Sunday, 4 September 2016
CPEC should also benefit GB and not exploit our resources, Dr Shabir Choudhry
While Pakistan is upbeat about the benefits of the CPEC, they overlook the inherent dangers of the CPEC to Pakistan and areas of Jammu and Kashmir under their control. CPEC will bring a massive fiscal burden on Pakistan because Chinese loan of 35 billion has very high interest rate; and Pakistan, at times; struggle to pay back low interest on IMF loan instalments.
Also there is serious danger that the CPEC will change the nature of the Kashmir dispute; and China may ultimately control these areas to the detriment of peace and stability of the region.
Furthermore, there is every possibility that the CPEC will have serious imbalance in civil military relationship with the army in control and calling the shots in all aspects of Pakistan’s life. Some wise people in the government have realised that the project could prove to be a white elephant in certain matters where they have to honour their sovereign guarantees; and according to some reports private Pakistani investors are dragging their feet, which means some projects associated with the CPEC might get delayed. The civilian government also don’t look that enthusiastic about certain aspects of the CPEC; and is drawing criticism from Chinese and the Pakistan army. 2
For example, the Planning Ministry for 2016-17 budget asked for Rs.350 billion for CPEC related projects; it received only Rs.124 billion, a third of what was demanded. The Planning Ministry has allocated 90% of this on road projects and not on the power plants. If CPEC is a real game-changer, and government believe it is, then one wonders why the government would be starving the CPEC of funds. 3
Another bone of contention between the civilian leaders and the men in uniform is that who should control and manage various aspects of the CPEC. Army leadership wants a permanent role in it. Now that various organs of the government are under control of the army they urge the government to give them some kind of institutional role in the CPEC.
In April, 2016, the Minister for Planning My Ahesan Iqbal told a Pakistani newspaper that he had ‘received an “informal proposal” six months back for the establishment of a CPEC Authority, in which the army would have a role, and for CPEC to be made part of the NAP against terrorism. The government did not accept these ideas, but General Sharif has not given up’. 3
In various meetings with the civilian and the army leadership of China, General Sharif urged that for the successful completion and continued effective operations of the CPEC, it was imperative that the army had some institutional role in the project. It is because of this understanding they claim that military-to-military relations had reinforced China-Pakistan ties, and economic cooperation; and security collaboration between the two countries should be pushed forward “like two wheels”. The TV programme I mentioned earlier should be seen in the light of the above points.
It is believed that General Sharif has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the Pakistan Army, as it was the best ally of China on the CPEC and other security related matters, hence a leading institutional role for the army. The Chinese want completion of the CPEC because of their economic and strategic interests. However, they want assurance about the safety of their workforce and investment; and Pakistan army is the only reliable institution to provide that assurance. 4
According to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the two leaders (Army Chiefs) discussed military-to-military relations, bilateral security cooperation and all dimensions of long-term China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) security. The long-term and multilateral security issues of the CPEC project were also came under discussion at the meeting. 5
News emanating from both capitals indicates that the Chinese army and the government appreciate Pakistan army’s role in the CPEC security, and the faster development of the CPEC projects, which they believe will bring prosperity in the region. Whether the CPEC project will fulfil all expectations of Pakistan that remains to be seen, however, in my considered opinion it will result in loss of more power by the civilian leadership, especially if there was a major attack on Chinese workers along the route of the CPEC corridor.
“People want that at least they should be informed about the project, be taken into confidence so that they get to know what all benefits they will get from this project. We fear that this should not happen as if we sit idle and only count the number of trucks coming from China side and not benefit even a bit”. Unquote 6
To meet its power crises, Pakistan draws its electricity mostly from Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir, but ironically none of the power generators have presence in these regions – thus depriving these regions of potential royalties, which are paid to Provinces of Pakistan. This is unjust and exploitation of our resources; and sad thing is we have acute shortage of electricity both in Gilgit Baltistan and in Pakistani Administered Kashmir because Pakistan steals our electricity.
Local political and human rights activists express their deep concern that the Pakistani exploitation will continue; and with the CPEC China will also be a partner in exploitation of our resources.
Furthermore, they fear that the CPEC project will create a huge ecological imbalance, which can result in environment disaster. The jobs which the CPEC has created are going to the Chinese people; and the local people remain without jobs. The local people feel the CPEC will result in more control of our resources in hands of China and Pakistan; and like imperial powers, both will exploit our resource-rich region.
Mohammed Naeem Khan, a leader of the Kashmir National Party said, and I quote:
‘One can see the extent of the exploitation by the fact that they will be constructing 60 economic zones as per the CPEC project, but none of these zones exist in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The CPEC will pass through these areas, but they are only constructing an army headquarter in Diamer for the security of the CPEC. But out of $46 billion to be spent on the project, there is no investment in Gilgit-Baltistan and POK”. Unquote 7
We acknowledge territories of Jammu and Kashmir under illegal occupation of Pakistan are economically and strategically important to both China and Pakistan, but it does not mean they treat us as a conquered country and treat us as slaves. Senge H Sering, Director, Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress, said, and I quote:
“When Pakistan Army was constructing Karakoram Highway along with China, no compensation was given to affected people. No loss assessment was made. Now, the land acquirement for the CPEC project is being done forcibly. The ancestral land of the people cannot be acquired without paying them compensation and earning their consent. But, the Gilgit-Baltistan government and Pakistan Army are forcibly acquiring the ancestral land of the people.” Unquote 8
Tariq Fatemi, adviser to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while speaking to a gathering in Islamabad, comprising mostly of foreign diplomats and think tank members said: “We are not merely going to connect Pakistan and China through the Gwadar-Kashgar motorway. Pakistan will build the Peshawar-Kabul motorway that will connect to the Kabul-Kunduz motorway that will then get into Kyrgyzstan.” He further said that: ‘Pakistan would work for peace and stability not as a favour to Afghanistan but as a favour to itself because Pakistan recognises that there can be no peace in the country as long as there is no peace in Afghanistan.’ 9
It is interesting to note that there was no representative of Afghanistan in the conference; and a senior Pakistani talking of peace and stability. That aside, I want to urge government of Pakistan to reconsider its policies of proxy war, as the region needs peace and stability. We people of Jammu and Kashmir also need peace. We also deserve to have freedom and fundamental human rights.
Because of the natural beauty in Gilgit Baltistan, the areas attract a large number of tourists which is essential for the local economy; however, it is sad that the local people do not fully benefit from fruits of tourism because Islamabad takes lion’s share from it. Domestic transport and tourism do have a negative effect on the environment, as it adds to noise and other forms of pollution.
Now because of the CPEC and activities related to development and construction, there is huge increase in the transport, which adds to the pollution and will seriously harm the environment of the region with disastrous consequences. The ecosystem of the region, especially in high altitudes will be exposed to pollution. Mountains and forests have very important protective role against avalanches, soil erosion and landslides.
Construction of roads, rail tracks, dams and tunnels in mountainous region means use of blasts and heavy machinery which will immensely add to pollution. Release of gases like sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen monoxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), etc. or suspended particles (dust, heavy metals like lead (Carcinogenic) or abrasion from brakes, clutches and tyres. These harmful pollutants have adverse effect on human health. 10
Apart from other problems caused by pollution, the noise pollution can result in people suffering from some of the following:
Headaches, nausea, allergic reactions, stress related illnesses, speech interference, hearing loss and sleep disruption. If a person is exposed to noise for a long period he can damage ear drums. Other pollution related health risks could be chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. 11
Furthermore, the wild life of the region will also suffer because of construction of motorways and railway lines. One may ask, has the government worked out how the CPEC will affect the human health. Will increased pollution result in more people going to hospitals? Will pollution result in decrease in the life expectancy? What will be the future traffic scenario in the region? What will be the Social consequences of all this? Are there any provisions made to deal with these problems?
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, Pakistan and especially China will surely benefit from this mega project, but what is there for people of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan Administered Kashmir? I heard that even ordinary labour will be recruited from China. The CPEC will keep Chinese factories running and labour employed. Evidence so far indicates that we will only pick up pollution and will suffer from environmental problems; and may count how many Lorries full of load pass through our territory every day. We may not be lucky enough to sell eggs and tea to lorry drivers, as I suggested in the last conference.
Mr Chairman, I am prepared to answer any questions the audience may have.
1. The programme is called ‘Khara Sach’, hosted by Mubashar Luqman and aired on 1 Aug 2016.
2. The China-Pakistan Corridor is All About Power. Not Electricity, but the Real Thing. By Satyabrata Pal on 03/06/2016 •
6. Pakistan Today, 4 Aug 2016 http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/08/04/national/pak-china-afghan-army-chiefs-form-regional-mechanism-against-terrorism/
7. Anger grows against Chinese presence in POK, Gilgit-Baltistan on: August 02, 2016 http://news.statetimes.in/anger-grows-chinese-presence-pok-gilgit-baltistan/
11. Environmental Impact of CPEC on Gilgit Baltistan, by Zahid Karim Sarwar, 20 July 2016 http://pamirtimes.net/2016/07/20/environmental-impact-of-cpec-on-gilgit baltistan/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+pamirtimes+%28News+from+Pamir+Times%29
Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org