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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Govt Press Conference: KSA, CPEC & the acts of Previous Regimes

News Analysis |

The PTI-led coalition government on Tuesday clarified that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not be a third-strategic partner under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework and the kingdom’s proposed investments would fall under a separate bilateral arrangement. Contrary to the initial narrative built after the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden visit to the Gulf nation, Minister for Planning and Development, Khusro Bakhtiar said that government did not take a decision to make KSA, part of CPEC.

Bakhtiar addressed a joint press conference with the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhary in Islamabad, where he elaborated that KSA could be involved in the trilateral arrangement under the framework of the CPEC for the infrastructure development, like China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia, China-Pakistan-Japan, or China-Pakistan-Germany.

However, the Finance Minister Asad Umer negated the impression in Dr Moeed Pirzada’s show and stated that while KSA had not announced a sum but instead expressed a keen desire to invest.

He said that KSA could be part of an offshoot of the mega-project, but it won’t become a collateral strategic partner in the CPEC. The CPECC remains an exclusive bilateral project between the two nations and “KSA is not entering the framework as a third-party investor, rather the base of CPEC will be broadened and its pace will be expedited,” the minister said.

Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed had earlier claimed that Main Railway Line (ML-1) cost had been reduced by $2 billion from $8.2bn to $6.2bn. The Information Minister, however, did not confirm the claimed reduction in the cost of ML-I project. He said, however, it was for the new government to adopt a new model of the ML-1, based on financial sustainability so that unlike the previous government, its loan repayment did not become the government’s responsibility.

Read more: Is KSA’s inclusion in CPEC an answer to Pakistan’s economic crises?

The Ministers mainly criticized the wrong and ineffective policies of the previous regime. Speaking on the potential of CPEC, he said that it would keep on expanding and unlike the previous government, “incumbent government is not focusing on short-term projects for political reasons, rather government is focusing on the projects, which are beneficial regardless of the time frame of their completion.”

He lambasted his predecessors for losing $32bn low oil price bonanza due to bad governance and blamed them for not passing the low prices of oil to the consumers. Continuing its rhetoric of mammoth surge in the public debt, he criticized the PML-N government for relying on external debt to fund its extravagant projects, leaving the country in an economic quagmire.

Amid the financial time’s controversy and alleged doubts raised over the CPEC projects, PTI led coalition government faced the heat.

The “Total Debt and Liabilities” of Pakistan have reached RS29, 861 billion as per the data published by the State Bank of Pakistan. While “the Gross Public Debt” and “Total External Debt & Liabilities” are 72.5% and 33.6% of the GDP. Similarly, the previous government fabricated and presented the unreliable and fictitious figures to show the losses of state-owned enterprises.

The Minister held PML-N responsible for not addressing the issues as the losses jumped from Rs500bn in five years to Rs1trn and circular debt of the power sector jumping from Rs583bn in 2013 to Rs1.2trn now. He blamed the previous government for leaving every department in the directionless state. He ridiculed PML-N for fooling the masses and spending only Rs661 billion last year against an allocation of Rs1 trillion in the budget—which is 34% less than the promised sum.

Read more: Are Chinese debts going to kill CPEC?

Earlier, the Information Minister claimed that Pakistan had struck a $10 billion deal with KSA after taking the Chinese authorities in confidence over the KSA joining the CPEC as a third- strategic partner. However, the Finance Minister Asad Umer negated the impression in Dr Moeed Pirzada’s show and stated that while KSA had not announced a sum but instead expressed a keen desire to invest. Fawad Chaudry too distanced himself from his previous statement in another TV Show.

Read more: The ramifications of Saudi Arabia joining CPEC – Dr. Zafar Nawaz…

Fawad Chaudry’s antics has been a cause of heavy criticism. His assertion of a 10 billion $ and its latter dismissal provided opponents plenty of ammunition to attack the government. Amid the financial time’s controversy and alleged doubts raised over the CPEC projects, the PTI led coalition government faced the heat. There was a speculation that given the economic downturn, Pakistan would suspend the CPEC projects for a year.

However, the statements and actions of the Minister for Planning and Development show that CPEC is going nowhere. Recently, Mr. Khusro was in Cairo, Egypt in order to raise awareness about the potential of linking the Suez Canal to Gwadar and by extension CPEC. This was in line with his earlier statement to opening up CPEC to other countries.

However, another impression was that both the ministers were committed to exposing the role of the previous PML-N government in the current economic scenario. The PML-N is trying hard to put the blame of the economic crisis on the new government perhaps in a bid to gain lost ground. However, with yesterday’s conference and Fawad Chaudry’s current aggressive stance in the parliament, it seems that the opposition will be hard put to achieve its aims.