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Friday, October 19, 2018
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China’s Game in Pakistan
By Samuel Baid
While taunting India for self-inflicting isolation by keeping away from the Chinese show, the Belt and Road Forum (BRF), in Beijing mid-May, the Pakistani press suddenly wake up to find that their all-weather friend. China, was taking their country to ultimate serfdom dangling before it a glittering vision. Many Pakistanis must have begun imagining themselves as Arabian Sheikhs once the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) reached function. But these excited Sheikh Chillis might not have stopped for a moment to ask why China is investing billions of dollars on their perennially broke country. Is it the all-weather altruistic love for Pakistanis which the Chinese communist leadership has never shown to even its people? Are the Pakistanis going into a debt trap? The Sheikh Chillis’ dream got a severe shock, when the most reputed Pakistani English language daily DAWN reported the Chinese game in Pakistan reflected in the Long-Term Plan (LTP), developed for the CPEC by the China Development Bank.
The report said the plan was finalised in December 2015 and finalised again exactly a year later in Karachi. Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal said significant revisions were made rendering the original plan “redundant”. But details of the “finalised” plan were kept secret from the people and their representatives in the Parliament will the Chinese allow Pakistan to upset their apple cart? Obviously, being a communist authoritarian country, China will not like the people of democratic Pakistan (in whatever from) to know its actual motives in the CPEC. A Pakistani, who raises questions about the CPEC, is at once questioned by branding her/him as anti-Pakistan and pro-India. This is an unnerving allegation for all Pakistanis including Members of the Parliament and journalists.
Pakistan’s planning and development Minister Ahsan Iqbal tried to ridicule the DAWN report by saying it was written in such way as to present the CPEC as a “nightmare scenario”. But the LTP, prepared by the China Development Bank and allegedly finalised in Karachi (but details were kept secret) makes this plan worse than a nightmare for the people of Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s subservience to China, it will be naive to pretend to be sure that this LTP will not drastically impact country’s politics, economy, security, administration, Islamic culture and media so much so that Pakistanis will be ashamed to call themselves free people of a free god-given country, their promised property notwithstanding. The man especially in South Asian, does not live by bread alone but by his unquestioned faith in God.
The impact of this plan is already beginning to show on country’s politics. The principles of transparency and answerability in a democracy have been sacrificed to this Chinese LTP by a country which abhors democracy and believes in the power of leash to keep people in line. Pakistan’s Parliament does not even know the details of the CPEC project. People of Gilgit-Baltistan (considered as slaves) are not even counted. The electorate of the largest province Baluchistan are not taken into confidence because they are “Indian agents”. Sindh and Pakhtoon nationalists cannot be trusted and the people of Punjab assured that they are going to be the main beneficiaries of the CPEC project, and thus need no further information about it.
The plan envisages giving large tracts of agriculture land to Chinese companies on lease “for demonstration projects” in agriculture. With similar concessions Chinese companies want more land for the construction of industrial zones. The question arises: from where the land will come from unless it is snatched away from poor farmers as the Pakistani Army has been doing for years without paying compensation? Secondly from where will the water and power come? Water-starved people of Baluchistan have been protesting in vain about the Chinese depriving them of their scarce water for these construction activities.
The Dawn report says: “The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sections of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises”. Several commentators and politicians imagine East India Company revisiting Pakistan and religion, around which the country’s ideology, politics and culture revolve, faces a challenge. The overly security prudent Pakistan has agreed to the Chinese Plan conditionality to have itself before China. Under the China-made Plan,
Moreover, Pakistan is obliged to give China access to its agrarian economy and its domestic market among others things which include fiber-optic connectivity and tourism. Chinese can enter Pakistan without visas. But this facility is not reciprocated in favour of Pakistani nationals. It is clear that China is not willing to trust them. In Peshawar, China will launch a programme of ‘Safe City’ to be replicated in all major cities of Pakistan. China will construct a fiber-optic system which will in part be used by the Chinese media to initiate in Pakistan to spread of the Chinese culture. The Express News, which said this, added; “One has to look past typical arguments of cultural hegemony to understand what ‘Chinese culture’ means specifically for a Pakistani context”.
This reminds one of the strings of statements and events about culture in Pakistan. Only two will suffice for the purpose here. One, in the 1980s Gen. Ziaul Haq rejected a demand to allow the Indian icon Lata Mangeshkhar to perform in Pakistan saying “Pakistan has its own culture”. That was the time when almost every week newspapers front-paged giggling Zia’s pictures with semi-clad Chinese or North Korean dance troupes. His mentor, Jamaat-i-Islami, has no objection to these pictures. The second example is related a beauty parlour run by Chinese women in Islamabad. Girls from the Lal Masjid madrasah, at the heart of Islamabad, raided the parlour in 2007 and kidnapped the Chinese girls saying the parlour was offensive to Islam. That was in November 2007.
Now the CPEC plan envisages a couple of entertainment centres in Gwadar when Chinese-promoted culture will be popularised. The challenge before the Islamists is either to fight this culture or gradually succumb to it. If the CPEC project is to succeed then the Islamists must be eliminated. Also, can democracy in Pakistan survive if the CPEC project succeeds? Chinese will like a rather authoritarian system in Pakistan to realise their One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Present political system in Pakistan is in doldrums today. The Pakistan Muslim League lead by Nawaz Sharif may sink if he is disqualified in the corruption case, the Panamagate. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is practically without a leader. Electorally, other political parties don’t count. Then arrives the Pak Army, ruthless and authoritarian – what China will definitely like for the success of its OBOR initiative.


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