On July 28, 2017, Mr. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from his legislative office by the country’s apex court, thereby ending his term as prime minister of Pakistan. His ouster has led to all kinds of speculation about the prospects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Sharif said that Chinese president told him (PM Sharif) that CPEC was a gift for him. Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry stated that “China-Pakistan strategic cooperative partnership will not be affected by the change of the situation inside Pakistan.” Yet, Moody’s report on CPEC after the contemporary political change projected a slowdown in execution of CPEC projects.
CPEC Watch seeks expert opinions on how will the disqualification of the prime minister affect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. More so, will political change have any influence on CPEC?
You can also weigh in your opinion at Facebook page of CPEC Watch. Below are the opinions of our experts:
Ambassador Aziz Ahmed Khan
Former High Commissioner to India
Personally, I am not overly worried about the fate of CPEC. This is a long duration project to be executed through cooperation between Pakistan and China and is not a gift from President Xi to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. At the same time, any political upheaval like the one Pakistan is facing at the moment would influence unfavourably the economic activity and the stock market in the country. However, we have a new Prime Minister who has already announced that there will be no change in policies of the government and the situation is expected to be back to normal soon.
Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed
Vice Chancellor, University of Sargodha
A primary precondition for smooth progress of CPEC is that Pakistan remains politically stable, as well as relatively immune from internal and external threats to national security. Nawaz Sharif’s ouster from premiership has surely pushed Pakistan into a political turmoil. The situation is likely to worsen in the near future – something that does not augur well for the smooth implementation of CPEC’s Early Harvest Projects, involving the development of energy and road infrastructure. In the days ahead, we shall see the PML-N regime, under a transient leadership, fight aggressively for political survival, and the military establishment, which continues to retain significant political clout, struggle hard to manipulate democratic politics. Both will consequently be distracted from sustaining the so-far focused effort to smoothly implement the first phase of CPEC.
However, the fact that CPEC is a long-term venture, entailing shared interests and mutual gains for the two historically friendly neighbouring nations, it is likely to survive against all domestic and regional odds. China remains committed to the project, and its leadership has a fair understanding of Pakistan’s internal political woes. For the sake of preserving its strategic interests vis-a-vis CPEC, especially for it being a flagship project of One-Belt One Road (OBOR), the Chinese leadership will continue to use its influence to persuade both the military and civilian leaders to ensure a secure and stable environment for interrupted progress on CPEC. Yet, its ability to persuade both sides hinges on how the current crisis in the country shapes the dynamics of its bitter politics in the near future.
Former Vice Chancellor, University of Peshawar
Disqualification of Nawaz Sharif will have negative fallout on CPEC. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was very passionate about the future of projects, wanting to bring in industrial revolution through the CPEC. It is also expected to bring an end to terrorism in the region. All these objectives require political continuation and stability in Pakistan. The disqualification has terribly hampered these. The new interim government is bound to remain busy more with its efforts to defend political gains rather than paying full attention to CPEC and other international developmental projects. Nawaz Sharif’s case has also re-activated National Accountability Bureau, an investigation agency to be regularly monitored by a judge of Supreme Court. This has sent a dreadful message to investors; the report by Moody’s about the future economic prospects of growth should be seen in this light.
The coming months are bound to be a phase of political turbulence till new elections in October 2018. Opposition will try to engage the ruling party in controversial issues to make it look bad in front of the public and defeat PML-N of Nawaz Sharif in the coming elections. All this is bound to entail in the neglect of CPEC for quite some time.
Senior Research Fellow, CPEC Watch
The disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has made the lingering political crisis in the country even more fluid. Although the ruling party PML-N has selected the new prime minister, Shahid Khan Abbasi, who has also appointed his new cabinet, the political uncertainty remains. How the political events, in particular the PML-N’s response, will take turn after the National Accountability Bureau pursues and decides the cases against Nawaz Sharif’s family – as ordered by the Supreme Court – remains to be seen. However, how this political uncertainty will affect the CPEC projects, depends on many factors. Yet, for the moment, the situation is expected to remain less changed because the new prime minister and his cabinet will prefer continuity in the outgoing premier Nawaz Sharif’s policies. But the things could become trickier, in terms of which projects on which CPEC alignment to be prioritised and funded first, if the ruling PML-N loses to its rivals in the upcoming 2018 elections.
Nevertheless, it has been observed in recent months that all provinces/regions of Pakistan have increased their interaction and engagement with Chinese companies and officials thus consolidating the overall consensus on CPEC. At the same time, bilateral socio-cultural cooperation also continues to grow including in terms of education, cultural festivities and bilateral exchanges. That bodes well for a successful execution of the CPEC projects and policy consistency and sustainability even during periods of political turmoil in the country. However such turmoil, if worsened and protracted, would have its financial and security costs, negatively affecting the CPEC.
(Disclaimer: Views expressed by experts are their own; CPEC Watch may or may not agree with them.)