Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why apprehensions about CPEC? Dr Shabir Choudhry

Why apprehensions about CPEC?
Dr Shabir Choudhry     26 April 2017

Chinese presence in Pakistan and in parts of disputed Jammu and Kashmir under the control of Pakistan is a great cause of concern not only to the local people but also to those who are concerned about peace and stability of the region and future ambitions of China in this region.

Mr. Alberto Cirio Member of the European Parliament said that:
China has increased their military presence in Pakistan Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan under the pretext of ensuring safety to their workers’. He also expressed his serious concerns about China creating divisions ‘among the Shia and Sunnis in the region, which is causing a direct threat to the region and not only the locals’, because in his view, ‘the presence of the Chinese army in the region is a threat to the stability of the region. He questioned why ‘Pakistan allowed Chinese army when it always opposed the presence of the Western Allied Forced in the region. He also mentioned that there should be a mechanism setup to investigate the adverse effects of the presence of the Chinese army in the Pakistan Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan’. 1

Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice President European Parliament, in a Conference hosted in the European Parliament with the title of CHINA IN PAKISTAN: GROWING HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS said:

‘China is engaged in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan in construction ranging from dams, highways and ports. He spoke that it has come to notice that there is a lot of resentment among locals in the region of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir over the negative environmental impact and the utter disregard for environmental safety norms by the Chinese infrastructure developers. Chinese construction projects literally trash the environment’. 2

Pakistani officials and media systematically churn out this message that India, America and some other countries are determined to derail the CPEC which is a ‘game changer for Pakistan.’ To these people, Pakistan’s future, security and prosperity is strongly linked with the CPEC. If the CPEC is completed, then Pakistan is saved; and God forbid if the CPEC fails to materialise then future of Pakistan is in serious danger.

This thinking and approach is dangerous for future of Pakistan. A country’s future which has nearly 200 million people, with nuclear weapons and the 6th largest army is not, and must not be hemmed with one project, no matter how important that is.

This strategy is not new. In the past Pakistani governments, in order to obtain political mileage, or to acquiesce people to their line of thinking have made the issues as a matter of life and death for Pakistan. Muslim League N is facing many problems and challenges, and among them is the forth coming general election due to be held in 2018.

They want to win it at any cost. Whether the CPEC is as fruitful to Pakistan as the government want people to believe or not, they will make it appear that the future and security of Pakistan hinges on the success of the CPEC. I believe if Nawaz Sharif survives the Panama gate then he will surely win the next elections. However, what I have read and researched on the topic, I believe that the CPEC will prove to be a white elephant for Pakistan.

Pakistanis are only looking at real or imagined dangers outside the borders of Pakistan, even though the former Army Chiefs have asserted that Pakistan does not face any outside threat. The threats to Pakistan’s integrity and future are from inside; and that these internal threats must be combatted and defeated.

I wonder why the army and the government are largely ignoring the multi dimension problems they know the CPEC projects are facing inside Pakistan. The present Pakistan consists of four provinces and FATA. They also forcibly occupy areas of Gilgit Baltistan and so called Azad Kashmir. Apart from Punjab, all other areas have strong objections to various aspects of the CPEC. Even within Punjab, certain sectors of the economy have strong objections to the success of the CPEC and they have spoken out about their apprehensions. Despite all this the army leadership and the government are determined to push the agenda of the CPEC.

A Pakistani politician Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who is Chief of Balochistan National Party said in Quetta, ‘CPEC is not for Balochistan’s development’. While speaking to his party members after oath taking ceremony the Baloch leader said, the ‘Multibillion CPEC project is not meant for the progress of Balochistan; instead, it will transform the Baloch nation into a minority on their own soil’. He strongly criticised the CPEC and called it a conspiracy against the Baloch nation. We are not seeing any development. Even our people do not have access to hospitals for treatment, not to speak of development.” 3

Sardar Akhtar Mengal is not an ordinary Pakistani politician. He has deep roots in this volatile province which must have peace and stability for the success of the CPEC. He is Balochistan’s former Chief Minister and is not oblivious to the statecraft. He ‘smelt plots against the Baloch people in Balochistan to expel them from their native soil…conspiracies were being hatched in the province since the inception of Pakistan in 1947’. 4
Sardar Akhtar Mengal further said: ‘Nothing else was being done on the pretext of development for the people of the province. Only new employment opportunities were being created for the Punjab by building railway lines, infrastructure and power projects to offer new vistas of job opportunities for the people of the biggest province…The Punjab is looting resources of the small provinces for its own interest. We do not ask anything from the Punjab, but want ownership of all the resources of Balochistan…The people of Balochistan, and not Sardars and Nawabs, deserved and owned these resources’. 5
The BNP Chief urged the people of Balochistan to forge unity in their ranks and make all-out efforts to end injustice to the province. BNP District President Nazir Baloch, Mir Sanaullah Jamaldini and others also addressed the ceremony.

Sardar Akhtar Mengal is not an Indian or an American Politician. He is a Pakistani politician and has held the very important post of the Chief Minister of Balochistan. This statement was also published in a Pakistani newspaper called ‘Nation’. He has made very strong criticism against the CPEC and exploitation of Punjab, by which I think he means the Punjabi elite.

There are other groups who have serious apprehensions about the CPEC. These people are stakeholders and love in Balochistan, in Sindh, in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa, in FATA, in the Pakistani occupied Gilgit Baltistan and in Pakistani occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of listening to complaints of these groups and try to rectify the problems Pakistani establishment have only one tonic to solve all the problems:
accuse them of being agents of India and traitors, anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam.

After defaming them, arrest them, torture them, intimidate and defame their families, and where necessary, eliminate them in fake encounters. This tonic they have used successfully since 1947 against people of Jammu and Kashmir, people of Balochistan, East Pakistan, Sindh and KPK. Although effectiveness of this weapon has reduced significantly, but it is still effective when it comes to India, America and Israel. They have a large army of social media touts, and foot lickers, who would hunt and intimidate all those who dare to question wisdom of the establishment.

Critics of the CPEC question, why is it that the government is not providing details of the entire project; and why there is so much mystery surrounding the CPEC. Even the Provincial governments of Pakistan, apart from Punjab where the Prime Minister’s brother rules, complain that too many projects have been diverted to Punjab, and that they don’t have sufficient knowledge about the CPEC.

The Chief Minister of Khyber Pakthun Khawa, Pervez Khattak has been very critical of the CPRC, and on lack of transparency. He even threatened to go to court over this matter as it was his responsibility to ensure that his province gets the due share of the benefits. He says even though the Prime Minister has inaugurated the western route, but it greatly differs from what was agreed in the All Parties Conference in May 2015. The political parties of KPK feel that:

‘The CPEC plans for the western route, as they currently stand, make it seem like a glorified highway as opposed to part of an economic corridor, which comes with special industrial zones and other economy boosting projects like railways, electricity, fibre optic cable and natural gas pipelines.’ 6

In a KPK provincial All Parties Conference it was recognised that CPEC was important project, but they declared to boycott it if the federal government did not revert to the original plans which were agreed by all stakeholders.

The Pakistani rulers and, especially the establishment needs to understand that they cannot resolve all problems of Pakistan by use of force, and by making allegations of being unpatriotic. Has hanging people, military courts, aerial bombardment, arrests, torture, intimidation, defaming, oppression helped them to control the crime rate and resolve the problems Pakistan face?

Is it not time to say goodbye to the old imperialist policy of intimidation and force; and try to understand why these people complain. Is it not in national interest of Pakistan to promote unity and strengthen friendly ties among the Provinces, and alleviate mistrust and tension? Before it is too late, the fears expressed by the politicians of KPK, Balochistan, FATA, Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan need to be carefully examined, and appropriate steps must be taken to satisfy their demands.

The Pakistani establishment and their proxies erroneously think that anyone who ask question or forward an alternative view point is anti-Pakistan, and an enemy. For example, they have been leaving this impression that the CPEC is ‘game changer’ and that all problems of Pakistan will be resolved once this project is functional. People, believing this think soon canals of milk and honey will start flowing in Pakistan. How it will happen no one explains. Anyone, who provides an alternative narrative, is automatically assumed as an enemy because it thrashes their hopes and imagined prosperity.

The Chinese good and trucks are exempted from taxes, then question arises where the canals of honey and milk will come from, especially in view of the heavy interest on loans? The Federal Board of Revenue claims that they will be:
‘raising not a single penny from the projects related to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as they are exempt from taxes, a senior official said on Saturday. “Neither there is an expectation of revenue generation from CPEC projects due to tax holiday,” said Rehmatullah Khan Wazir, member Inland Revenue (Operations) of FBR, “but, it (CPEC) will have far reaching economic benefits for the country.” 7
The Pakistan economic managers and the government officials can fool people by playing with figure, but they cannot change the reality. In 2010, export of Bangladesh was 25 billion dollars. The Pakistani export was also 25 billion dollars. In 2016, the Bangladeshi export has reached 35 billion dollars; and Pakistani export has come down to 20 billion dollars. If you complain or criticise, then you are anti Pakistan and a traitor.

Does telling people of these bitter facts constitutes treachery? Is the person researching and unearthing these facts an anti-Pakistan, or well-wisher of Pakistan, as he wants people to know what their rulers are doing and what they are hiding?

Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

1.    International Human Rights Defenders and Members of the European Parliament jointly hosted a conference on CHINA IN PAKISTAN: GROWING HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS in the European Parliament in Strasbourg 25th Nov 2015.
2.    Ibid
3.    The CPEC not for Balochistan, The Nation, 26 February 2017.
4.    Ibid
5.    Ibid

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