National Pride on the Alter of CPEC


By Samuel Baid

Between April 7 and May 3 two youths in their early 20s met their tragic end in Pakistan at the hands of the country’s high profile quests. Ateeq Baig (22) was knocked off his motorcycle when a speeding car jumping the red light hit it from behind in Islamabad. His pillion rider cousin broke his leg. The car driver was United States embassy’s Defence Attaché Col. Joseph Emmanuel Halls, who was arrested and released. The car was impounded. More horrendous was the tragic end of a 20 year old labourer Khalid Rind. He was working for a private Chinese company in Baluchistan’s Gaddani area. His Chinese employer Lao Li told him to get into the mixture machine to clean it. When Khalid was cleaning the machine, Lao Li switched it on to set Khalid be churned to death. This cruelty was never heard of even during the 19th century infamous practice of chimney cleaning by small boys in Britain.

The above two incidents evoked hostile to seemingly restrained responses as reflected in the media of Pakistan. The Foreign Office summoned the American Ambassador to lodge a protest against his Defence Attaché and restricted the movement of the American embassy staff in Pakistan. The Islamabad High Court wanted to know if Hall’s name could be put on the Exit Control List (ECL). Though last Saturday, Pakistan barred Col Hall to leave the country while a US aircraft in fact landed near Islamabad to fly him out. But ultimately Pakistan had to concede and the US diplomat was permitted to go US on Monday. Social media users in Pakistan have rightly asked a few inconvenient questions like: Whether there was a secret deal between US and Pakistan and will the US diplomat would pay blood money to the family members of the victim? None has forgot that a few years ago an American embassy staffer Remond Davis, who shot dead two Pakistani intelligence men in Lahore for dogging him, reportedly bought his freedom from the Pakistani Law with hefty blood money.

But a more cruel death of poor daily wager Khalid Rind in a cement mixture in Baluchistan’s burning hot weather, brought no tears in the eyes of the federal government or the media. There is an undeclared understanding between Pakistan and China not to make their grievances against each other public. Look at the identically restrained manner in which Pakistan’s two top English language dailies – DAWN and THE NATION reported this tragedy as if an insignificant filler. Both newspapers apparently based their stories on the same source. No journalist worth her/his name could have sat quiet on this big human and national interest story. Was Khalid Rind the only Pakistani to be so humiliated and killed? It seems there are efforts to brainwash Pakistanis into ensuring that their national pride and their Islamic ideology do not come in the way of their friendship with China. That has inflicted a stifling silence on the Pakistani people–that of a silent sheep being taken to slaughter. The silent people of Pakistan have begun to fear they are being taken to slavery on the promise of economic prosperity. The days of East India Company haunt them as a nightmare.

The Pakistan government looks like a confounded spectator not knowing what exactly is its actual role in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), except allotting land for it and prized land to the Chinese for their private business at throw-away price. The cringing, submissive attitude of the government has so puffed up the ego of the Chinese that they have begun to treat ordinary Pakistanis as second rate “natives”. Killing a Pakistani labourer is just one example. In April Chinese engineers beat up their Pakistanis security guards in Khanewal in Punjab because they (the security guards) tried to stop them to go to a red light area unescorted. An Op-ed article in THE NATION said that though these engineers have been deported “the image has been interpreted by many as symbolic of Chinese hegemony over Pakistan and the compromise of State sovereignty”.

The East India Company contemptuously called India as “natives” as if they were second rate entities on their own land. The Company behaved as if this land belonged to the British Empire and they (the natives) were just tolerated to exist on this land.

Pakistanis, who have studied history in schools, cannot wish away the spectre of the East India Company. They see their land, agriculture industry and business slowly going to the Chinese – all in the name of the CEPC and their country getting entangled in a web of perpetual indebtedness. The government has been trying to counter this kind of thinking by telling its security obsessed people that this project is the greatest guarantee of Pakistan’s security. And that is how the Pakistanis are being exploited. The Pakistan government has no definite clue about the number of Chinese in the country, in connection with the CPEC or without any connection with it. The latter category has been growing unaccounted and grabbing market and easing out Pakistani workers.

In less than five years there has been a mushrooming of Chinese-owned restaurants selling Chinese food in Pakistan’s national capital Islamabad compelling existing Pakistani-owned restaurants to sell Chinese food for their survival. A press report quotes Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority to say that the number of Chinese restaurants in the national capital city has grown up to 15 since 2013. The reason for this growth is the swarming of the Chinese in Islamabad. A very natural question is: will the Chinese customs go in for Pak-free Chinese food? Most unlikely. Pakistani-owned eateries that have started selling Chinese food will have either to succumb to their Chinese customers’ demand for pork or be competed out of business by their Chinese rivals. For Muslim whether or not pious, the pig’s flesh (pork) is abominably unclean and his religion does not allow him to touch it.

It is not only in Islamabad that restaurant owners fear the Chinese onslaught. In Karachi’s coastline Do Darya, fast emerging as a tourist attraction, street food owners are fighting for their survival against the Chinese investors and the Pakistan defence establishment, which gave this then barren area on leases to street food sellers ten years ago when it was den of criminals. The restaurant owners have spent about Rs.25 crores to spruce up this area and made it an attraction for tourists. The defence establishment now wants it back. If the restaurants are wound up, at least 5000 workers will lose their jobs.

The Chinese enter Pakistan through Kashgarh. About two years ago a press report had said the Chinese did not require a visa to enter Pakistan. But the Pakistanis were not given this facility. A number of Pakistanis are rotting in Chinese jails for years for illegally entering China on charges of drug smuggling. In March their relatives held a protest rally in Islamabad to ask their government to put pressure on China to release them. The two countries had signed an agreement in 2007 for exchange of prisoners. But the agreement has not been honoured so far. In the Gwadar area, the CPEC project has rendered hundreds of fishermen jobless and their children starving. This project is also starving some areas in Baluchistan of water. China’s biggest on-line business company “Ali Baba” has taken over Pakistan’s most famous on-line shopping company “PK”. This company has business in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar.

Pakistanis do not seem to realise that they and their Islamic ideology are the ultimate target of China’s campaign against Islam like against the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang. The campaign is not to malign Islam but to efface it. It is very surprising how the Pakistan, especially the Islamists of all hues are taking it lying down. Pakistan and Xinjiang are pivotal for the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Can China make its project move without cleansing these areas of Islamic impediments?