Raza Wazir: What is your campaign about? And why is it a problem if the route passes through Punjab?
Said Alam Mahsud: The natural route of the project – though Khyber Pakhtunkha and Balochistan – has several benefits. First, it is short – almost 1,100 kilometers shorter. Second, it is an all-weather route which will not be affected by floods and fog. Third, we have abundant mineral resources along that route that could be mined and exported. Fourth, this route will connect Pakistan with Central Asia.
We have nothing against Punjab, but Punjab already has a motorway that is a part of the economic corridor. We only want them to let us connect with it too.
RW: But what about the security concerns? Why would China invest in a route that is not secure?
SAM: The history of the world shows that it is economic projects that bring peace, not the other way round. Terrorism is a serious problem, but if we have the economic opportunities that come with this project, our youth will not be tempted to join militants.
There is no peace anywhere in Pakistan, and bomb attacks occur in Punjab as well. But at least the route through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is close to Afghanistan and Central Asia and away from India. It is not in India’s artillery range.
RW: But should we spend billions of rupees building new roads?
SAM: China imports $314 billion worth of oil through the Strait of Hormuz up to Shanghai and then to Xinjiang. That is about 16,900km. A shorter route – only 2,500km – is worth the investment.
RW: The National Highway Authority has already started paperwork for the construction of a new motorway segment.
SAM: We are in contact with political parties that agree with us – especially the PPP, ANP and QWP. The construction of a new motorway section will take at least six months, so we have time to expand our campaign.
RW: And will that campaign hurt ties between China and Pakistan?
SAM: The original route was also proposed by China, not by us. They must have looked at all the factors, including links to Central Asia, and poverty in the area. In the recent All Parties Conference on the issue, the PPP and the PTI acknowledged that during the previous government, the project was to pass through Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan.
China would want to develop its western part, such as Xinjiang province, and bring it at par with the eastern provinces, such as Shanghai. Unlike Islamabad, Bejing will not let any of its provinces remain poor. It wanted Pakistan to do the same about its own western part. Pakistan cannot become a developed country until Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan become developed provinces.