The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has emerged as a transformative force reshaping the socio-economic transformational impact on the lives of people in Pakistan, former Minister for Planning and Special Initiative Ahsan Iqbal said.
"When we started CPEC in 2013, Pakistan was suffering from a major energy crisis. We were experiencing power shortages for 16 to 18 hours per day, and we had major infrastructural bottlenecks with very poor physical infrastructure," he said in an exclusive interview with China Global Television Network (CGTN).
And because of a lack of electricity, energy was not there, and industrial and agricultural production was suffering, which meant there was more unemployment, which was a major contributor to more poverty, he added.
Ahsan Iqbal said that through the CPEC, in three years, more than $25 billion of investment came into Pakistan that modernized infrastructure and created new roads to connect many regions. It provided more than 8,000 megawatts of new power, which helped the country overcome power shortages.
"As we had energy in the economy, our agriculture and industrial outputs improved, which brought more employment for thousands of young people and also helped them come out of poverty," he added. About special economic zones, he said that nine special economic zones have been identified in different regions of Pakistan and added, "All regions are taking part and taking benefit from CPEC, which is another indicator that it is a very inclusive project and it does not leave anyone behind."
"We are now working with China to set up industries in these special economic zones, through which both Pakistan and China can work together and export goods to third countries," he added. "Gwadar Economic Zone is developing very fast, but in addition to that, nine more economic zones are being developed in Pakistan, in which we hope that investment that will come from China will help us in industrialization and that will be a major contributor towards structural transformation of the economy."
He opined that it would create more jobs, and most importantly, Pakistan needs to improve its export performance, adding, "We hope that with Chinese technology and investment and their access to global supply chains, we will be able to improve our exports as well."
Terming CPEC a game changer for Pakistan and the region, he said that the future of economic development lies in regional cooperation.
"We can create an economic market for a huge benefit for three billion people living in South Asia, China, Central Asia, and the Middle East through regional connectivity," he added.
He said that therefore, programs like CPEC and BRI could help people eliminate poverty and unemployment and realize the dream of shared prosperity as well as people-to-people contact.
Responding to a question about the next stage of CPEC, he stressed the need to ensure an environment of peace, stability, and continuity of policies in Pakistan.
"We have a very young population that is now getting education and skills relevant to the future economy, and it provides a very economical human resource for investments in the industry and technology sectors, particularly," he added.
Ahsan Iqbal said that the government has launched a very ambitious program to stabilize Pakistan's economy and restore the confidence of the business community by following policies initiated in 2013 with full force and vigor.
He said that a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) brings all the government agencies and all the government branches, whether federal or provincial, whether civil or military, under one roof to attract foreign direct investment.
"The SIFC is a very new initiative that the government has undertaken, and we hope that it will encourage foreign investors to come to Pakistan," he added.
To yet another question about debt burden, he said, "If the previous government had promoted CPEC enough, we would have seen lots of progress in industrial cooperation. So, slow progress on CPEC actually contributed to the slowing down of the economy."
Very high prices of commodities, particularly oil and gas, also created problems for Pakistan's economy. None of these problems have anything to do with CPEC or BRI. Because most of the investments that came to Pakistan under CPEC were at a very concessional rate, he added.