ISLAMABAD: The government has informed the Senate Standing Committee on Finance that the financing and development of Gwadar International Airport had been “taken over by China” and that the Civil Aviation Authority will not be involved with the process.
In addition, the controversy over the change in the route of the $35 million Pak-China Economic Corridor deepened as government officials continued to contradict each other over the reasons for the change.
Planning and Development Secretary Hassan Nawaz Tarar told a Senate committee that a special board had been established to oversee the construction of Gwadar airport. PPP Senator Fateh Mohammad Hassani alleged that land for the airport — worth Rs100 million — had been purchased at Rs1.5 billion.
The government has already handed over the development and operations side of the Gwadar Deep Sea Port to China, after withdrawing the rights originally granted to Singapore.
On the occasion, a number of senators walked out of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue meeting over what they termed “the conflicting statements of federal ministers and secretaries about the route of the multi-billion dollar project”.
The government currently favours the Gwadar-Karachi-Lahore route, also known as the ‘eastern route’; whereas opposition members preferred the original ‘western route’ of Gwadar-Dera Ghazi Khan-Dera Ismail Khan route.
The former, they said, bypassed “Pakhtun and Baloch areas” and demanded that the original route be restored.
Tarar told the committee that a proposal to change the route was being considered on the request of the Chinese. He, however, added that the original route was never discussed with the Chinese at any stage.
His statement was contradicted by the additional secretary for communications, who told the committee that both route options had been shared with the Chinese, who showed a greater interest in the eastern route.
This led certain senators, led by the Awami National Party’s Haji Ilyas Bilour, to deplore the contradictory statements coming from government officials and alleged that Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal had ‘misled’ the committee. Mr Iqbal had told the committee that both routes were considered, but the government opted for the eastern route because it was possible to develop most of it on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis, without too much external financial assistance. Developing the western route, he had said, would require heavy borrowing, which the country could not afford.
A member of the standing committee and former finance minister Saleem H Mandviwala said that he had met the Chinese ambassador, who said his government had no role in the change of route and were fine with whichever route was chosen as long as Pakistan could guarantee its security.
Sardar Hassani demanded that the western route be reinstated, a view supported by a majority of members.
Mr Iqbal later told journalists that the route for the corridor had not been changed; rather both options were always part of the plan. He added that the western route was not viable at this stage because parts of it could not be developed on a BOT basis.