ISLAMABAD: Khalid Mansoor, the head of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, said on Saturday Pakistan was seeking the expansion of the multibillion-dollar infrastructure and energy project to Afghanistan, local media reported.
CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.
Addressing the ‘CPEC Summit’ at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, the special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on CPEC affairs “said Islamabad was seeking the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan and has discussed the possibility of Taliban-led Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar economic corridor,” Dawn newspaper reported.
Mansoor said there was “deep interest” in Islamabad in developing economic connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other neighbouring countries, including Iran. “Some European countries have started showing interest (in CPEC) also,” he added.
Last month, Pakistan’s envoy in Kabul said Pakistan had held discussions with the Afghan Taliban on joining CPEC.
“Regional connectivity is an important element of our discussion with Afghan leadership and our way forward for our economic interaction with Afghanistan,” Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul, said in an interview with Reuters in September.
“This important project — China Pakistan Economic Corridor … provides good opportunities, good potential for providing infrastructure and energy connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan … (and) also connecting South Asia to the Central Asian region.”
Addressing the CPEC Summit at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), the special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on CPEC affairs accused the United States of conniving in cahoots with India against the economic lifeline of Pakistan.
“From the point of view of the emerging geo-strategic situation, one thing is clear: the United States supported by India is inimical to CPEC. It will not let it succeed. That’s where we have to take a position,” Mr Mansoor said.
Islamabad is the seventh largest recipient of Chinese overseas development financing with 71 projects worth $27.3 billion currently under way as part of CPEC. Many Western think tanks and commentators have termed CPEC an economic trap that has already resulted in bloated public debt levels and disproportionately high Chinese influence in the domestic economy.
Washington now ‘taking stock of economic and political consequences’
The premier’s aide said the United States and India continue to “make attempts to manoeuvre Pakistan out of” China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a global infrastructure development plan — under which the Chinese government has been investing heavily in about 70 countries.
“There’s no way Pakistan will forgo any of its benefits. It has more than once burnt its fingers in (the Western) alliance in the past,” he said, adding that their attempts to dilute China’s strategic influence in the region will fail.
He said the Western powers view CPEC as a symbol of China’s political ambition. “That’s the reason CPEC is seen suspiciously by both the United States and Europe… they view CEPC more as a move by China to expand its political, strategic and business influence,” said Mr Mansoor, noting that China has been able to manage that apprehension “to a great extent”.
The United States is now “taking stock of the economic and political consequences” of withdrawing from the region, he said. “I had a very, very detailed discussion with the American embassy people. I told them CPEC is available for them as well. They have also expressed their wish that they would like to develop some kind of involvement and see how it can be beneficial for both countries,” he noted.
The SAPM said Islamabad is seeking the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan and has discussed the possibility of Taliban-led Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar economic corridor.
He said there’s been “deep interest” in developing economic connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan and with other neighbouring countries, including Iran. “Some European countries have started showing interest (in CPEC). Their ambassadors keep on coming,” he said.
He repeatedly referred to fake news and “negative propaganda” about the viability of CPEC and the pace of its progress. “In terms of its scope, Phase II of CPEC is going to be an order of magnitude bigger than Phase I.”