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A military takeover of the China-Pakistan economic corridor means a tighter embrace between the two countries and greater concern for India

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is set to see significant changes in governance. These changes not only have an impact on the speed of a massive project, but could also change the power dynamics in Pakistan with China and Pakistan’s military trying to evade the country’s civilian government.

Recently, a parliamentary committee approved the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority Bill (Amendment), 2020. Pakistan’s parliament is likely to vote on the bill this month. The bill intends to bypass the Pakistan Planning Commission, which has served as the country’s main economic policy development body since the 1950s, as the administrative authority of the CPEC division and bring it directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister.

In fact, the military took control of CPEC last year through a presidential decree that passed through parliament. Retired Army General Asim Saleem Bajwa is now leading the project. Under the proposed bill, the government will give up more rights and Bajwa will report directly to Imran Khan. With this, CPEC will come directly under the Pakistani Army and given that Khan is seen as a ‘puppet’ of the Rawalpindi bosses, the Army can exercise its independence with the CPEC Authority having sole power to organize and develop the project.

Given the size, scope and possible impact of CPEC, this could seriously undermine civilian authority and create parallel governance structures in Pakistan, opposition parties say. Although the opposition has strongly criticized the formation of the CPECA as “unnecessary” and “white elephant”, that is unlikely to change much. There are indications that the Army is using Bajwa and CPEC to reclaim power from the civilian government.

Military Power

The $ 60 billion CPEC, fully funded by Beijing under the multi-billion One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, was launched in 2015 and progressed well into 2018. Since then, however, it has slowed down due to political instability, rebellion in Baluchistan, recession economy in Pakistan, and large-scale corruption.

In 2018, the World Bank warned participating countries about the risk of debt, abandoned infrastructure, social risks and corruption in the project. In September of the same year, Abdul Razzak Dawood, Pakistan’s minister of trade, industry and investment, told Financial time: “The previous government had bad negotiations with China on CPEC. They don’t do their homework properly and don’t negotiate properly, so they give a lot ”adding that“ Khan has set up a committee to think about CPEC – all the benefits and obligations. I think we should postpone everything for a year so we can act together. Maybe we can extend CPEC for another five years or more. “(After all: how Pakistan and China control the narrative about the China-Pakistan economic corridor. Brookings. June 2002)

But Dawood had to retract his statements stating that they were “taken out of context and distorted” and that “the Pakistan-China relationship is impenetrable and the government’s commitment to CPEC is unshakable.” Ten days later, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s military chief of staff (COAS), suddenly left for China “at a special invitation” from Xi, the paper noted.

Public Relations Inter Services, Pakistan’s military public relations arm, issued the following statement following Bajwa’s meeting with Xi: “BRI with CPEC as its mainstay is destined to succeed despite all odds and Pak Army must ensure CPEC’s safety at all costs. COAS said that while we work for peace, we must remain strong to thwart the design of all opposing forces that challenge our resolve and we greatly appreciate China’s support in this. “


So, what does the military mean for a total takeover of CPEC? Anam Kuraishi, a Pakistani PhD scholar from the Department of Government, University of Essex, who has done a lot of research on CPEC, said “domestically, it means a shift in control from the ministry of planning and development run by the civilian bureaucracy to military officials. This is problematic on two accounts – one, granting impunity to the CPEC authorities and two, also stipulating that the absence of any public official’s cooperation with the CPEC authorities would result in an investigation of the public official. This would not only be a barrier to transparency over CPEC project planning and development but also provide a way for military personnel to strengthen their power in the political sphere. The lack of oversight by civil authorities is also a matter of concern as it allows the CPEC authorities to function with impunity and without accountability to elected officials. “

Internationally too, such a move might not get approved because it only shows military interference in civilian matters, he said. “It also proves to be an obstacle in developing economic and social relations between the regions to be taken by the CPEC pathway and will become an obstacle in deepening relations with neighboring countries,” he added highlighting the minus of this military takeover.

Write on Foreign policycommentator Arif Rafiq focuses on the short and long term impacts of the CPEC discoloration. “For Pakistan, the new emphasis on CPEC and the increased role of the Army is a double-edged sword. In the short term, in pairs, they will inject much-needed aid and investment into the Pakistani economy. And a tighter hug with China would enhance Pakistan’s security against arch-enemy India. But in the long term – in the absence of civilian ownership, renegotiated terms and structural reforms – CPEC could burden Pakistan with unaffordable electricity and unsustainable debt, cannibalize the federal budget, engage Pakistan in broader US-China tensions, and further strengthen the Army in the country’s politics and economy. “

Taming Balochistan

CPEC has inflated Baluchistan, which has been burned by an ethnic Baluch insurgency demanding independence. The Baluch Liberation Army took responsibility for the attack on the Chinese Consulate in 2018 and threatened more attacks if China did not stop the “exploitation of Baluchistan’s mineral wealth and occupation of the Baluch region.”

General Asim Bajwa is the head of the army’s Southern Command, which covers the province of Balochistan and his appointment needs to be seen from this point of view. “Bajwa was undoubtedly chosen because of the belief that he could handle security issues. Beijing is concerned about terrorism in Baluchistan, where separatists have stepped up attacks on Chinese targets in recent years. Bajwa also served as the main military spokesman for three years and is credited with bringing the Army’s media management game into the digital age. The Army sees CPEC as the target of a dangerous foreign propaganda campaign (for example, some senior US officials are openly questioned sustainability, transparency, and even legitimacy program) and want to fight back, ”wrote Arif Rafiq.

The CPEC project has developed better in Punjab and Sindh compared to historically marginalized provinces such as Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Influence in India

This development on the CPEC front apart from India leaving the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) made India an outlier in the region. China has strengthened its relations with Pakistan and Asean (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in both the economic and defense fields.

“India can only go this far without serious structural reforms at the borders and evolution of regulations. While as an Indian market it is difficult to ignore, India is becoming less and less attractive to the region as a trading partner due to new certification rules and complex customs rules in the absence of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which provides greater trade facilitation, “pointed out Jhanvi Tripathi, a International Trade Policy analyst.

With CPEC deepening the already strong relationship between China and Pakistan, and now more importantly between their forces, India needs to rethink its strategy not only from a defense point of view but also from a political and economic perspective.

One Way, Many Challenges

  • CPEC, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a global effort aimed at rebuilding the Silk Road and connecting China across Asia. In Pakistan, this is called a massive building program that will bring new prosperity
  • Announced in April 2015 during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, it was officiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Islamabad that month. It pledged $ 46 billion in infrastructure and energy projects in loans and investments over 15 years; the total was later revised upwards to $ 62 billion
  • Chinese companies have been contracted to build a number of hydro and coal-fired power plants, as well as wind and solar projects. Other companies will build new roads and rail lines between Pakistani cities and mass transit systems therein. China is also helping to expand and develop the Gwadar port. In addition, China is also installing cross-border fiber optic cables, an early warning system for the Pakistan Meteorological Department and experimental agricultural projects.
  • China’s footprint has grown rapidly in Pakistan, with some estimates saying some 7,00,000 Chinese nationals are currently in the country, directly or indirectly connected to the One Way Project.

With input from the Agency

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