CPEC is not a holy cow

By Dr. Shabir Choudhry
London [United Kingdom], Dec.15 (ANI): Pakistan faces many serious problems; and among them is the status and invulnerability of holy cows, and people who are above the Pakistani laws. Bitter fact is growth in number of holy cows, accumulation of wealth and power they possess.
CPEC is not a living being, yet it has also gained the status of being a holy cow; and people are warned of serious consequences if they dare to oppose or criticise this new holy cow.
I know some people who are accused of being 'anti Pakistan' and 'agent' of foreign powers because they dared to criticise holy cows; and some are facing sedition charges for attacking CPEC and demanding a share in benefits.
I am also among those 'bad guys' who are perceived as 'disrespectful' and critics of this holy cow; and who demand a fair share in the benefits because it runs without permission through our land, Gilgit Baltistan which is part of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir.
My loyalty is not with our neighbours. Pakistani officials, some Pakistani people and Kashmiri foot soldiers of Pakistan may not like what I write or say. Their disliking and even hatred does not deter me from speaking out to protect and promote interests of people of Jammu and Kashmir state. In my opinion, CPEC could have the following negative effects on Gilgit Baltistan:
· Status of Jammu and Kashmir dispute and Gilgit Baltistan can change because of the CPEC;
· A serious danger in the demographic changes; already hundreds of thousands of non local people reside there and control local economy and politics;
· Exploitation of our resources will increase;
· We will suffer from enormous environment problems;
· Growing influence and power of secret agencies of Pakistan and competing interests of secret agencies of other countries;
· Stationing of foreign troops to protect the CEPC route;
· Possible stationing of non state actors of countries or groups who want to sabotage the project;
· There is a serious danger that Gilgit Baltistan could become a battleground for competing interests of countries and their proxies.
I am a citizen of State of Jammu and Kashmir and my loyalty is with State and its people. I don't have to be loyal to neighbours of Jammu and Kashmir or to those who occupy us. If I don't defend interests of Jammu and Kashmir; and refrain from speaking against the above issues then I am a 'traitor'.
CPEC could be a holy cow to some Pakistanis; but to China it is an economic project with strategic and military significance. Chinese are very cruel businessmen; they will fully exploit Pakistan just like Pakistan is exploiting resources of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. My fear is despite much hype and attraction, CPEC will prove to be a white elephant for Pakistan; and it could be Pakistan's Waterloo.
Because of poor economic performance and rampant corruption Pakistan has difficulty in paying back loans obtained at very low interest rates. One wonders how Pakistan is going to pay back the loan of CPEC with very high interest rate. People need to be told that more than 35 billion dollars is a loan with very high interest rate. Pakistan will soon face enormous difficulties in paying back even the instalments of the loan that will result in China having virtual control of Gwadar and other issues related to CPEC and strategic matters.
One critic of the CPEC said: 'China is building CPEC with Pakistan's money to trade with India, Middle East and South Africa etc. China has given loans to Pakistan at high interest to pay for CPEC. This money goes to china. China will recover these loans from Pakistan. For China it is win – win situation. Pakistan is net loser'.?
Former Chairman of State of Pakistan said, only from four cities, Karachi Peshawar, Lahore and Quetta 25 Million dollars are sent abroad every day. What will be result of this? Can anyone imagine what will happen in future to Pakistan and its development plans?
Pakistan signed a Free Trade Agreement with China in 2007. Result of that is extremely negative on Pakistani industry; as it flooded the country with cheap Chinese imports. The trade deficit with China reached almost $4bn in 2013, and two years later, in 2015 it jumped to $9.1bn. Some economic experts even claim that the 'trade deficit with China is expected to be $13 billion in 2016 and $18 in 2017'.
This is alarming to say the least. Can you imagine how this deficit will grow when the CPEC becomes operational? Also keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East are being sent home. This year alone nearly 3 lakh Pakistanis and Kashmiris were sent back from the Middle East. More people are likely to be sent back next year. That will also affect Pakistan's economic development and CPEC as Pakistan will not be able to pay off the loan with very high interest.
Both China and Pakistan are currently negotiating terms of Free Trade Agreement; and experts caution that Pakistan should not all or too many eggs in the CPEC basket. Pakistan should leave sufficient space to look for alternatives, as Pakistan has potential for regional integration, and there are neighbours with whom trade agreements could be concluded. One critic said:
'It takes backbone to negotiate tariffs. The Pakistani state bent over backwards to get CPEC started, and agreed to crazy interest rates. That does not bode well for any future negotiations. When China says "jump", Pakistan always seems to say "how high".
Anyone who criticise the CPEC or demand a rightful share is portrayed as an 'agent of enemy' and 'anti Pakistan'; and that deters thinking people to remain quiet on the topic. However some genuinely believe that this economic project could be a 'game changer'; but they are not sure in whose favour it may change the game.
May be the above in mind, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, a Kashmiri religious and political leader while speaking on the CPEC said:
'It is an opportunity for J&K also to be part of old Silk Route, once again. We can be part of the CPEC, even before the resolution of Kashmir issue and become a part of Central Asian discourse rather than a South Asian discourse. Kashmir can become a gateway for India as well'. He further said, 'I am sure India will also want to be part of CPEC'; but did not explain reasons for his assurance.
Overwhelming people of Jammu and Kashmir want peace and harmony and not a war or and attrition. They want to live in peace and economic stability, which can only come if there is peace in the region, hence they support economic projects. But at the same times they don't want plundering of their natural resources by those who occupy our beautiful and resource rich land.
Resentment, anger and rebellious attitude against the system is created when he/she is a victim of inequality; and is systematically exploited and oppressed. The system instead of analysing the causes of resentment and rebellious trends or rectifying its own shortcomings accuses the victim; which aggravate the situation even more.
For example, when East Pakistan was part of Pakistan, the ruling Punjabi elite of West Pakistan said distribution of wealth or resources should be based on the area and not population (because East Pakistan had more population). When East Pakistan became Bangladesh, the same elite changed its stance and said distribution of resources should be based on the population (because now Punjab had the largest population), hence deprivation of other provinces of the remaining Pakistan.
People may remain quiet but they are not fools that they don't understand who is doing what. If people are calling CPEC – China Punjab Economic Corridor it is because of the feeling of exploitation and unfair treatment. One man from Gilgit Baltistan says: '70 years without any basic rights, now completely ignored in CPEC by state while Gilgit Baltistan is CPEC gateway; even state didn't appoint security personal from GB'.
According to a report by Pamir Times, lands acquired for the purpose of CPEC people of Gilgit Baltistan are denied compensation. In frustration people of Gojal Valley protested and demanded payment, and action against NHA officials. 'It is pertinent to note that so far not a single penny has been paid to the land owners in Gojal Valley'. On one hand Poor people wanted compensation for their land and other hand they were that they could face sedition charges so the worried protesters were also chanting Pakistan army zindbaad (long live), hoping that this flattering will help.
It is also pertinent to mention that Pakistan government has planned to establish 29 special economic zones along the CPEC route; and according to Sultan Rais, Chairman Awami Action Committee of Gilgit Baltistan, 'CPEC will pass through 600 kilometers area of Gilgit-Baltistan but it is unfortunate that they are not getting even a single industrial zone or any development project.'
To hoodwink people the Pakistani officials say they are building so many roads which will help people of the area. That is not true. If they wanted to help people they could have built roads before this. These roads are built for the CPEC traffic and related projects.
According to figures presented to the Pakistani Parliament by Chaudhry Nisar the Home Minister:
1. Punjab has 176 projects where 6346 Chinese work; and 3754 security personnel care for them.
2. Sindh has 103 projects where 1141 Chinese work; 2635 security personnel care for them.
3. KPK has 19 Projects with 698 Chinese workers and 1912 security personnel.
4. Balochistan has 8 projects with 558 Chinese workers and 3134 security personnel.
5. Islamabad has 6 projects with 885 Chinese workers and 439 security personnel.
Total: Projects 312 Chinese 9628 Security men 16703.
For people of Gilgit Baltistan are environmental problems, exploitation, land grabbing, oppression and intimidation.
Apart from economic aspects, Gwadar also has a great strategic and military significance. Astonishingly, not much attention is given to this; and even not much has been said about a deal of eight submarines to be supplied by China to Pakistan, which will surely elevate Pakistan's naval military strength. Chinese military ships and submarines have already taken their positions in and around Gwadar.
Panos Mourdoukoutas writes in Forbes that 'China desperately needs the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It's part of that nation's vision to write the rules of the next stage of globalization and help its export and investment engines grow for years to come…China has to either appease India or "forget" about the CPEC project'.
The article further suggests: "If pro-Indian forces in Pakistan sabotage China's CPEC route," China should expect an open confrontation against India, because that raises the possibility of an open confrontation between China and Pakistan on the one side, and India and its allies on the other.
The recent convoy carrying goods from China to Gwadar had more than one reason. It was to credit Raheel Sharif for his services to the civilian government and to the cause of fighting terrorism. Also it was to boost the morale of the people that the CPEC is on course to success and that the civilian government is serious about all the projects related to the CPEC. It was also to demonstrate that Pakistani military had the ability to protect the route.
The security escort involved more than a hundred personnel, and as many vehicles as there were trucks. In addition, there was helicopter protection throughout the journey, as well as drone surveillance from above. The convoy took more than two weeks to reach Gwadar, so stops had to be arranged for such a large number of trucks, which required sleeping arrangements, food and parking space.
From Quetta to Gwadar alone, the journey took four nights, with the fifth being in Gwadar. The route is barren and empty except for two small towns along the way (Panjgur and Turbat), with no maintenance facilities for vehicular traffic, no place to get food for the drivers, and no place to spend the night.
Providing this level of security to highly valuable convoy which had political, strategic and military significance is one thing; but will the army be able to provide this level of security to all those travelling on this route throughout the year?
It is claimed that Key to success of CPEC is stability in Balochistan; and to some extent peace and stability in Gilgit Baltistan. Can there be peace when people are denied of their fundamental rights, their natural resources are systematically plundered; and in some areas F16, Cobra helicopters and guns are in action?
Whether one likes it or not, fact is that there is a credible presence of tens of thousands of Chinese military personnel on the Pakistani soil and on Jammu and Kashmiri soil controlled by Pakistan. Also the Chinese navy is playing an active part in and around Gwadar. Doesn't that undermine sovereignty of Pakistan? Or is it acceptable because Chinese are paying a good price for that? Like me there will be many others who would like to know what disaster it will bring to Gilgit Baltistan?
Apart from proxies of other countries the role of banned terrorist organizations, including Taliban and Daaesh will also be essential because some of them are extremely angry with Pakistan, and may create problems for the CPEC related projects to settle scores with the Pakistani state.
To understand the real situation of Balochistan and possible threats to the CPEC we cannot ignore sentiments of the local people. Home Minister of Balochistan, Mir Sarfraz Bugti has stated on Saturday that 13,575 terrorists were arrested while 337 killed in around 2,825 operations in the province in 2015-16. Of course figures provided by the rebels are much higher and helps to understand gravity of the situation.
Bramdagh Bugti, grandson of Akbar Bugti, not only thanked Modi for his open support to people of Balochistan, but also hoped Narendra Modi would raise this issue at international forums. He maintained: "It is too late; we can't remain with Pakistan any longer as it has deprived us of basic rights."
Mama Qadeer, another renegade Baloch leader, told the German Radio, "India supports our cause and the Baloch people appreciate it. Islamabad takes it as Indian interference. They blamed India's RAW for the Quetta attack. They like to blame everything on RAW. The authorities even call me a RAW agent."
No matter how rosy picture they present of Gwadar, bitter fact is that there are severe problems which need to be resolved before smooth sailing of the CPEC. Even there is no drinking water and people are facing enormous problems.
Gwadar is now presented as a life line to Pakistan, but not many people know that Gwadar was not part of Pakistan until 8 December 1958. Legally this territory was part of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman; and Pakistani Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon bought it for 3 million dollars.
CPEC also provides China great military and strategic advantage as it will enable China to monitor Indian and American activities from Gilgit Baltistan and Balochistan, especially from Gwadar. Gwadar can in future develop into a well-equipped military naval base, which would provide China an enormous strategic advantage in the region. This will result in increased rivalry in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean between India, China and other interested parties.
Pakistan will be once again in the eye of storm; and Pakistan may not be able to deal effectively with the challenges and the mounting debts, especially with high interest rates of the CPEC loan. Perhaps to settle certain issues or for the safety and security of Pakistan they may compromise on Gwadar or some other national strategic assets, even on nuclear related issues.
My fear is because of the reasons discussed above there is danger that after sometime Gwadar may not be in control of Pakistan, as China will have a complete control of Gwadar. They will decide what to do and who should benefit from the facilities of the Chinese built port.
Dr.Choudhry is a writer and a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch; Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com (ANI)

Top