to the Global Times in an interview after a meeting of the 12th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC in Beijing.

Iqbal, who has extensive experience and long-standing involvement in the CPEC, said he was overwhelmed at how much has been accomplished by the CPEC in just 10 years.

The beauty of the CPEC is that it is a project between two countries that enjoy a very unique relationship, Iqbal said. “Normally, countries come close when they need to, and they get farther away when they don’t need each other. But in the case of China and Pakistan, it has been always spring. There has never been autumn in this relationship.”

This year marks a decade of the CPEC. The landmark project was formalized on July 5, 2013.

The CPEC has done a great service to Pakistan, helping it overcome the energy crisis, develop modern infrastructure and restore the country’s image as an investment destination. Prior to the CPEC the world used to look at Pakistan as a very dangerous country, the minister said.

Pakistan would be facing an extreme energy crisis today without the projects launched under the CPEC, Iqbal emphasized.

Everyone in Pakistan has benefited from the great contribution that has been made by the CPEC, he added. If there was a lack of electricity, factories would be closed and workers would be laid off; patients in hospitals and students in educational institutions would also be stranded.

He mentioned the Thar region of Pakistan, which was once a backward area, saying the CPEC has transformed the region into a source of energy for the country. Local education, employment, hospitals and schools have also flourished.

The projects also empower local women in the region, Iqbal noted. “You will be amazed to see that local women are driving the heavy trucks, which take coal out of the mines.” In total, the CPEC projects have created about 200,000 job opportunities.

Iqbal said Pakistan now has a lot more vigor to move forward on the CPEC, adding that many projects that were delayed in previous years were completed in the last year.

He said that Pakistan is looking forward to taking the CPEC into the next phase with greater vigor. “I hope that the next phase will bring many dividends for the wider region beyond Pakistan and China. We hope one day the whole of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East will benefit from the CPEC.”

When talking about the mega projects within the second phase of the CPEC, Iqbal expressed his hope to see the start of major upgrades to the Main Line 1 railway between Karachi and Peshawar with China’s help as soon as possible in 2023. Modernization and upgrades are urgently needed for this aging railway line, especially as it was badly damaged by the floods last year.

This $10-billion project was supposed to be done in the first phase, but it got delayed in the last four years, Iqbal said.

Iqbal refuted claims in the Western media that the CPEC has not lived up to expectations and has become a “debt trap,” saying that instead it has “outperformed the expectations. The propaganda [from the West] that the CPEC is a debt trap is all false. All the negative propaganda against the CPEC has a political element. It has no reality,” he told the Global Times.

Infrastructure was the priority of the first-phase of the CPEC, and the second phase will focus on industrial cooperation and business linkage through increasing investment in sectors such as energy, agriculture, information technology and mining, according to Iqbal.

Pakistan is working on nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which will provide more opportunities for Chinese investment. Rashakai, one of the nine SEZs, will be inaugurated later this month, and other SEZs are also in advanced stages, Iqbal revealed.

In the energy sector, Pakistan is actively pursuing solar energy and is hoping to invite Chinese companies to set up solar power production plants, Iqbal noted.

Chinese officials are highly concerned about the safety of Chinese citizens in Pakistan and hope that the Pakistani side will continue to take strong security measures.

On security in Pakistan, the minister said Pakistan is taking extra precautions for the security of Chinese people, and have provided four layers of security dedicated to CPEC projects including deploying a special army force with 10,000 personnel, which has been integrated with police, paramilitary forces and local security.

As the CPEC is a strategic project with big geopolitical implications, enemies are always looking for opportunities to disrupt it either through terrorist acts or creating miscommunication, the minister emphasized.