China has not agreed to further expand cooperation in areas of energy, water management, and climate change under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), underscoring the challenges that both the sides are facing in deepening the economic ties.
Moreover, Islamabad gave up its opposition to setting up a new imported coal-fired power plant in Gwadar and also agreed to a number of Chinese demands to address Beijing’s concerns, the signed minutes of the 11th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC showed.
Although, the JCC meeting was held in Oct 2022, its minutes were signed on July 31, highlighting the difference of opinions on both sides that led to almost a year’s delay in reaching a consensus.
The details showed that China did not agree to a host of measures that Pakistan had proposed in the areas of energy, water management, climate change and tourism in Giglit-Baltistan (G-B), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and the coastal areas.
The final draft shared with Beijing by Pakistan and the final minutes signed by both the sides were different in many ways. The CPEC minutes had been signed on July 31 during the visit of the Chinese vice premier, Ahsan Iqbal, former planning minister in the PDM government, said.
The JCC is a strategic decision-making body of CPEC and its 11th meeting was held virtually on Oct 27, 2022 on the insistence of the PML-N led government that wanted to showcase some progress.
China excluded cooperation in the areas of cross-border tourism in G-B, K-P and AJK and cooperation for promotion of coastal tourism from the final minutes of the 11th JCC, the details showed.
China also did not agree to Pakistan’s proposal for inclusion of Water Resources Management and Climate Change and Urban Infrastructure Development in the CPEC framework. The proposal for setting up a new joint working group on water resources management and climate change was also rejected by China.
When contacted, the Ministry of Planning stated that it was a global practice for the minutes of meetings between two countries to be signed by both the sides only after due consultation and evolving consensus. This is to ensure that the minutes accurately reflect the agreements and understandings reached by both the parties, it added.
The planning ministry further said that the 11th JCC meeting minutes were signed in July 2023 after a thorough consultation process. Both the sides reviewed and discussed the minutes in detail to ensure that they comprehended all these outstanding issues and future goals, it added.
The details showed that China excluded the issue of financial challenges being faced by the power companies from the final minutes. The text related to the financial closing of 701 megawatts (MW) Azad Pattan hydropower project, 1,124MW Kohala power plant, and 1,320MW Thar Block 1 Shanghai Electric Co power plant was dropped from the final minutes.
The draft minutes had mentioned that “the projects have achieved 90% milestones for financial closing; however, financial closing is dependent on Sinosure clearance”.
Major concession on Gwadar plant
Pakistan has given significant concessions to China on the issue of setting up the 300MW Gwadar Power Plant.
Islamabad wanted to either shelve the 300MW project or change its location to Thar to use the local coal. But China did not agree to Pakistan’s text about the Gwadar plant, which had mentioned that “both sides recognised that there was a need to examine the requirement, size, location and fuel type for 300MW Gwadar Power Plant in view of escalating international coal prices, which were resulting in exceptionally high prices of electricity, liquidity and foreign exchange issues for Pakistan and environmental concerns”.
Pakistan had also wanted the conversion of the imported fuel-based Gwadar plant to Thar coal to address energy security and liquidity issues to which China did not agree.
The final minutes showed that “both sides agreed to advance the Gwadar Power Plant in accordance with the existing plan”.
Pakistan also committed that it would follow the consensus reached by two sides, and will direct the Pakistani power purchase companies to stop deducting the capacity power rate and return the deducted power rate.
To ensure the normal operations of CPEC power projects, the Pakistani side promised to take necessary measures to ensure timely exchange to US dollars for CPEC power projects to buy necessary fuels.
China also did not agree to a proposal to the inclusion of a 500kv transmission line from Hub to Gwadar to link the seaport city with the national grid in the CPEC framework.
Similarly, China did not agree to “carry out joint studies for future development of Thar coal blocks, including development of mega power parks and power evacuation infrastructure, with a view to meet Pakistan’s energy needs from indigenous resources, conversion of coal into other products for domestic demand as well as exports.
The reference that the JCC appreciated the decision on the conversion of imported coal-based IPPS to local Thar coal was also dropped.
China also did not agree to the proposal for inclusion of 100MW KIU and 80MW Phander hydel power projects in the CPEC energy cooperation list and implementation through Chinese investors. China did not agree to the proposal of developing a policy framework for coal gasification to fertiliser projects based on Thar coal.
Similarly, there is no mention of the South-North gas pipeline project in the final minutes. The draft minutes had mentioned examination of feasibility study and Chinese cooperation for the purpose.
Pakistan had proposed Chinese participation in a strategic underground gas storage project but there is no mention of this mega project in the final minutes.
Pakistan had also proposed participation of China in the national seismic study for sedimentary areas and sought Chinese equipment. But this idea is also shelved at the bilateral level.
Pakistan proposed joint exploration, development, and marketing of metallic minerals and sought Chinese technology, but the final minutes were silent on this issue too.
The planning ministry emphasised that signing of the minutes of the 11th JCC meeting was a testament to the strong relationship between Pakistan and China. It was also a reflection of the commitment by both sides to work together to achieve their common goals, it added.
Dar credits his policies for decline in dollar
Former finance minister and Leader of the House in Senate Ishaq Dar on Monday said that the international financial institutions considered him an enemy of rupee devaluation, stressing the depreciation in the dollar value today was because of his policies.
During a debate on a motion moved by Senator Kamran Murtaza to discuss the rise in inflation and devaluation of the rupee, Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said that the rupee’s value had improved against the dollar because of the administrative measures adopted by the caretaker government.
The minister told the house that the Pakistani currency would further stabilise after the release of the second tranche of $700 million by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He added that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) was also introducing structural reforms, especially in the currency exchange companies.
Earlier, Dar termed depreciation of the rupee mother of all economic evils.
“There are characters, who cause losses to the country for their own benefit,” he said. He recalled that in 1999, one day the dollar soared to Rs69 but after a crackdown, it came down to Rs52.
Dar said that the rupee remained stable for four years from 2014.
“The central bank used to intervene to some extent, but the intervention increased to reduce the dollar value during the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government,” he added.
“I am considered an enemy of the rupee devaluation by the financial institutions but see what happened when the PTI government left the dollar unfettered on the advice of those financial institutions. How much our debt has increased,” he asked.
Dar stressed that the term of previous coalition government was not enough to fix the economy. “Depreciation destroys the economy. We should come together to find a solution to the devaluation of the rupee,” he said.
Wheat in ample supply, minister confirms
A caretaker federal minister on Monday assured the upper house of parliament that Pakistan currently has ample wheat stocks and that the government will take concrete measures to address any flour shortage due to supply chain problems.
“There is no shortage of wheat in the country,” Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Information Murtaza Solangi said in response to a motion moved in the Senate by Sania Nishtar of the PTI under Rule 218.
The minister said Pakistan has over seven million (7,213,884) metric tons of wheat, with an additional imported stock of 10,33,845 metric tons.
“Public wheat stock comprises 39,24,367 metric tons in Punjab, 8,17,394 metric tons in Sindh, 2,15,082 metric tons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), and 89,354 metric tons in Balochistan.
“The Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation Ltd (Passco) accounts for 17,18,177 metric tons. Private wheat stock comprises 3,37,270 metric tons in Punjab, 93,165 metric tons in Sindh, 14,918 metric tons in the K-P, and 4,157 metric tons in Balochistan,” he added.
He said the support price for provinces differed, being Rs4,600 in Punjab and Rs4,700 in Sindh.
In her motion, Senator Nishtar had focused on addressing gaps in the wheat supply chain that may lead to flour shortage. She had pointed out the specific lacuna in the wheat policy, citing the conversion of green bags to white bags at the retail level. She also hinted at smuggling as a factor, contributing towards wheat shortages, in addition to the creation of systematic artificial shortages and hoarding.
In discussions on the motion, Senator Dilawar Khan of the PML-N suggested that Pakistan should focus on exporting wheat instead of importing this essential commodity. He further advocated for providing concessions to the agriculture sector to boost farming.
He said wheat procured in the past was not even suitable for animals’ consumption. He said the method of distributing wheat in the country is flawed. “Fertilizer is being sold in black markets too. The government should force dealers to maintain records of landowners,” he added.
Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of the JUI-F highlighted Balochistan’s agricultural challenges, emphasizing a lack of canal systems. He expressed concern about the removal of subsidies on electricity for poor farmers of the province.
Senators Dr Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur of the PTI and Rukhsana Zuberi of the PPP stressed the need for a concrete solution to address the issue.
Senator Dr Zarqa said dealers are availing subsidies meant for farmers.
“Pakistan’s black economy is thriving more than the white one. There is a need for measures that increase the country’s income instead of benefiting corrupt individuals. Actions should be taken to break the backbone of the black economy,” she said.
The minister acknowledged the collective wisdom of the Senate, which, he said, ultimately provides guidance to the government. He said that discussions on the topic would be tabled before the federal cabinet and the prime minister for consideration.
WITH INPUT FROM APP
SHC’s stay on executive committee orders irks PBC
Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Haroonur Rasheed has taken strong exception over the Sindh High Court to grant stay on its executive committee orders, demanding of the chief justice of Pakistan to look into the matter and take appropriate action in this regard.
In a statement issued on Monday, the PBC vice chairman said, “It is often observed that Orders of Executive Committee of the Pakistan Bar Council which are assailed by the aggrieved person(s) before the Hon’ble High Court of Sindh through civil suit are being taken up by the High Court of Sindh in the Court or in Chamber and injunctive Order has been passed which are not entertainable in the eye of law due to lack of jurisdiction.”
Rasheed said, “The High Court of Sindh has no jurisdiction to set aside any Order assailed which is passed by the Pakistan Bar Council or its Executive Committee at Islamabad the proper forum for that is Courts of ICT, so any order passed by the High Court of Sindh that would be non-existing and nullity in the eye of law as one rather sitting in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab or Balochistan cannot set over the territorial jurisdiction and the High Court of Sindh should not pass injunctive Orders on the matters decided by the Pakistan Bar Council at Islamabad just to please their blue eyed person(s), which amount to undue interference in smooth functioning of a statutory body having its office in Islamabad.”
The statement added, “The tendency of such like issues creates serious doubts upon credibility of those decisions which have been passed without jurisdiction.”
Rasheed said that no high court of any province had jurisdiction, especially the SHC, to create hindrance in affairs of the regulatory body of lawyers who had the mandate under Section 13(2) of the Legal Practitioners & Bar Councils Act, 1973, to decide matters of Provincial/Islamabad Bar Councils and all bar associations of the country, which were challenged before it.
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