Impact, Reservations, Benefits of China Pakistan Economic Corridor By Dr Shabir Choudhry

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Sad thing about the CPEC and its projects is the lack of transparency in the whole matter. If people ask questions they are branded as ‘traitors’ and ‘saboteurs’ without any considerations to their genuine concerns and apprehensions. People who will pay back this huge loan have right to ask questions. People whose lives will be adversely affected by this mega project also have right to ask questions.

 

People of all regions need to know what is there for them. They are not interested in what is there for Punjab, what is there for political leaders of Pakistan, and how much profit Pakistani and Chinese businessmen will make; and how banks of China who will become even richer. Even the former Pakistani President and Chief of Pakistan’s Peoples Party claimed that ‘commission’ is the main motive in building roads.

 

‘Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday took aim at the incumbent government and alleged that the Sharif duo was only interested in constructing roads to pocket commission’. 1

 

People of Pakistan need to know what are their financial commitments to China because of the CPEC. What are the terms and conditions of the loan payment? What are the tax concessions offered to China? Will their lorries pay any toll or not? Will there be any tax or custom on the Chinese goods? Who will provide security to the Special Economic Zones where only the Chinese companies will display their goods? Will these Zones also be used as ‘Chinese enclaves’ inside Pakistan, as the Chinese staff and their families need to live somewhere. They will need to eat, socialise, their kids need to go to schools etc. Who will provide security to them, most probably the Chinese? Who will pay for the security of these ‘Chinese enclaves’?

 

What about the maintenance of these projects and who will pay the costs? Has government of Pakistan or they relevant departments considered these matters, if they have then why they are not sharing this information with the people they govern?

 

It must be noted that the western China which is linked to Gilgit Baltistan is under developed with only 6% of the population. This region does not have much to export. It means vast quantity of goods will come from the developed part of China. Islamabad based Pakistani writer Abdul Majeed, says:

‘a container can be shipped to/from any port in China and Karachi or Dubai for $300-$400 whereas it would cost $5,000-$7,000 to carry it through rails/roads for transit through Pakistani ports. No businessman will shift his cargo from the sea to land route. This is why the transit trade agreement between Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that allows the free use of Pakistani ports has been dormant since 1995. Expansion in world trade was only made possible by cheap shipping. Old land routes could not survive the competition. Efforts to revive them by slogans like one road one belt are not likely to succeed’. 2

What does this suggest? The CPEC has some hidden agenda, hence so much secrecy associated with it. If there is secret military and strategic agenda, as I have explained in detail in one long article, then it is foolish to expect others to sit idle and don’t do anything.

Increasingly the Pakistani thinking class is getting polarised, some people strongly supporting the CPEC and the other opposing it. Under the available information both sides may not be able persuade the other; and they will continue to hold on to their respective positions. However, another Pakistani from Lahore, Anjum Altaf, who is a fellow at the Consortium for Development Policy Research in Lahore writes:

‘Citizens responsible for the debt liabilities have a right to demand this information and expect it to be provided. What are the reasons for the secrecy? What is there to hide? The numbers that are filtering out in dribs and drabs on guaranteed rates of return are not particularly reassuring. The mere fact that information is not being fully shared is a major cause for doubt. People are naturally apprehensive in the absence of transparency’. He further says, The CPEC will surely change the fortunes of ‘a few thousand individuals in Pakistan. It is unlikely to be a game changer for the Pakistani people – just like the Suez Canal did not’. 3

 

It will take many years before the whole project completes, in 2030. Some projects under ‘early harvest, especially related to energy may be completed by 2018, because they were designed to produce electricity and help Nawaz Sharif win the next general elections due to be held in 2018. Other projects are facing many hurdles and are many years from completion.

However, the government wanted to reward the previous army Chief for being a ‘good boy’ – not toppling the elected government, so to give him credit for the CPEC they started the first caravan under heavy military protection a few weeks before his retirement. Not much economic activity has taken place after that, but the government and the Chinese are already celebrating success of the CPEC, may be for the domestic consumption.

 

Another Pakistani Samina Tippu, a student at Pakistan’s prestigious National Defense University (NDU) researching for Mphil, in her article ‘CPEC Conspiracy Theories of Success and Failure’ raises some serious questions.  She expresses her serious concern on:

lack of transparency about costing of various projects included in the CPEC has led to all kinds of suspicions of mega corruption, extent of kickbacks, commissions and hidden payments. There are also reports, circulating in Islamabad’s diplomatic and development community that Chinese companies are being compelled to sublet contracts to cronies and front-men of “who’s who” in Pakistan and built in profits are being added to the cost of projects. 4

Samina Tippu asks how can a mega project of this nature can succeed in 21st century where there is no transparency; and when it is riddled with allegations of corruption and nepotism. Any criticism by national or international experts is rejected as a ‘conspiracy’. In view of the conspiracy mantra, the vast majority of Pakistanis fail to see the real game plan and interests of the Pakistani elite. They dare not question the elite and what they are doing in name of the national interest. She asks:

‘Will CPEC be able to change the fortune of citizens of this country or western china or will it follow the footprints of Panama and Suez Canals – that became pawns in regional and international power games. Considering the potential sabotage activities of the powers across the fault lines: India and the US one wonders if CPEC’s majestic promise will start to fail even before its proper take off’. 5

In view of some Pakistanis the CPEC may remain a fantasy, because the Pakistani leadership lacks ‘sincerity’ and ‘patriotism’; and above all they are not immune from the influence of foreign countries. Many times, in the past, good projects were abandoned because of the pressure of the outside powers. Also, there is a serious concern that due to the CPEC Pakistan may lose political and economic sovereignty, even though the army leadership and the civilian government are on the same page on the issues related to the CPEC.

 

It is also feared that Pakistan will lose its political and economic sovereignty, owing to excessive foreign debt as happened with the owners of Suez Canal and Sri Lanka. However, people of faith and conviction believe that there is always a way forward in the face of any opposition.

Hurmat Ali Shah is also critical of the Pakistan federal government and tries to advance the narrative of Pakistani provinces. He, in his article Deconstructing the ‘conspiracy against CPEC’ argument’, writes: The Pakistani state has its bag full of tricks to take home its point of concentrating all development in one region of Punjab, and depriving small provinces and downtrodden regions of the country of their basic constitutional right of development’. 6

Balochistan will not get any energy projects; and KPK will get only one in Haripur. All the rest is for Punjab and Sindh; and when the deprived provinces complain, he says they are accused of promoting ‘provincialism’, in actual fact, it is ‘federalism’; and all provinces expect to receive equality and fair treatment.

It is sad that any kind of dissent over inequality or wrong doing of the state is suppressed with an iron fist ‘in name of national interest’. In Hurmat Ali Shah’s view, this wrong behaviour of the State in name of national interest ‘will create further mistrust’, especially when genuine demands of provinces are termed as ‘petty provincialism’. If criticism from critics and provinces persists then they are labelled as traitors and ‘working at behest of enemies of Pakistan’. 7

He further writes: ‘On top of that comes the acrobatics of federal ministers who say at one press-conference that western route is the priority route, while at the other say that both routes will be completed at the same time and still at another say that CPEC will be completed by 2030. Who is making CPEC controversial and who is conspiring against the federal unity of Pakistan’? 8

To avoid further confusion and misunderstandings it is imperative that the Pakistan government make public all the documents related to the CPEC. Without transparency and accountability, mistrust and bitterness can increase which can be harmful to the CPEC and the federation of Pakistan.

 Rebellious views from Balochistan

Dr Allah Nazar, at one time, practised medicine and served humanity; but now he is hiding in mountains with a gun in his hand fighting the Pakistani troops. Colin Freeman, who met him and interviewed him writes: ‘The Baloch rebel leader standing in the way of Pakistan’s economic goals’. Dr Allah Nazar is very high on Islamabad’s long list of wanted men. For a decade and a half, he has been the leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), which campaigns — and kills — for the independence of Pakistan’s vast south-western province’. Rebels claim to have killed around ‘2,000 security force members, although the government puts the figure at nearer 1,200’. 9

 

Lt Gen Aamir Riaz, head of the army’s Southern Command, boasted that in 2016, ‘some 800 fighters had surrendered under a government reconciliation scheme’; and he is optimistic that “Things should improve for Balochistan as development comes along….I don’t say this place is perfect, but it isn’t Iraq or Syria.”

The Pakistani government and, especially the army sources suggest that everything is under control, but death of 1200 security force members and surrender of 800 fighters tells a different story. It proves that it is not a simple law and order matter; or some misguided people creating trouble on behest of the foreign powers.

 

May be from Pakistan’s standards, death of 1,200 0r 2,000 ordinary security force members is not very serious matter, but in all civilised countries and in countries where governments and officials are accountable for their actions, this is alarming figure.

 

These people were not killed in a war with another country. They were killed by other Pakistanis who did not like what Islamabad government is doing in Balochistan. To make it easier for readers to understand that in the war of 1971, in which Pakistan lost East Pakistan and more than 90,000 army personnel were imprisoned, only 86 Indian soldiers were killed. Similarly, very few Israeli army personnel lose their lives in wars, because their government highly values them.

 

It is possible one day he will, like his other fellow countrymen, will be killed by a Pakistani bullet or an air attack. Pakistan, at one time, claimed that they have killed Dr Allah Nazar. He belonged to an impoverished town of Mashkay, and had a stable and prosperous life. But, one needs to investigate why this medical doctor abandoned his stable life and went to mountains to fight the Pakistani army – please don’t say he did this because of money and India provided the money. Doctors in Pakistan are not poor.

Colin Freeman claims that men like Dr Nazar are the main obstacles ‘in the way of one of Pakistan’s most important goals — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC — which will run right through their homeland’. 10

Dr Allah Nazar further claims, ‘Already, construction zones for CPEC have turned into war zones….Since 2014, at least 44 members of the Frontier Works Organisation, an army-run construction firm spearheading the work, have been killed by separatist bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)…We are attacking the CPEC project every day,” Dr Nazar told Reuters last September, which also confounded Islamabad’s claims to have killed him in a raid the year before. “It is aimed to turn the Baloch population into a minority’. 11

Call them Baloch rebels or separatists, they have very serious resentment with what Islamabad, and the army is doing in their homeland. They are seriously worried that Balochistan will become home of a large number of Chinese civil and military personnel. They are also concerned that the CPEC will result in settling ‘hundreds of thousands of Punjabis from the rest of Pakistan, diluting the Balochi identity in the name of progress’.

Sana Baloch, who belongs to a moderate Balochistan National Party warns that if the CPEC leads to ‘Balochistan being overrun with outsiders, it will turn Gwadar not into another Dubai but another Karachi’, meaning there will be unrest and bloodshed.

He further said: “I have no sympathy for the armed groups, but we fear the coastal region will be taken from the hands of Baloch people,” he said. “For the last 40 years, Balochistan has been completely in Islamabad’s control, and used as a dumping ground for political garbage. That must end.” 12

Mir Suleiman Ahmedzai, Khan of Kalat also expressed his views in various Seminars held in the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Also, he gave interviews to different news agencies. While speaking to ANI, Khan of Kalat branded China and Pakistan ‘plunderers’. He asserted:

‘that Balochistan strongly welcomes India’s assistance in stopping both nations with their nefarious plans in executing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC has no developmental value whatsoever and is simply one ‘occupier’ taking the help of another ‘occupier’ in plundering the region which is rich in natural resources. We are not going to enjoy anything, nor are we going to benefit from it. We are not even being asked as it is our land. They are coming as plunderers and we will stop them in whichever way, maybe with the help of your people and friends”. He was referring to India. 13

While replying to Pakistani claims that the CPEC will provide new jobs and development, Khan of Kalat said:

“Since the past 70 years Pakistan has claimed a lot of things. They are big liars and will keep on lying. Even when it comes to terrorism, be it in their own country or their neighbours.” 14

Another Baloch political and human rights activist, Munir Mengal President of Baloch Voice Foundation, said:

‘The CPEC was a ‘strategic design’ by Pakistan and China to loot Balochistan’s resources and eliminate their culture and identity. Most of the people have the same concern that is design is disastrous to the people. This conference was organised to show the international body that there will be no benefit from the CPEC project and all of us will be eliminated.” 15

Abdul Nawaz Bugti, representative of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) also addressed the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva; and requested to UN to appoint a Special Rapporteur for Pakistan. He gave details of human rights’ violations in Balochistan; and strongly criticized the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said what Pakistan did in Balochistan was ‘genocide in Pakistan’s largest and resource-rich province of Balochistan’.

 Abdul Nawaz Bugti further said: ‘Balochistan is not a legitimate part of Pakistan. It was illegally occupied and it is treated as a colony where the Pakistani occupational states subject the people to extreme atrocities and exploit their land and natural resources…  Mass graves are being found in Balochistan, which is clear evidence of Pakistan war crimes. Just two weeks ago, another mass grave was uncovered in Dera Bugti while scores of women and children were among those killed in army operations there in recent weeks.”  16

Baloch political and human rights activists claim that around 20,000 people are missing, believed to be ‘abducted by the Pakistani forces’. The victims are generally the educated Baloch people, for example, political activists, teachers, students, lawyers, intellectuals etc. In Balochistan, the educated people become targets of agencies, because these people are more aware of their rights and persuade people to fight against oppression.

Abdul Nawaz Bugti further said:

The international community has unfortunately turned a blind eye towards the systematic genocide taking place in Balochistan. Some countries, for example China, has joined hands with the Pakistani state to exploit the land, sea and resources of Balochistan. Pakistan and China have officially become crime partners in the name of so-called CPEC, which connects China’s landlocked region to the middle-east via Baluchistan’s deep seaport Gwadar.” 17

Founder of American Friends of Balochistan, Ahmar Mastikhan said: Islamabad has thrown to the winds at least 25 out of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Balochistan. The execution style, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and kill and dump of thousands of Baloch, use of degrading forms of torture such as feeding feces and sodomy of the Baloch activists have taken place in the last 12 years and is still continuing.”  18

Another Baloch political activist Javed Mengal said, ‘Balochistan is in state of war’, and added ‘that the Pakistan Army is forcefully displacing people from their land in name of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). A curfew was imposed in the region along the routes of CPEC to show to the world that there is peace in the region when two containers loaded with project goods were arriving in Pakistan from China, but, Balochistan is in state of war.’ 19

Baloch nationalists genuinely believe that the CPEC will exploit their resource-rich province; and the local people will be reduced to a minority in their own land. In various Baloch seminars and protests popular slogans were “China Hands-off Balochistan”, “Stop Baloch Genocide” and “No to CPEC”.

Emotions aside, the Baloch rebels are not in a position to combat strong army of Pakistan; and now they have Chinese strength behind them as well. China will have a strong reason to protect its investment, and use its military muscle to control the situation. Some experts believe that one of the reason why Pakistan is so eager to have CPEC operational is that it will deter India from any military adventure against Pakistan, when China is standing with them to protect the CPEC and protect more than 50 billion dollars investment.

What alarmed me was a view of one Western speaker at the seminar during the UN Human Rights Council 34th Session. The learned lady, Claudia Wadlics, while talking about potential problems resulting from the CPEC, Pakistan and China, said:

‘So how can this problem become solved? So how do we propose economic and efficient designs and strategies which will bring social justice to Balochs, Pashtuns, Kashmiris and Sindhis? First, there must be founded a ‘Government in Exile’ by the Baloch leaders and the Khan of Kalat; perhaps in India. Second, this government must be acknowledged by India and the US and perhaps, also by Russia, with provision for the countries of Europe following. Media around the world will be informed about the legality of an independent Balochistan. The Security Council of UN will face only China and Pakistan’s vetoes’.

 

The guest speaker developed this theme further and said if Balochi and Sindhi coasts are under military control of Pakistan and China, then Baloch Government in exile can‘legally call for the help of the US and Indian Governments, perhaps Russia too, to intervene and secure Gwadar port’.

 

Soon after the seminar, I managed to speak to her for a minute, and exchanged visiting cards. She has sent me a copy of her speech. Title of her speech is ‘Economic and Strategic Designs and Social Justice – A Global Talk Regarding the CPEC’. I shall post the speech on my blog soon.

 

What does this indicate? Is there a plan to establish an exile government of Balochistan? Will that government have support of countries like America, Russia and India? What will be the result of this? Is the region going to become a battleground in future?

 

China employ’s Blackwater to protect the CPEC

China is investing this huge money not because they like Pakistanis, but because it is in national interest of China. During my recent visit to Geneva to attend the UN Human Rights 34th Session, I attended one seminar on CPEC. One guest was from Chinese area which the guest speaker called Chinese Occupied East Turkistan. He said the CPEC will start from his homeland – East Turkistan, against the wishes and interests of the local population. He said local people will resist that.

That is very interesting. The CPEC will start from an occupied territory, East Turkistan, it will enter another occupied territory called Gilgit Baltistan. From there it will enter Pakistani province of KPK, and will end in Balochistan, which in view of the local people is also occupied.

China, it looks, is also worried about sabotage of the CPEC route. Their army and para military troops have great experience in ruthlessly crushing public rallies and opposition; but they felt necessary to hire some foreign troops or rather terrorists to crush opposition and protect the route.

According Chinese Global Times, the world infamous organisation Blackwater, which is now operating under a new name Academi, will establish bases in Xinjiang to support and protect the One Belt and One Road initiative. Call it Blackwater or Academi, it is essentially a ‘private military company’, and ‘provides executive security services and specialized training.’ Erik Prince, Executive Chairman of the firm told the Chinese Global Times that:

‘Frontier Services Group (FSG), a company that helps businesses operating in frontier markets to overcome complex security, logistics and operational challenges, plans to build two operational bases in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Southwest China’s Yunnan Province’. 20

The company has more than 5,000 highly trained personnel working nine different countries. It also played an important role in Iraq war.

It is believed that the Chinese companies desperately needed overseas protection for their investment and their personnel. Li Jiang, Director of the International Affairs Department in the China Security and Protection Group, said the Chinese security service companies lacked skills and advanced management theories. As a result, they hired ‘experts’ of Blackwater to support them.

The Executive Chairman, while explaining about the new operation in China told Bloomberg in 2015, that the main function of the FSG was to provide the Chinese customers ‘logistic support to get in and out of African danger zones…Africa is an important destination for Chinese investment … We believe our team’s local knowledge will greatly benefit Chinese clients’. 21

Eric Prince further said: “in late 2016, FSG expanded its geographic focus from purely Africa to include the Northwest and Southwest corridors of the One Belt and One Road initiative.”

The following countries include in the Northwest corridor:

Kazakhstan,

Uzbekistan,

Pakistan,

Afganistan.

And the following countries include in the Southwest corridor:

Myanmar,

Thailand,

Laos,

Cambodia.

He further said: “the planned new facility in China’s Yunnan Province will allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in the Southwest corridor. Subsequently, FSG will open a training facility in Xinjiang to serve businesses in the Northwest corridor.” 22

The Spokesman for the FSG, Wang Dawei said, ‘the Yunnan base will be operating this year while the one in Xinjiang is projected to start operation in 2018’.

Readers must take this fact in to consideration that America is a neighbour of every country, and they smell danger to their ‘national interest’ from miles and take appropriate measure to eliminate it. They know China will be a serious danger to their hegemony in future; and they are working for many years to contain China.

Despite the contain China policy, America does not want a war with China. So, the best policy is to support India, another emerging economic and military power. Tension and competing interests of various countries, including Japan and America in South China Sea could also lead to some kind of confrontation, which they have sensibly avoided so far.

Other region of conflict and competition is Indian Ocean. In this region India also has a great interest; and their strategic experts believe that the CPEC has hidden agenda of encircling India and endanger India’s national interest in this region. This is where America and India have a common interest. They also have a common interest in Afghanistan and in Central Asia.

It is logical for America to support India in every possible way that a strong India can share some responsibilities in the region. If China and Pakistan can conclude strong economic and military agreements, then nothing stops America and India doing same to advance a common agenda.

If the CPEC completes without any hurdles it will surely strengthen China economically and militarily. Their influence in South Asia, in Central Asia, Arabian Sea, in the Indian Ocean and in many other countries will immensely improve. And if all goes well, Pakistan can also become stronger, especially when China is at its back to protect and support Pakistan.

This scenario will not suit India, America and many other countries. If weak Pakistan keeps on interfering in affairs of neighbours and exporting terrorism, extremism and hatred, then a strong Pakistan will bravely continue to call shots in India, in Kashmir and in Afghanistan. A strong Pakistan will also find courage to say no to America, Britain, Saudi Arabia and others when it suits them. This made in China courage and leverage won’t be appreciated by these countries.

Won’t it be in the interest of these countries to plan a counter strategy to protect and promote their interests? And if they do that, won’t this lead to some kind of military confrontation with more than one party on each side. Does it mean regions like Gilgit Baltistan, KPK, Balochistan and Afghanistan can become a battleground for the competing interests of various countries.

So, I agree, the CPEC is a game changer, but in whose favour the game will change, it is too early to say.

References:

  1. https://en.dailypakistan.com.pk/headline/zardari-alleges-govt-of-pocketing-commission-through-infrastructure-development/
  2. https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/193521-This-is-CPEC
  3. Ref:  Questions on CPEC, The News, 19 March 2017  https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/193213-Questions-on-CPEC
  4. https://www.globalvillagespace.com/2017/02/01/cpec-conspiracy-theories-success-failure/ February 1, 2017
  5. Ibid
  6. The Nation, 09 January 2017. http://nation.com.pk/blogs/09-Jan-2016/deconstructing-the-conspiracy-against-cpec-argument
  7. The Nation, 09 January 2017.
  8. Ibid
  9. http://www.thenational.ae/world/south-asia/the-baloch-rebel-leader-standing-in-the-way-of-pakistans-economic-goals#page2
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Ibid

13.http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/with-india-s-help-will-stop-china-pakistan-from-plundering-balochistan-khan-of-kalat-on-cpec-117031400079_1.html

  1. Ibid
  2. Ibid
  3. http://unpo.org/article/19938 13 March 2017, Daily News and Agency
  4. Ibid
  5. http://unpo.org/article/19885
  6. Ibid
  7. http://nation.com.pk/international/22-Mar-2017/blackwater-to-open-bases-in-xinjiang
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid

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