CPEC ‘completely’ on track, Chinese official says as Pakistani lawmakers say work halted 

Pakistani labourers walk through Gwadar port, Balochistan on October 4, 2017. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 23 February 2021

CPEC ‘completely’ on track, Chinese official says as Pakistani lawmakers say work halted 

  • Recent media reports say many projects under CPEC suspended or stalled due to coronavirus and financing disputes between Beijing and Islamabad 
  • Not a single CPEC project suspended or delayed, chairman of China Overseas Ports Holding Company says, Pakistani legislators say CPEC ‘only on paper’ in Balochistan 

Gwadar, BALOCHISTAN: A top Chinese official involved in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects in Pakistan has denied media reports and statements by Pakistani lawmakers that work on the multi-billion dollar infrastructure and energy program was delayed or suspended, while Pakistani legislators insisted work had been halted, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.
Gwadar, in Balochistan, is the crown jewel of China’s $60 billion investment in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Pakistan. The aim is for the port city, located on the Arabian Sea near Iran and the mouth of the Arabian Gulf, to become a regional commercial, industrial and shipping hub, as part of the ambitious CPEC project. The corridor is designed to give China a shorter, more secure trading route, via Pakistan, to the Middle East and beyond, while also boosting Pakistan’s economy.
But media reports in recent weeks have said many of the projects under CPEC had been suspended or stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic and over financing disputes. The costliest project to date under the CPEC agreement, a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway lines, has reportedly run into trouble, with Beijing reluctant to fund the project at the one percent rate demanded by Islamabad. And of $19 billion worth of energy projects in Pakistan to produce 11,648MW electricity, only four projects have so far been completed. Delay in getting 116 acres of land in Gwadar vacated by law enforcement agencies has also slowed down work on the Gwadar Free Zone and Gwadar Eastbay Expressway — two projects seen as critical for the full functioning of Gwadar Port — Pakistani media reported this week.




Aerial view of the Gwadar Deepsea Port in Gwadar, Pakistan, on February 15, 2021 (AN photo by Khurshid Ahmed) 

“It is true that COVID-19 had some negative impact on some projects but I can tell you that on CPEC projects, not a single CPEC project is suspended or delayed,” Zhang Baozhong, chairman of the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC), which operates Gwadar port, told Arab News in Gwadar last week.




Chairman of the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC), Zhang Baozhong, speaks at an event at the Gwadar Business Center,Gwadar, Pakistan, on February 15, 2021. (AN photo by Khurshid Ahmed)  

“In fact I am happy to report that many projects have already been completed ahead of their scheduled time frame, including the Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar, at a cost of $10 million, that would be handed over by the end of June instead of by the end of the year,” Baozhong added.
The Chinese official said Beijing was “very serious” about the completion of CPEC projects as per agreed upon timelines, including a new Gwadar International Airport.
“Recently, Nong Rong, the new ambassador of China to Pakistan, especially visited Gwadar and held meetings with contractors at serious note,” Baozhong said. “He seriously instructed all contractors to manage to speed up the work on the project and try to complete the projects at the anticipated timeline.”
The COPHC chief said China had invested more than $500 million on the development of the port and social sectors.




Chairman of the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC), Zhang Baozhong (R), stands near a model of the Gwadar Deepsea Port in Gwadar, Pakistan, on February 15, 2021. (AN photo by Khurshid Ahmed)  

“Amount granted by Chinese government is being spent on construction of breakwaters, dredging of berthing areas and channels, the Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Desalination plant, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar,” Baozhong said.
He added that 43 companies had already started operations in Gwadar and more than 200 had registered. Industries including tractor manufacturing, heaving chemical, edible oil, mobile processing and manufacturing, home appliances manufacturing and assembling units would be set up in Gwadar, Baozhong added.
But Pakistani legislators who work on CPEC disagreed, insisting that many projects had been halted.




A model of Gwadar Deepsea Port at a business center in Gwadar, Pakistan, on February 15, 2021. (AN photo by Khurshid Ahmed) 

According to a report published in The Express Tribune earlier this month, during a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on CPEC projects, senator Sikandar Mandhro, chief of transport planning at the Pakistan Planning Ministry, said some projects, including the Khuzdar-Basima project, were being carried out using federal development funds due to the absence of funding from China.
“No work is being done on CPEC in Pakistan ... the work is halted,” Mir Kabeer Ahmed Muhammad Shahi, a member of the Senate’s standing committee on CPEC, told Arab News. “In Balochistan no work on CPEC even worth a single penny is being done … You will not find a clue of CPEC in Balochistan. Everything is on paper.”
Officials privy to progress on CPEC projects agreed there were delays and said the provincial and federal governments of Pakistan were responsible for the slowdown.
“In the regional perspective, work on BRI projects in Iran and Afghanistan is being done at a fast pace,” Shaukat Populzai, president of the Balochistan Economic Forum, told Arab News. “But in Pakistan the federal as well as the provincial governments are not proactive.”


Pakistan keeps petrol prices unchanged despite global rate hike

Updated 28 February 2021

Pakistan keeps petrol prices unchanged despite global rate hike

  • Oil regulatory body recommended prices of petroleum products be increased to between Rs6 and Rs7 per liter
  • Suggestion rejected by Prime Minister Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday turned down a proposal by the country’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) to increase prices of petroleum products, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said in a tweet.
According to a document, also shared by Gill on his Twitter, the OGRA had recommended that the prices of petrol, high speed diesel, kerosene and light diesel be increased by various amounts between Rs6 and Rs7 per liter.
“...Prime Minister Imran Khan did not accept this proposal. There has been no increase in the prices of petroleum products. Despite the continuous rise in the prices of petroleum products in the world market, the prime minister did not allow it,” Gill tweeted.
The new prices would have been effective from March 1. Prices are generally revised every 15 days.
Earlier this month too, the regulatory authority had proposed an increase in petroleum prices but Khan turned the suggestion down. This was a break from continuous price hikes for the last five consecutive fortnights and came despite an increase in global oil prices over the last two weeks.


Malala dreams of a 'true friendship' between Pakistan and India

Updated 28 February 2021

Malala dreams of a 'true friendship' between Pakistan and India

  • Malala was speaking on the last day of during the Jaipur Literature Festival
  • For the first time in six years, the event welcomed Pakistani participants

ISLAMABAD: Nobel Prize winning activist Malala Yousafzai on Sunday said her dream was to see India and Pakistan become "true, good friends."
Ties between Pakistan and India have been shaped by a bitter rivalry and armed conflict since the partition of British-ruled India into Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India in 1947.
Malala was speaking during a session on her latest book, "We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World," on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which was held online this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Malala Yousafzai speaks to editor and writer Pragya Tiwari during a Jaipur Literature Festival (JIF) on Sunday, February 28, 2021. (Photo courtesy: JIF)

For the first time in six years, the literary event known as the "greatest literary show on Earth" welcomed Pakistani participants, who for its earlier editions faced difficulties in obtaining Indian visas.
"It is my dream to see India and Pakistan become true good friends," Malala said in a session moderated by New Delhi-based editor and writer Pragya Tiwari.
"You are Indian and I am Pakistani and we are completely fine, then why is this hatred created between us?"
"This old philosophy of borders, divisions and divide and conquer ... they just don’t work anymore," she said. "As humans, we all want to live in peace."
The 14th edition of the Indian literary event that normally attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to its venue in the 19th-century Diggi Palace Hotel in Jaipur, had among its speakers Douglas Stuart, the winner the 2020 Booker Prize, and prominent American social scientist and linguist Noam Chomsky.
From Pakistan, besides Malala, the JLF sessions also welcomed novelists Moni Mohsin, H.M. Naqvi, and political scientist Ishtiaq Ahmed.


UAE hails Pakistan-India border truce in Kashmir

Updated 28 February 2021

UAE hails Pakistan-India border truce in Kashmir

  • Ceasefire on Kashmir border was settled by the Indian and Pakistani militaries last week
  • UAE urges dialogue between the two South Asian nations to 'establish a lasting peace'

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday welcomed an agreement between the militaries of Pakistan and India to restore ceasefire along their disputed border in Kashmir.

Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between Pakistan and India as both claim the region in full but rule in part. Tensions increased in August 2019, after New Delhi withdrew the region's autonomy and split it into federally administered territories. In recent months, cross-border firing has become frequent, often killing or maiming people living in the area.

On Thursday, however, the military operations heads of nuclear-armed neighbors said in a joint statement that they had agreed to discuss each other's concerns that could disturb peace and lead to violence along the Line of Control (LoC). The announcement has been seen as restoring a ceasefire agreement from 2003.

"UAE has close historical ties with the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and that it commends the efforts of the two countries to reach this achievement," the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement on Sunday.

"This is an important step towards achieving security, stability and prosperity in the region," it said, adding that "adhering to a permanent ceasefire between the two friendly countries in Kashmir to the benefit of both sides."

The UAE also urged dialogue between the two South Asian countries to "build bridges of confidence and establish a lasting peace."

On Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in series of tweets that Islamabad was ready to resolve all issues with New Delhi through dialogue.

“We have always stood for peace & remain ready to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue,” Khan said, as he also the restoration of ceasefire along the LOC.


Kabul welcomes Pakistan's rejection of a future Taliban government — Afghan envoy

Updated 28 February 2021

Kabul welcomes Pakistan's rejection of a future Taliban government — Afghan envoy

  • Pakistan Army spokesperson told reporters last week that ‘Taliban control of Kabul again is not possible’
  • Afghan president’s special envoy says Pakistani leaders promised to openly call for a cease-fire in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s special envoy has welcomed the Pakistani military’s announcement that it would oppose the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
The Afghan president’s special envoy for Pakistan, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, was on a three-day visit to Islamabad last week as peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have resumed in Qatar to yield a power-sharing arrangement in the country torn by a decades-long conflict.

Afghan president's special envoy for Pakistan, Mohammad Umer Daudzai (first in the left row) meets Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi (center) in Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 26, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Mohammad Umer Daudzai/Twitter)

During the peace talks, which started in September and have been suspended several times since, Afghan government negotiators have been pushing for a permanent cease-fire and are expected to protect the existing system of governance — in place since the ouster of the Taliban by a US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
As Daudzai was visiting Islamabad, which has been seen as critical to getting the Taliban back to the negotiating table and pushing them to reduce violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan Army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar told reporters on Wednesday that “Taliban control of Kabul again is not possible, and Pakistan will not support any such move.”
Daudzai welcomed the statement as a “very positive development” and one that is not accidental.
“The statement by the Pakistan’s army spokesman is new, which is not by chance. Armies take assessment of the environment in their neighborhood and the Pakistan army has realized that Afghan army, police and the system are strong, and the Taliban cannot topple the system,” he told Arab News in an interview on Friday.
He said that during his trip that wrapped on Friday, Pakistani leaders had told him they would openly call for a cease-fire in Afghanistan instead of the “ambiguous and useless words ‘reduction in violence’” that had been used by international representatives in official talks.
Daudzai told Arab News that ahead of December’s visit of Taliban delegates to Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that he would take up the cease-fire issue with the group.
“But later we realized that the Taliban did not show flexibility on the issue,” Daudzai said.
The Taliban have been rejecting cease-fire since the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations.
“If Pakistan says that it does not have control over the Taliban but has some influence, we request Pakistan to take advantage of its influence and convince the Taliban to hold fruitful negotiations,” the Afghan envoy said, as he expressed hope for progress before Ghani’s planned visit before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April.
“We want major progress before the president’s visit to Pakistan so both sides make any important announcement,” he said.


Gunmen kill Islamic cleric, his son, student near Islamabad

Updated 28 February 2021

Gunmen kill Islamic cleric, his son, student near Islamabad

  • No group claimed responsibility for the killing that place in Bhara Kahu neighborhood on Saturday night
  • Cleric was affiliated with Maulana Fazlur Rehman who heads an 11-party opposition alliance to topple the government

ISLAMABAD: A trio of gunmen shot and killed a religious cleric, his teenage son and a student on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, police said, amid a rise in militant attacks.
Police officer Shahzad Khan said the killing took place in the Bhara Kahu neighborhood when Mufti Ikramur Rehman was heading toward his car with his 13-year-old son and a seminary student late Saturday night.
He said three assailants fired several shots before fleeing the scene. The cleric, his son and the student received multiple gunshot wounds and died at a hospital.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and Khan said an investigation was underway to ascertain the identity of the assailants and the motive behind the killings.
Ikramur Rehman was affiliated with the party of firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads an 11-party opposition alliance to topple the government.
Militant violence in Pakistan is on the rise. Last week, four vocational school instructors who advocated for women’s rights were traveling together when they were gunned down in a Pakistan border region. A Twitter death threat against Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai attracted an avalanche of trolls who heaped abuse on the young champion of girls education. A couple of men on a motorcycle opened fire on a police check-post not far from the Afghan border killing a young police constable.
In recent weeks, at least a dozen military and paramilitary men have been killed in ambushes, attacks and operations against militant hideouts, mostly in the western border regions.