Saturday, May 27, 2017
 
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Why people of Pakistan must be wary of China?




By Manzoor Ahmed



The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being painted as a grand panacea for all the ills of Pakistan and the people are being led the garden path by both the civilian and military leaders. People are being told that the Chinese project was a ``game changer`` and that there would be prosperity all around. There would be jobs, roads, power, water and all other amenities once the project gets going. These claims are not false except that there is a twist which the people are not being told. The project would be a game changer for China and the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan and there would be prosperity in China’s western frontiers and for the handful of the rich and famous in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.


A cursory look at the facts would tell this truth. By all accounts, the Chinese are likely to invest a colossal sum close to $57 billion for the Kashgar-Gwadar industrial corridor project. This is an astronomical sum to invest even for China and therefore it is obvious that it has calculated the returns, both strategic and financial, before launching the project. No one is going to burn so much money even for the best of their friends, knowing that the friend has a serious jihadi problem and is not known for long-term loyalty.


There is lot more in this project which is not known, at least to the people of Pakistan. For instance, if the main objective of China is to find a workable access to the warm waters of Arabian Sea, it could have limited itself to building a road and a rail network connecting Kashgar to Gwadar. Why is China interested in buying Pakistani steel mills, power stations, stock exchange and other key infrastructural and financial assets? And why is Pakistani leaders going head over heels to set up special economic zones for Chinese industries and topping it with tax breaks?


The truth, therefore, is not what is being told—a friend helping another friend? Media reports point to an increased Chinese interest in acquiring top industrial assets like Pakistan Steel Mills and Karachi Electricity Supply Corporation; Chinese have already acquired 40 per cent stake in Karachi Stock Exchange. Negotiations are going on for Chinese companies to buy either in toto or substantial stakes in cement, steel, energy and textile sectors, four key sectors which make up for the backbone of Pakistan’s $270 billion economy.


It is clear that there is lot of money involved in the project. The key question is how much is the people of Pakistan going to get. This is a question which no one is answering. One thing is however getting clearer by the day. At least the people of Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Balochistan are not going to get much of the benefit, although the corridor would run through much of these provinces and ruin their natural resources and life as a whole.


Take for instance, Gilgit Baltistan. The corridor is destroying the natural pristine mountains, farmlands, grazing meadows, rivers and streams. The destruction is so large scale that it can be called an ecological disaster. Once pristine river banks are today littered with debris and empty oil dumps, broken machines and all the wastes of road constructions. The rivers, which carried clear water and fish downstream, now are littered with industrial effluents and wastes. Orchards and farms are being laid to waste and local communities are forced to migrate long distances. For all this destruction, there is nothing for these local communities in the project. They don’t see any jobs coming their way or their lives getting better from other projects which are coming up along the corridor. The power projects will send power to the rich province of Punjab and some parts of Sindh. These projects will be run by the Chinese companies which will employ Chinese in these project. The security of the corridor and various projects are being looked after a special Brigade-strong unit under Pakistan Army. There is no scope of employment for the local in this.


The situation is even worse in Balochistan. Although the province has witnessed the maximum number of inaugurations and seminars on the project, it only has 0.5 per cent of the projects in the corridor. Although the corridor culminates in Gwadar where substantial industrial and infrastructure projects are likely to come up, the people of Balochistan are not benefiting from this development. The entire pie is being gobbled up by Punjabi-Sindhi businessmen and of course the Chinese. Take for instance the power supply. The province has no power project—of the 13 energy projects, six are in Punjab and six in Sindh and the remaining one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Although the province will sport massive transmission lines from these power utilities to Gwadar, there is no single infrastructure which can transmit a part of this power to the homes and businesses of people who live in Balochistan.


Like the energy projects, the province is not going to benefit from other projects under the CPEC either. Other key projects like the airport and industrial zones will benefit the federal government, and of course the Chinese infrastructure companies. There is no word on whether Islamabad is even thinking of sharing at least part of the revenue from these projects to the provinces. The story of millions of people who live in over 30 districts and 7000 villages in this province will remain the same, of poverty and injustice, despite what they have been promised by their leaders.


These are only two of the major concerns. The single most important question which is bothering at least some of those who think in Pakistan is why does China want all these projects when it simply wants a corridor from Kashgar to Gwadar, a 3218-km network of road and railways. And, why does Pakistan want 10000 MW of electricity when it can very well fulfil its requirements with a more modest 4000 MW which the Pakistani utilities could generate on their own, or at best with some financial assistance from the Chinese. Since the power will be generated by projects run by Chinese private companies, the government will not only have to buy the power generated but also will have no say in fixing the tariff. These Chinese utilities will be funded by investments from China, funnelled through Chinese financial institutions and likewise revenue would also follow the same route. How would this Chinese monopoly help the Pakistani industry, and more importantly Pakistani people who will be forced to pay more for electricity.


Another question which needs a clear answer is why is Pakistan Army the single custodian of the CPEC. The army has already raised a special Division under the command of a Major General. There are several other additional attachments which remain shrouded in mystery. Who is going to fund this additional military infrastructure? Although it is being said the CPEC loans adequately cover these expenses, in all likelihood the consumers will end up paying for this additional expenditure through their inflated bills.


But the power bill is only part of the problem. Who will eventually return all the loans extended to Pakistan by the Chinese? The Pakistani people and their future generations. Are the people prepared for it? Do they know about this eventuality? Writing in The News on Sunday (January 29, 2017), Fahad IkramQazi sums the existential questions involved in the project. He said the project `` will also accentuate the class divide across the country — right from Kashgar to Gwadar. The rich will get richer, the powerful will grab more power and the marginalised will lose more space in the name of fate-changing development.``


People of Pakistan must ask their leaders to come clean on the project; there is too much dirt hidden in the rosy picture.



(The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir)


(Disclaimer: The views, observations and opinions expressed in above write up of Scoop News are strictly author's own. Scoop News does not take any onus or liability for the veracity, accuracy, validity, completeness, suitability of any of information in the above given write up. The information, facts or figures appearing in the write up in no way manifest the position, standpoint or stance of Scoop News and the Scoop News does not assume any encumbrance or answerability of the same.)


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