Political fragility, increased interference by security agencies and the military establishment in civil administration matters and even the CPEC project have made Beijing rethink CPEC results.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) timeline, a flagship program under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), faces hurdles in Pakistan. Due to certain differences on some agenda items, an unexpected delay of 10 is importantth The CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting has made China stop working on several aspects of the CPEC.
Co-chaired by Pakistan’s Minister of Planning and Development and the Chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the JCC is the supreme decision-making body for the CPEC project. Reason for delay The JCC meeting is believed to result in a disagreement between the two countries regarding the road map for future industrial cooperation and also about the Industrial Estates and Special Economic Zones (KEK) allocated under the CPEC.
According to Asim Ayub, director of the CPEC Industrial Cooperation project, Investment Council (BOI), Islamabad, forwarded the proposed industrial cooperation draft in April 2020. However, it was received with a warm response from China. Chinese officials have demanded the suspension of some agenda items and have suspended JCC meetings. The much-loved CPEC made progress in its first four years. However, after 2018, political fragility, escalating uprisings in Baluchistan and other regions, corruption and economic recession in Pakistan have slowed progress in almost all CPEC projects.
Political fragility and corruption
Beijing has sought to invest more than US $ 62 billion in infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan through CPEC. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stated that this investment will bring political stability and economic resilience to Pakistan, and help Beijing secure its domestic energy supply.
According to Chinese officials, CPEC will create around 2.3 million jobs in Pakistan by 2030 and will provide an alternative route for energy exports and imports from West Asia to China, linking China’s western provinces to major global sea lanes via Pakistan’s Gwadar port. However, political fragility, increased interference by security agencies and the military establishment in civil administration matters and even the CPEC project have made Beijing rethink the CPEC outcome.
Over the last seven years, CPEC has also been abused as a political tool by opposition parties in Pakistan to achieve their goals. It may be worth remembering that before being elected to form a national government, Imran Khan’s PTI was a staunch critic of the CPEC. Now a calling card to criticize CPEC is held by all the main opposition parties, which have united under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). fellowship against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In 2018, World Bank has warned participating countries in BRI projects about the risks of impending debt, abandoned infrastructure, social risks and corruption. All of these risks raised by the World Bank appear to be true for CPEC, which has been undermined in recent years by continuing political instability and increasing interference from the formation of an all-powerful military, especially after alleged rigged elections in support of Imran. Khan.
A puppet of the military, Imran Khan’s PTI government refused to investigate allegations of corruption in the CPEC project, which Imran Khan ironically included in his party’s election manifesto. Active and retired military officers, who have been appointed to key positions in the CPEC project, are alleged to have amassed enormous fortunes by mishandling project funds.
Former military officer Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is the chairman of the CPEC Authority, is also appointed to lead the Prime Minister’s media management team. In August 2020, according to a news report, Asim Bajwaa amassed a lot of undisclosed wealth during his tenure as head of the CPEC Authority and acquired offshore assets with his wife and brother.
Despite protests, Bajwa refused to step down from the post of chairman of the CPEC Authority even though he resigned from the post of Imran’s media management team. Chinese officials expect that 80 percent investment in CPEC is lost due to corruption and this leakage is hard to avoid.
In addition, the influx of Chinese investment has exacerbated corruption in private-public partnerships and in the realm of privatization due to poor governance and the conflicting roles played by the civilian government and the formation of the military. At times, Beijing has also used corruption to its advantage by exploiting growing socio-economic weaknesses in Pakistan and other participating countries.
Rising corruption, unfulfilled job promises, rampant exploitation of natural resources, and a growing Chinese presence have sparked an anti-state insurgency among Baluchistan’s people, which have been pushed to the fringes of the economy. Additionally, Pakistan has used similar tactics as adopted by China against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province to quell insurgency and extremism in Baluchistan.
The Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) has stepped up its demands for Baloch independence, blaming Beijing for exploiting it and making the province more unstable. He also accused China of being Pakistan’s “partner in crime”. Pakistan has taken its hands off the deteriorating security situation in Baluchistan and vice versa the accused New Delhi sabotages its economic partnership with China and blames India for Pakistan’s destabilization plans.
Based on report From the Pakistani army, Indian agencies specifically targeted CPEC’s Chinese development projects and “sponsored” 700 people to undermine CPEC projects. Such claims made by Pak’s army have made the Chinese more cautious about investing. Global Time, the CCP spokesman, wrote, “Beijing will continue to watch how this matter unfolds in the future.”
The factors mentioned above have forced the CCP to stop several CPEC projects. For example, files Imran’s government is cleared US $ 6.8 billion for Mainline-1 (ML-1) upgraded rail to double train speed by 6 August 2020. The ML-1 project was the most expensive CPEC project, with 90 percent of financing provided by China.
However, Beijing has been reluctant to make progress on upgrading the ML-1 rail approval till date. It is the same with industrial cooperation where the Chinese are skeptical, given the situation in Pakistan. The bonhomie between China and Pakistan will face more problems in the coming months, especially given the dire economic situation due to Covid-19 and the political environment in Pakistan.
This essay first appeared on ORF South Asia Weekly.