The series of project will create approximately 700,000 new jobs and add up to 2.5 percent to Pakistan’s growth rate
Interview with Sardar Shoukat Popalzai, President Balochistan Economic Forum
Sardar Shoukat Popalzai, President of the Balochistan Economic Forum, comes from the traditional Popalzai tribe. He gained his academic degree in International Relations with major in Diplomacy and Anti-Terrorism. He has been leading many Ministerial, Governmental and private business delegations to various countries and is also a member of several important advisory committees of prestigious government organizations and business representative bodies. Over the years, he has made presentations at numerous important conferences and high-level corporate briefings. He is recipient of awards from USA, Great Britain, France, the People’s Republic of China and Federal Republic of Germany. He holds Private Pilot & Gliding certification, Parachuting with several jumps to his credentials, and has got a specialized belt in martial arts. Currently, he is also the Chairman of Pakistan Security Services and Systems Association (PSSSA). The Balochistan Economic Forum has been designed to familiarize the national & international economic community with opportunities for Trade and Investment in the province of Balochistan. Since its inception, the Balochistan Economic Forum has played an important role in attracting foreign investment in the province of Balochistan and it continues to be the main powerhouse behind integrating foreign investment and has completed 25 years of its meritorious services this year.
FOR THE PROMOTION OF CPEC:
The Balochistan Economic Forum was the host of an executive roundtable conference in December 2015 at Karachi with His Excellency He Baoxiang, Vice Governor of Hunan Province of the People’s Republic of China on ‘China-Pakistan Economic Relations with reference to the Province of Balochistan’. President Balochistan Economic Forum, Sardar Shoukat Popalzai, in May 2016 was leader of the delegation to China and created an understanding with Hunan Provincial government led by Mr Li Xinqiu, the Deputy Director-General of Department of Commerce, and created a consensus for cooperation in Agriculture, Mining sectors and also on vocational training. The Balochistan Economic Forum and Hunan Federation of Industry & Commerce, Hunan General Chamber of Commerce of the Hunan Province of the People’s Republic of China signed a friendly cooperation agreement on March 26, 2017 to establish co-operative relationship aiming at the promotion of exchange and cooperation in investment and trade between Hunan and Balochistan province. The agreement on behalf of respective organizations was signed by the President Balochistan Economic Forum, Sardar Shoukat Popalzai, and Vice Chairman Hunan Federation of Industry & Commerce, Hunan General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Wu Shuguang. Both the organizations will assist each in organizing and participation in exhibitions taking place in the respective region and will introduce to each other the substantive projects on trade, investment, engineering or labour services, vocational and technical training, and will assist companies from both the regions in protection of their legal rights and interests by communication with the local administrative authorities on problems arising from economic and trade cooperation between two sides as well as give recommendations and opinions on trade and investment facilitation.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON CPEC IN TERMS OF PROSPERITY OF PAKISTAN:
SARDAR SHOUKAT POPALZAI: CPEC is the flagship project of One Belt and One Road Initiative of China in Pakistan. CPEC will result in investment of almost $57 billion in Pakistan in different projects and through different modes. Belt and Road initiative of the People’s Republic of China is offering opportunities unlimited for developing countries like Pakistan, therefore, $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] one out of six Corridors of OBOR offers an economic boost to the underdeveloped province of Balochistan and the much needed infrastructure to capitalize its resources for improved economic growth and regional connectivity, railways, airport, roads and ports will aid the Free Trade Zone at Gwadar and other such projects like Fiber Optic Link and Pipeline etc, will link Kashgar with Gwadar Port City, thus development in Balochistan province will shape the National Economic Agenda as Balochistan has 16 CPEC projects and recently 12 new projects were also included. All levels of the Chinese Government from the national economic planning agency to provincial universities are scrambling to get involved in OBOR. Nearly every province in China has developed its own OBOR plan to complement the national blueprint. Major state-owned policy and commercial banks have also announced generous funding plans here in Pakistan the federal and provincial governments should strive hard to take advantage of this bold initiative of a brotherly country.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE PROGRESS OF CPEC PROJECTS?
SARDAR SHOUKAT POPALZAI: Highways and railways are what come to mind when one thinks of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC is one of six land routes envisioned under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. BRI is intended to intensify trade connections across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The “belt” refers to roads and “road” refers to maritime routes. China is also financing the expansion and improvement of Pakistan’s neglected railway system doubling its speed from 60 to 120 kilometres per hour. CPEC roads will connect landlocked Xinjiang province in western China through a new port city that it is building on Pakistan’s coast, Gwadar, and China needs these roads to transport goods out. We are already getting interest from all the European, Middle East and South Asian countries. They all want to get on the CPEC bandwagon so for us it is an opportunity to rebrand our country and make it an attractive investment destination. All these sentiments show that CPEC is on the path of success and is progressing.
PAGE: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR CPEC?
SARDAR SHOUKAT POPALZAI: I would not comment positive and negative regarding the provincial government’s actions for CPEC development projects but would like to impress that power transmission lines should be replaced with new one to cater the full load. Balochistan needs no new power plants since cheaper energy is available at our door-steps from various locations and Iran is charging less than half the cost of per unit we generate in Pakistan. Balochistan, a region rich in minerals and other natural resources that China hopes to exploit, is where the CPEC transportation network transits and ends in the south-western city of Gwadar at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which China is attempting to develop as a seaport and an international air cargo centre. The provincial government should concentrate on infrastructure development which will help in socio-economic development for CPEC.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT:
SARDAR SHOUKAT POPALZAI: We should put more endeavours for FDI rather than portfolio investment because our country needs jobs for which the industrial sector will have to be strengthened, i.e. agro based, livestock, fisheries and natural resources, especially the infrastructure development.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCALS IN CPEC PROJECTS?
SARDAR SHOUKAT POPALZAI: The CPEC will strengthen already close bonds between Pakistan and China. For Pakistan, it will mean a massively overhauled communication infrastructure, complete with new roads and railway lines, gas pipelines and optic fibre link. It will create approximately 700,000 new jobs and will add up to 2.5 per cent to Pakistan’s annual growth rate.
In the end, my message which I often quote in my presentations is :
WHO DARES, WINS – There are many challenges in doing business in Pakistan: often unresponsive bureaucrats, inadequate infrastructure, a pre-modern mind-set among much of the population, to name a few. Balochistan presents many of these challenges and a few more in a purer form. The province also offers great opportunities to those willing to look for and develop the energy resources below the surface of a lightly explored but geologically promising part of the world.