Over-reliance on CPEC will fly in the face of Pak

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Over-reliance on CPEC will fly in the face of Pak

Saturday, 26 November 2016 | Sanket Sudhir Kulkarni

Instead of getting overly apprehensive, perhaps it would be pertinent for India to take a back seat and allow the game to unfold.

Contrary to the commonly held view that the CPEC will help Pakistan develop close ties with China, the project is bound to cost Pakistan long term socio-economic and political problems

Ever since its conceptualisation, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project continues to pose an interesting puzzle for Indian diplomacy. A better part of India’s diplomatic efforts is concentrated towards formulating ways and means to tackle the project.

The underlying rationale behind India adopting such a critical position towards the project stems from the fact that the project fails to consider the legal status of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), very much a disputed territory.

But instead of getting overly apprehensive, perhaps it would be pertinent for India to take a back seat and allow the game to unfold.  Contrary to the commonly held view that the CPEC will help Pakistan embrace China economically, the project is bound to cost Pakistan huge socio-economic and political problems.

One can draw such conclusions about CPEC based on a similar experience Myanmar had witnessed a few years ago.

Bertil lintner’s article in Asia Times online of October 19, 2011 on China-Myanmar relations provides excellent insights into the challenges faced by Myanmar’s military junta in shrugging off Chinese influence and hold over Myanmar’s polity and society.

From his article one can derive that what started as a seemingly sensible decision to engage China for economic and military reasons turned out to be Myanmar’s worst nightmare. This is validated by the fact that during my field trip to Myanmar in December 2015, several respondents representing Myanmar’s civil society, academia and industry openly expressed their displeasure about China’s overwhelming presence.

Now apply the same pattern in Pakistan’s context for the coming years. Given the humungous amounts of investments that CPEC promises to bring into Pakistan, the project would essentially rescue the country from at least some of its economic woes. To begin with, the CPEC would enable Pakistan to bridge the long-standing energy deficit in the country through several mega projects. It also promises to revamp Pakistan’s transportation network and creation of local industries. From purely a developmental perspective, the dividends from CPEC seem to be highly rewarding.

But the brazen way in which China has approached mega projects world over, Pakistani society is in no position to stomach the socio-economic consequences.

Citing absence of local expertise, China will bring its own industries and technology to kick start CPEC-associated projects, thereby depriving local industries of an equal chance. The Chinese industries have world over been known for their utter disrespect towards environmental concerns and local sensitivities. On the other hand, China itself would be sorely disappointed with the painstakingly slow second-tier bureaucracy that exists in Pakistan.

On its part, Pakistan’s military leadership, which has taken a lead role in implementing the CPEC has till date not been able to fathom the consequences of an overwhelming Chinese presence on every aspect of Pakistani society and polity.

Given the kind of investments China is proposing to make in Pakistan, the former would in all certainty like to have its own chips within the decision-making circles of Pakistan.

The commencement of CEPC is also feared by many in Pakistan to further intensify insurgency activities. Pakistani journalist Gharidah Farooqi has interestingly documented the grievances of the Baluch fishermen near the port of Gwadar in her article in Express News dated May 6, 2016.

Due to heightening economic activities largely stimulated by port development and competition from Sindhi trawlers, the local Baluch fishermen are being deprived off their traditional source of income, she writes. She further writes that the development of Gwadar port has not translated into any benefits for the local Baluch population and the jobs are usurped by people from other areas of Pakistan.

Continuation of such trends in other spheres of economic activity is likely to provide an ideal breeding ground for the revival of a Marxist-inspired insurgency in Baluchistan. The men in khakis have not realised that CPEC, along with bringing Chinese goodies would also present great deal of unfathomable challenges that Pakistan would not be in a position to either comprehend or afford in the long run.


(The writer is Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai)

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