Gen (ret) Asim Saleem Bajwa to head CPEC amid controversy and western propaganda

The federal government has decided to appoint retired Commander of Southern Command Lt. General Asim Saleem Bajwa of Pakistan Army as head of the CPEC on the day the USA warned Pakistan of being careful regarding debt burden as a result of the multi-billion project.

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The federal cabinet has decided to appoint retired Commander Southern Command Lt. General Asim Saleem Bajwa of Pakistan Army as head of the Pak-China Economic Corridor (CPEC). The development came amid propaganda by the western media and countries against the multi-billion project between Pakistan and China.

A summary has been sent to the federal cabinet for approval, which is expected to be accepted till the next meeting. According to sources, he will be appointed for four years.

General Asim Saleem Bajwa is a retired Pakistani Three-star general who was Commander Southern Command prior to that he also served as Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), he served as DG ISPR from 2012 to 2016 preceding Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor. He has been honored with the Tamgha-e-Basalat and Hilal-e-Imtiaz for his military services.

US warns Pakistan

It is important to note that the United States has warned Pakistan that the CPEC would push the country deeper into an already stifling debt burden, foster corruption and repatriate jobs and profits to China.

In a speech, described as “unusually specific” by the international media, the top US diplomat for South Asia warned on Thursday that the multi-billion-dollar project would take a toll on Pakistan’s economy at the time of repayments and dividend in the coming years.

Assistant Secretary Alice Wells explained that CPEC was not an aid to Pakistan but a form of financing that guarantees profits for Chinese state-owned enterprises, with little benefits for Islamabad.

Read more: US warns Pakistan of risks from CPEC

As an international media report pointed out, this specific warning comes at a time when Washington and Islamabad are trying to rebuild their turbulent relationship. “CPEC’s most expensive single project is upgrading the railway from Karachi to Peshawar. When the project was initially announced, the price was set at $8.2 billion,” she said.

Moreover, she also said that “in October of 2018, Pakistan’s railways’ minister announced that they had negotiated the price down to $6.2 billion, a saving of two billion. And he explained Pakistan is a poor country. We cannot afford this huge burden of these loans.”

China and Pakistan react

China and Pakistan urged the United States “to sift fact from fiction” before questioning their bilateral infrastructure development program, which Beijing is funding under its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Beijing’s ambassador to Islamabad, Yao Jing, said Wells lacked “accurate” knowledge and relied primarily on Western media “propaganda” to level the accusations. “I would like to remind my American colleague that if you are really making this kind of allegation, please be careful, show your evidence, give me evidence; we will take action,” Yao said while addressing reporters.

He said China and Pakistan are determined to ensure the infrastructure project is free of corruption.

The Chinese diplomat said CPEC is open to investment from anywhere in the world and China would happily welcome U.S. investment in it. Yao described Wells’ remarks as astonishing, saying he had personally briefed her twice on the program during her recent visits to Islamabad.

Read more: CPEC: Fix “system” to get maximum benefits – Jan Achakzai

Meanwhile, Pakistani Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mushahid Hussain described the allegations by Wells as disappointing. He noted that CPEC has ensured energy security for Pakistan and set the stage for an “industrial revolution” in the next stage of the massive project, which is already in progress. “CPEC is central to Pakistan’s future and it’s a pivot of our strategic relationship with China and for which Pakistan has benefited already. We feel she had got her facts mixed up because of unfounded media reports. So, I think it is important to sift fact from fiction,” Hussain said.

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