China-Pakistan’s all Weather Friendship: Who is CPEC Benefiting Anyway?
Recently, Pakistan sought to internationalize Kashmir, yet again, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government making provocative statements and declaring July 20 as ‘Black Day’ to ‘protest’ against the alleged human rights violation in Kashmir. It is interesting to note that the Black Day was preceded by what is farcically celebrated as the ‘Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan Day’, falling on July 19. The violence in Kashmir has however, overshadowed some important events which have taken place in the context of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The first is China’s dissatisfaction with the project due to incessant tossing of decisions between different ministries within the civilian structures of governance in Pakistan, all of which have made Beijing to invite and allow the Pakistani military to take the lead role in this project. Beijing’s faith in the General Headquarters (GHQ) came as no surprise because unlike other countries, it is not really bothered about the civil-military relationship, or the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan.
China knows that the Pakistani army can secure the Chinese workers who are stationed in Pakistan working on this USD 46 billion worth project. In fact, 15,000 troops have already been hired for the security of these workers. In the last couple of years, Raheel Sharif has been calling the shots and Nawaz Sharif has to content himself with this ceding of political space. Perhaps, the latter does not have the appetite to deal with another all out conflict with GHQ.
The second important development is the possibility of some projects in Balochistan and Sindh getting shelved. According to a news report in the Express Tribune, ‘among the projects facing the axe are four Sindh-based schemes, including the Engro surface mine in Block–II of Thar Coal with a capacity of 3.8 million metric tonnes per annum, the 1,320MW Engro Thar coal-fired power plant, the 1,320MW Sino-Sindh Resource Limited Power Plant in Thar Coal Block-I, and the 1,320MW Thar Mine Mouth Oracle coal-fired power plant. The Balochistan-based project includes the 660MW HUBCO coal-fired coastal power plant’.
If these projects are actually discontinued, the share derived by Balochistan of 7 Billion USD and that of Sindh which is of a similar value from the CPEC will fall considerably. In fact, the earlier apprehension about CPEC being essentially a pro-Punjab project – the citadel of the ruling PML-N – will come true. Sanaullah Baloch, a former Senator from Balochistan, in an Opinion-editorial ( ‘Corridor of Secrecy’, June 30, 2016) for The News has argued that when it comes to the smaller provinces, the civil-military elite are on the same page and the voices of those who reside in these spaces have often been ignored. He has also argued that there is a lack of transparency with regard to CPEC which has increased fears in smaller provinces. Baloch argues that, ‘the Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtuns are stakeholders in CPEC. Their concerns about transparency, inclusivity, benefits, management and even the security aspect of the project must not be treated and translated as attempts to sabotage it’.
The above-mentioned points strongly reiterate two major problems which have aggravated within Pakistan: the civil-military divide and regional disparities. It is surprising to see that there are very few voices even amongst the ‘liberal intelligentsia’ in Pakistan which are questioning not just the overall impact of China-Pakistan economic relationship on the country, but also the fact that provinces which are key stakeholders in the CPEC project are being ignored. Politicians from non-Punjabi provinces and sections of the business community have been the only ones seeking greater transparency with regard to the project.
In 2007, after the lawyer’s movement, it had seemed that Pakistan had turned a new leaf and there was a major change in the mindset of the Punjab province towards other provinces as well as in the context of its ties with India. The province, which for long was considered pro-GHQ, strongly supported democratic forces. Political and economic compulsions which had once compelled the political class and intelligentsia in the country seem to have begun drawing a blank again. In terms of foreign policy too, it seems that Pakistan is comfortable in being a ‘rentier state’; earlier, Pakistan was successful in benefiting from US largesse and today, it is seeking to benefit from joining the Chinese bandwagon. The damage this is doing to the domestic economy of course is far greater and the Chinese are not so free with doling out assistance as the Americans.
In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether CPEC really emerges as a game changer for Pakistan. It certainly is strengthening the GHQ’s stranglehold over foreign policy, and in its current form, it is likely to increase regional disparities within Pakistan. The ‘All Weather Friendship’ for the moment seems to be benefiting Beijing and to some extent GHQ and a section of the Punjabi elite, while excluding key stakeholders. Islamabad, on its part, would be well advised to solve its domestic problems and address the genuine fears of non-Punjabi provinces with regard to CPEC before sermonizing India on its domestic problems.