CORRIDOR TO EAST INDIA COMPANY?

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By SAMUEL BAID

When about 50 sparkling trucks, laden with Chinese goods rolled down 3000 kilometres from Kashgarh in China to Gwadar in Pakistan on November 13, Pakistan’s elated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif  saw ‘a new dawn’. He declared “all enemies of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) are enemies of Pakistan”. The trucks came to Gwadar through the hostile area of Gilgit-Baltistan and Baluchistan province under very heavy security provided by the Pakistani Army all through their journey from Kashgarh, to be unloaded and this content to be shipped to Africa and West Asian markets.

That marked the formal inauguration of the CPEC. Pakistanis are repeatedly reminded that once the CPEC is fully operationalised, rivers of milk and honey will flow in the country. The outgoing Gen Raheel Sharif, who had launched “Zarb-e-Azb” in 2014 in North Waziristan against selected terrorists most probably at the instance of China to help it control the Uighur Muslim rebellion in Xinjiang, told at Pak Army’s Quetta-based Southern Command before his retirement on November 29 that CPEC will bring peace and prosperity to the nation. The militant organisation of Uighur Muslims, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)’s leadership, used North Waziristan to struggle for the liberation of Xinjiang from China.  The CPEC joins China’s backward province Xinjiang with Baluchistan’s Gwadar.  In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jingping inaugurated the CPEC project in Pakistan when he was sure that ETIM’s back has been broken.  He thanked the Pakistan Army.

In 1958, Pakistan bought Gwadar from Oman.  During Gen Parvez Musharraf’s rule, the Port of Singapore Authority was given the contract to build a deep sea port in 2007. Cooperation from Pakistan officials was frustrating for the Singapore company.  It complained that land acquisition was made near impossible for it.  In 2013 this contract was given to China Overseas Ports Holding Company. There was a lot of heated argument on this in Pakistan.  In 2015 Nawaz Sharif’s government gave exemption for this company and all its contractors and subcontractors working in Gwadar.

China is giving $ 46 billion for this project.  It is ready to up it to $ 51 billion. But the provinces are unaware how this money is being allocated.  The people do not know how much of this money is given to Pakistan as loan and on what terms. Like China’s communist government, the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) government, which is democratically elected, does not think it is accountable to the people.  Khurram Husain, a journalist with the prestigious Pak daily “DAWN” quotes IMF’s warning, in its latest report that outflows on CPEC related government borrowing could reach 0.4 per cent of its by GDP per year over the longer run.  Pakistan will have to mobilise big loans to make its part of investment in CPEC project.

For five or ten years the China-funded CPEC may bring to Pakistan economic prosperity and glitter but at the cost that Dr Faust paid to the devil for knowledge and pleasure.  There is a threat of the Chinese money working as opium in a country where people do not like to pay their electricity and telephone bills and where foreign remittances are depleting because of laying off of labour in the Gulf where many companies have stopped working after petrol prices started falling in the international market.

If it was the benefit envisaged for only a decade, the Chinese money and its overpowering influence are most likely to corrode Pakistan’s Islamic ideology.  There are mild hints to this possibility.  In Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders Xinjiang, where the Chinese are discouraging Islam with high-handedness, the provincial Chief Minister Hafizur Rahman has been campaigning for peace, development and education against religion in politics which has been giving dead bodies to the nation. Through him the Chinese are getting involved in the education system in Gilgit-Baltistan. China’s Kashgarh University has signed an agreement with the Karakoram International University to give education and staff training.

Chinese language is being promoted not only in Gilgit-Baltistan but also in other provinces like Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan, which is resentful of the CPEC that there is no teaching of Chinese language.  Gilgit-Baltistan was the first region where the Chinese began teaching the language to facilitate communication between the locals and the Chinese engineers, workers and their families who swarmed in Gilgit-Baltistan to start working on the CPEC project. Sindh became the first Pakistani province to teach Chinese. The Punjab government has started teaching Chinese free in the province.  There was a report that Chinese also tried to get involved in Pakistan’s electronic media.

During and after the campaign for the creation of Pakistan, its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah rejected provincial cultures and identities.  He wanted Pakistan to believe in one God, one Book (the Holy Quran) and one language (Urdu).  This has since confronted Pakistan with the problem of emotional integration. Soon after the creation of Pakistan the father of Sindhi nationalism GM Syed demanded disbandment of Pakistan. In erstwhile East Pakistan, Bengalis refused to accept Urdu as Pakistan’s sole official language. In the Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), Pathans demanded a separate Pakhtunistan.  The seed of Centre-Province conflict was unwillingly sworn by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As a result, the 1973 Constitution and the 18th Constitutional Amendment notwithstanding, the federal government in Islamabad, whether Army or civilian dispensation is in power, does not care for provinces except Punjab.  The CPEC project was presented by the centre to the remote provinces and to Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan as a fait accompli. In the Gilgit-Baltistan area, this matter was raised when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) ruled this occupied territory. Members protested with China force a project on a disputed territory without ascertaining the will of its population. Such protests did not bother Islamabad.

Islamabad has also not bothered about indigenous protests in Baluchistan which bears the main brunt of the CPEC. The province has lost its Gwadar coast and its fishermen’s bread, its land, its water and its people’s right to honour and security. The Army and its ruthless agencies have stepped up forced disappearances and butchery of native Baloch to assure the Chinese “all is well”. A section of Sindhi nationalists, who do not want to stay in Pakistan, oppose the CPEC because they do not want anybody to grab Sindh’s land and resources. Similarly, the speaker of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly has filed a suit in court against the CPEC route.  Thus, only Punjab, where most of power and other projects are to be built, is happy. The corridor has already been nick-named as “China-Sharif Economic Corridor”.

The likely Pak scenario after the CPEC becomes fully operationalised will certainly be confusing.  First, China’s intolerance of Islamic practice and human rights in Xinjiang may infect life in Pakistan too, when Chinese workers and their families swamp the “God-given” country in connection with the CPEC. Second, Pak Army’s grip on civilian may become tighter as China has expressed its preference of the Army to civilians for working the CPEC. This means no or nominal democracy in Pakistan. Third, Centre-province relations in Pakistan may become worse and murkier.

Last month, a Pakistani newspaper “The Sindh Express” wrote, “CPEC can prove to be East India company case for Pakistan.” Would South Asia again witness another version of new colonialism in the name of economic prosperity?

 

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