The extraordinary secrecy behind the much-touted China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) now lies in tatters with details of how China is plotting the economic takeover of Pakistan published by the English daily, Dawn, early this week.
Two major thrust areas of this plan is to take over the Pakistani agriculture sector and set up a deeply intrusive surveillance and monitoring network across major cities. In short, China will not only feed Pakistan in future but will also keep an eye on any dissent or opposition to their dominance of Pakistani life. The events in the Muslim-dominated Sinkiang could be an apt illustration of Pakistan under China!
Not that such a blatant attempt at colonisation has not cautioned Pakistani leaders. Last year, at a Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development, various leaders expressed fear that the CPEC could turn into another East India Company if the country’s interests were not actively protected. “Another East India Company is in the offing; national interests are not being protected. We are proud of the friendship between Pakistan and China, but the interests of the state should come first,” Senator Tahir Mashhadi, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development, said.
Going by the contents of the documents leaked in Dawn, such fears are not without ground. The enormous danger lurking in the plans to take over the agriculture sector need no great elaboration. This is what the plan’s main thrust area–China wants to run Pakistan’s farms, which essentially means food and cotton production to be managed by Chinese enterprises. The problem is the agriculture sector has already been overburdened by rising demand and falling production, besides ownership issues which has bedevilled the country since independence.
Pakistan’s agriculture sector is already divided among big landlords of Punjab and Sindh and Pakistan Army. The army owns close to 30 per cent of the arable land in Pakistan, making it the biggest landlord. Besides, several rich and influential corporations from Islamic countries have leased out hundreds and thousands of acres in Punjab and Sindh in the last few years. In 2008, there were media reports of Dubai-based Abraaj Capital leasing 800,000 “barren“ farmlandsin Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan. Similar leasehold deals were made by Emirate’s Investment Group in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi-based Al Qudra Holding. In 2009, Saudi Arabia was negotiating with Pakistan to lease 500,000 acres (202,400 hectares) of farmland. There could be many more and since such deals have remained secret, there is no public confirmation of such large-scale leasing out of productive farm lands.
Now comes the Chinese under the guise of the transit corridor to take over the agriculture sector. The Chinese plans are not limited to leasing out land—they are planning to take over the entire farming operation, right from seeds to marketing. To begin with, they propose to lease thousands of acres of farm land to set up “ demonstration projects“ in seed varieties to irrigation technology.
A cursory glance of the document shows that the Chinese ambition is to become Pakistan’s sole food provider. It is not known how much stake the army and its Fauji Foundation front has in this grand larceny. What is well-known, however, is that the Fauji Foundation runs several high-profile, profit making ventures in fertiliser, petroleum, power and several other sectors. It would be therefore fair to assume that a big pie of the CPEC cake would go to them; after all, they are the ones tasked to secure the Chinese and the Chinese road through Pakistan.
The Chinese propose to produce and supply sees and other inputs like pesticides, fertiliser and credit. The Chinese would invest in new irrigation techniques, in setting warehouses and set up links to market the products. It is not a secret either that much of these operations will be carried out by Chinese industries, sometimes in collaboration with Pakistani companies. The document clearly identifies opportunities for Chinese industries to invest in Pakistan. There is hardly any mention of how the project would benefit the Pakistani industry.
China, as per the document, proposes to open all doors to help the Chinese entrepreneurs to find their feet in the farms of Pakistan. The companies interested in agriculture would be “offered extraordinary levels of assistance from the Chinese government“. According to Dawn, the interested companies would be encouraged to “[m]ake the most of the free capital and loans” from various ministries of the Chinese government as well as the China Development Bank. The plan also offers to maintain a mechanism that will “help Chinese agricultural enterprises to contact the senior representatives of the Government of Pakistan and China”.
The document says the government of China would “actively strive to utilise the national special funds as the discount interest for the loans of agricultural foreign investment”. The length to which China is willing to go in pushing the Chinese industry into Pakistan is clear from the proposal that the government would try and mitigate possible financial risks in long term through “new types of financing such as consortium loans, joint private equity and joint debt issuance, raise funds via multiple channels and decentralise financing risks”.
The Chinese companies would be given freedom to operate their own farms in Pakistan as well as facilities to process fruits, vegetables and grains. These agricultural companies would work with other logistics companies, Chinese no doubt, for storage and transportation. In fact, the document goes to the extent of pointing out the areas in which the Chinese would like to invest, and reap in profits—for instance, storage. It is not shy of saying upfront that it would be the Chinese companies which would play the lead role– “China-invested enterprises will establish factories to produce fertilizers, pesticides, vaccines and feedstuffs” . Then it goes to clarify that “China-invested enterprises will, in the form of joint ventures, shareholding or acquisition, cooperate with local enterprises of Pakistan to build a three-level warehousing system (purchase & storage warehouse, transit warehouse and port warehouse)”. In short, it is a cosy arrangement between the Chinese government and private enterprises, with part of the moolah going to Pakistan Army, a coterie of industrialists and their friends in politics.
The Chinese will also keep a close eye on their investment. This will be carried out with a comprehensive system of monitoring and surveillance. Cities from Peshawar to Karachi would be networked with a national fibre optic backbone, CCTVs “ 24 hour video recordings on roads and busy marketplaces for law and order.“ The Chinese would utilise this fibre optic network to run television and internet services throughout Pakistan. The Pakistanis can now sit back and enjoy Chinese sitcoms, with Urdu subtitles of course.
To conclude, the Dawn article has this state: “The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. “ What else is called “colonisation? “