In one his most comprehensive interviews to any news channel, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal recently appeared in Roze News program Sachi Baat SK Niazi Kay Sath and spoke at length with Sardar Khan Niazi on a number of topics. The key topics that came under the discussion were the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Vision 2025 which is the brainchild of Ahsan Iqbal, political scenario, the Newsgate scandal, Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the Panama leaks case. However the nearly two-hour long interview primarily focused on CPEC, Vision 2025 and government’s development initiatives and policies.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor:
Speaking about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Ahsan Iqbal said that the project has potential to change the destiny of not just Pakistan but the entire region. The Federal Minister said that the project should not be politicized; he was of the opinion that the project is of similar importance to the country’s nuclear program and all political parties must endorse it like they endorse Pakistan’s nuclear program. Ahsan said that with the completion of this project Pakistan will become the geo-economic hub of the region and its economy will prosper tremendously. He however added that the success of the project is linked to political stability in the country.
Ahsan said that it is unfortunate that certain political parties are speaking against the project merely for political gain as the 2018 elections approach. Responding to a question by Sardar Khan Niazi that the opposition to CPEC is not from just one political party but a number of them including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party and Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Ahsan said that the criticism is unfathomable. He pointed out that out of the $35 billion investment in energy sector under CPEC; Sindh has the highest share that stands at $11 billion followed by Balochistan at $9 billion followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. He also pointed that apart from CPEC the government is particularly focused on initiating development projects in backward areas. Ahsan highlighted the fact that not long ago it took nearly two days to travel from Gwadar to Quetta but now the time has been reduced to just six to eight hours due to the ever improving road infrastructure in the province. The Minister said that it is no surprise that countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have also expressed desire to be connected to CPEC.
Speaking about the energy crisis that has plagued Pakistan, Ahsan pointed out that when the present government took over load-shedding of 18-20 hours was a common occurrence. He said that since assuming power the government has started work on a number of upon the completion of which 11000 MW of electricity will be added to the national grid. The Minister said that loadshedding will be a thing of past in 2018 when these projects are completed. Ahsan pointed out that since Independence till 2013 the installed power capacity was of only around 16000 MW, and the present government has added nearly 11000 MW in the last three years. The Minister also debunked the myth that coal projects being initiated under CPEC will be detrimental for the environment and said that super critical technology is being used for which is environmental friendly. Speaking about the potential of Thar coal fields the Minister claimed the fields possess enough coal for producing 5000MW electricity for the next four-hundred years.
US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor:
Speaking about education related initiatives the Minister talked at length about the US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor. He said the initiative was one of the most important in the decades-long strategic relations between the two countries and would prove a milestone for promotion of higher education in Pakistan. Ahsan said that the US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor would help Pakistan to produce 10,000 PhD scholars in the next 10 years. He said the country faces shortage in quality human resource to meet growing needs of expanding universities network in the country. Ahsan pointed out that in the past, relations between two countries were restricted to the areas of strategic cooperation and security, but now these relations have entered from geo-strategic cooperation to geo economic collaboration. He also pointed out that incumbent government had enhanced budget of Higher Education Commission (HEC) from Rs 100 billion to Rs 215 billion. He also expressed need to adopt an education system which could promote creativity and inventions instead of the copy-paste knowledge and pointed out that this is being done under the National Curriculum Reforms project.
Ahsan Iqbal credited the success of operation Zarb-e-Azb to the coordination between civil and military leadership and also praised media, judiciary, police and the general public for their efforts to exterminate the menace of terrorism. He said that in the past success couldn’t be achieved against militancy because of divide in civil-military relations. He said that under the leadership of Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the country is now closer than ever in purging the country from terrorism. Ahsan said that harmony between all segments of society and state institutions is the key to success. When asked to comment about rumours that the tenure of Army Chief could be extended to four years the Minister said that he is unaware of any such proposal.
Failed politicians want power through backdoor :
The Minister reprimanded ‘failed elements’ who he said cannot come to power through the power of ballot and are instead trying their best to cause a rift in civil-military relations. He said that such elements have been rejected by the public. He again emphasized the importance of political stability and said that continuation of democracy which is now strengthening in the country is the only way forward and added in the same breath that if there is no political stability investors will flee. Speaking about the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan, Ahsan Iqbal said that Imran Khan has made a habit of criticizing every project launched by the government and said this criticism is unwarranted. Ahsan also questioned criticism on road and infrastructure projects and said these projects are prerequisite for provision of health and education facilities.
Speaking about the newsgate scandal the Minister said that the scandal has harmed the government. He however added that an impartial inquiry is being carried out into the matter and those responsible will be pointed out and held accountable.
Role of media:
Commenting about the role of media Ahsan said that the media should not sensationalize matters. He said that we are a political nation and most discussions on news channels revolve around the political situation of the country. He lamented the lack of coverage matters related to education, health and human development get. The Minister said that the much talked about ‘crisis’ the country is in only exists on talk shows whereas on the international stage renowned business publications and organizations are all praise for Pakistan economic success. The Minister also praised Pakistan Group of Newspapers and Roze news for their objective reporting and said that the group’s rejection of sensationalism in its coverage is commendable.