Politics

CPEC Definitely Is ‘Not In Danger’ After The Ouster Of Nawaz Sharif

After the ouster of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif CPEC is not hanging by a thread despite many thinking the future of CPEC is in danger.

As experts fear that CPEC, a flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative between Pakistan and China, could be affected by last week’s removal of the Prime Minister, Chinese partners reaffirmed their support for Pakistan and said CPEC will not be affected by the change of PM.

Although China reacted to the disqualification of Sharif by the Supreme Court within hours last Friday – and reaffirmed its stance to continue cooperating with its all-weather ally despite Pakistan entering the state of political uncertainty – many questions regarding CPEC’s future are still floating in the air.

Nawaz Sharif CPEC
By Z A Balti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many Pakistanis fear that the disqualification of Sharif, who attributes much of CPEC’s success to himself, after the court accused him of being dishonest may become an obstacle to CPEC’s progress amid the implementation of the 3,000km corridor that stretches from Kashgar in western China to Gwadar port in Pakistan.

China was quick to disseminate Pakistan’s worries about the future of CPEC with the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Lu Kang telling reporters last Friday that Sharif’s removal will not affect China-Pakistan bilateral ties.

After Ouster of Nawaz Sharif CPEC Future is Hanging By a Thread? Not Really

Sharif’s ouster came roughly a year before Pakistanis will head to the polling stations to determine the fate of the ex-PM’s ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Although the PML-N will maintain its majority in Parliament until the 2018 general elections, the fate of the party, whose leader has just been removed by the court in the Panama Papers case investigating his ties to corruption and money laundering, is hanging in the balance.

While Mohammad Asim Khan, Project Director for Development Communication at Planning & Development Ministry, told Pakistan Today over the weekend that the change of Pakistan’s PM would have “no impact” on CPEC and the growing partnership with China whatsoever, he was quick to add that the multi-billion dollar project would not be affected if “the ruling party remains the same” in the outcome of next year’s election.

Although latest polls (dating back a few months ago) indicate that there was still a wide gap in the number of people willing to vote for the ruling pro-Sharif party in 2018 and the number of people casting their votes for its closest opponent, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ouster of Sharif might upset his party’s chances of victory next year.

What Does Shahbaz Sharif’s Appointment As PM Mean for CPEC?

As the party has already revealed its plans to replace Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the court for life after his family was ruled to be corrupt, with his loyalist brother Shahbaz, the decision to appoint a man whose family is being accused in one of the most scandalous corruption scandals in Pakistan’s history could be met with nation-wide protests.

However, Shahbaz is chief minister of Punjab province, which is the most populous of Pakistan’s four provinces and the outcome of every election in the nation pretty much depends on this province.

If Shahbaz is appointed to rule as PM until the 2018 general election after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif CPEC would be in good hands as the ex-PM’s brother has been associated with the over $50 billion project since 2013.

Will CPEC Survive if the PML-N Loses 2018 General Elections?

When China reacted to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif late last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s message was clear: Beijing is willing to cooperate and continue working on CPEC with any party ruling Parliament and any figure holding office in Pakistan. The question is: is everyone in Pakistan excited about the implementation of the multi-billion dollar project?

At the time when Pakistan could be spiraling into a yet another economic crisis – spurred by the enormous current account deficit (CAD) – CPEC would provide the nation with a unique opportunity to attract foreign investors and work on mutually beneficial infrastructure projects with China. With the removal of Nawaz Sharif CPEC is expected to benefit the Pakistan economy and save it from the seemingly imminent economic crisis.

If the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by chairperson Imran Khan – who singlehandedly spearheaded the fight against Sharif during the corruption scandal and is often viewed as the one responsible for Sharif’s ouster – manages to win the 2018 general elections, CPEC would still not be affected, as Khan has previously praised the ambitious project for having “great potential.”

What Happens to CPEC In Case of Military Coup in Pakistan?

In its reaction to the removal of Sharif, with whom the Chinese government cooperated smoothly and effectively to implement CPEC, China said it hoped that various parties and sections in Pakistan could “prioritize state and national interests, properly deal with their domestic affairs, maintain unity and stability, and keep focusing on the economic and social development.”

As Pakistan is no stranger to sudden power grabs and military coups – in fact, no prime minister has managed to complete their five-year tenure in the country’s history – the risk of another military coup in Pakistan is as high as ever, which means the nation could, in theory, end up in military’s hands even before 2018 elections.

Even in the event of a military coup in Pakistan, the implementation of CPEC would most likely stay on track, as (1) Beijing is prepared to work closely with whoever is in power in Islamabad, and (2) the Pakistani military is in favor of a successful implementation of the game-changer project.

In fact, earlier this year, Pakistan Army’s General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated the army’s commitment to ensure security for CPEC and the workforce involved. With a statistical report released by the Planning Commission (PC) last month indicating that CPEC has given direct employment opportunity to over 30,000 Pakistani citizens, an even more positive estimation by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that in the long run the direct job openings spurred by CPEC can reach up to 500,000 job opportunities for Pakistani people.

The Pakistani economy has grown tremendously in the past few years in the wake of Chinese investments pouring into the nation. In 2016, Pakistan became the top-performing market in Asia, largely thanks to foreign investments from its CPEC partner.

After Disqualification of Nawaz Sharif CPEC Future is NOT in Danger

It’s fair to say that after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif CPEC or China-Pakistan partnership will not suffer either. Even in the event of a military coup or the PML-N losing the 2018 general elections, the future of CPEC would most likely not be in danger, as the benefits of the game-changer project are undeniable for all individuals in Pakistan eyeing to hold office.

Speaking to Pakistan Today, Asim Khan added that CPEC “reflects the vision of Nawaz Sharif and his party would ensure smooth progress of the project,” adding that the Sharif government had developed foolproof mechanisms to keep the project on track.

During the past four years under Nawaz Sharif CPEC has progressed tremendously, with China funding and building several mega infrastructure projects in Pakistan. In 2017 so far, 19 out of 39 early harvest projects have been either fully implemented or will be completed soon.