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CPEC: Boon for generals, bane for Balochs

Updated September 8, 2020 12:20 IST
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia.org

Votaries of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan are trying to convince their compatriots, and the world, that the flagship project of China’s humungous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is Allah’s gift to their country. The All Pakistan-China Friendship Association (APCFA), for instance, recently emphasized the need for mobilizing peoples of China and Pakistan for the CPEC’s second phase.

APCFA general secretary Farwa Zafar said the BRI is the project of the century which focuses on redeveloping the ancient silk route, forging closer partnerships among countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. For Pakistan, the BRI is a game changer (https://www.dawn.com/news/1578113).

Others, including many in Pakistan, are not so bullish about the CPEC. Ather Naqvi, assistant editor at The News on Sunday (August 24) expressed skepticism about the viability and supposed benefits of the project. He wrote, “The current government does not seem to have successfully addressed the queries and criticism about CPEC during its last two years. By some, the project has been labelled as a debt trap for Pakistan as institutions like the World Bank have made suggestions about the BRI for improvements in transparency, especially about debt and compliance of social and environmental standards.”

Alice G. Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia and Central Asia, had expressed similar views in May. There is “lack of transparency” in CPEC projects; Chinese firms have been guaranteed “unfair rates” to maximize their profits. Even a member of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet had bemoaned the sweetheart deals given to Chinese companies.

It is not just about fairness of business deals; it is also about the plight of the poor, especially those in neglected provinces like Balochistan. Naqvi also wrote that “it all boils down to the people of this country, especially the people of neglected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Balochistan. Are they getting what is already theirs?”

Balochs have always questioned the legitimacy and benefits of CPEC. Mariyam Suleman, a freelance writer from Gwadar and with a master’s degree in sociology from University of Karachi, reported for The Diplomat (June 30): “But on the ground, fears and concerns continue to grow in Gwadar, more than 2,000 kilometers away from the national capital, Islamabad and hundreds of kilometers away from Quetta, the provincial capital.”

Gwadar is the port that was handed over to the Chinese years ago. It may be a point on the arc of Beijing’s hegemonistic design; but it is also a real place where real, and very poor, people live.

Suleman went on to write, “With their fears growing, over the last two years the fishermen held strikes to have their demands accepted by the government. While they have been reassured many times by officials at the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), there was hardly any budgetary allocation or documentation that projects to secure the fishermen’s rights were moving forward.”

So much for the grand claims by the Pakistani authorities about the beneficial nature of the controversial corridor.

As the Chinese enhance their malevolent presence across Pakistan and increasingly making the Islamic nation as its vassal state, as the rich and powerful grab their pound of flesh by helping the Chinese loot their country, people in the exploited and repressed provinces like Balochistan reel under poverty and exploitation.

The generals and other Chinese stooges, on the other hand, fatten from CPEC.

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