The sense that there is much beneath the CPEC that meets the eye, is getting stronger by day with the hurry that China is showing to complete the projects. The concept, planning and execution of CPEC which has been shrouded in the veil of secrecy since the inception, is now increasingly being questioned by the elites. The ordinary Pakistani continues to remain in the state of dreams sold to him by the policymakers and the Army. The reality of CPEC is yet to dawn on average Pakistani. An average Pakistani citizen thinks that, what China is giving them is economic aid – as has been the case with the US, but in reality, it is a huge loan, the cost of which will only come only with the time.
Over the past year, a small but vocal group of analysts have begun expressing unease over what CPEC will bring Pakistan. In particular, they are calling for transparency on deals. In Dec 2017, the Pakistani government released a summary of CPEC’s Long-Term Plan. But even this sheds no light on the terms and conditions of agreements, project timelines or the exact nature of Chinese funding.
CPEC’s scope is enormous and cannot be fully comprehended as of now. With the unfolding of events, the real contours of Chines game plan are beginning to become visible. In addition to opening up Pakistan’s domestic economy to Chinese participation on an unprecedented level, it will result in China’s deep penetration of Pakistan’s security, society and culture. The cross-border fibre optic cable project, for instance, will establish fast and reliable connectivity routed through China. It will facilitate terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV that is envisioned as carrying Chinese culture into Pakistani homes. In addition, China is promoting the study of Mandarin and has set up dozens of language schools across Pakistan. In fact, under a Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Sichuan and Sindh provinces, Mandarin was made a compulsory subject for school children in Sindh. The number of Chinese nationals working and living in Pakistan has also surged in recent years, transforming entire neighbourhoods in Pakistani towns into ‘Chinatowns’. Pakistan faces a “Han-ai-zation” of its economy, population and culture akin to what happened in Tibet.
Biggest Province gets the least
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that Baluchistan will be CPEC’s “biggest beneficiary”. Baluchis, however, are not convinced. CPEC evoked little optimism among them from the start, and they fear that CPEC would benefit outsiders rather than locals. An additional concern is that migration of Punjabi workers to Gwadar will change the demographic profile of the province, making the group a minority. Baluch opposition to the project is strong and has even been expressed violently. Baluch militants have carried out several attacks on workers from outside the province, including those from China.
Political Repercussions of CPEC
The unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan, between India and Pakistan worries China as it raises questions about the legality of CPEC projects. Under Chinese pressure Pakistan has taken decisions that are not in its interest. Chinese prodding has forced it to begin taking steps to formally integrate Gilgit-Baltistan. While this may provide legal cover for Chinese projects in Gilgit-Baltistan it will cost Pakistan the goodwill of Kashmiri separatists.
Pakistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections are an additional cause for concern. While Pakistan’s main political parties are not opposed to CPEC, there are differences in their priorities. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League—Nawaz (PML-N) prioritizes projects along CPEC’s relatively calm eastern route, which runs through its stronghold, Punjab. However, should the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) form or be part of the next government it can be expected to shift focus to the turbulent western route. A change in government could lead to a review and or change in the deals, which may not be to Chinese liking.
Han-ai-zation of Pakistan is a definite reality
China and Pakistan are likely to continue to differ on issues related to CPEC. However, these are unlikely to derail the initiative, given their strong relationship, Pakistan’s deepening dependence on China and Beijing’s determination to make a success of BRI’s flagship venture. Other countries participating in BRI can draw lessons from Pakistan’s experience with CPEC. They can expect massive Chinese investment but not on generous terms. Chinese funding is not largesse and will extract a heavy price. As in Pakistan, they can expect “Han-ai-zation” of their economy, population and culture. Pakistan’s march towards the economic el-darado must factor the Chinese interference in their political system.
24 Jan 2018/Wednesday