China-Pakistan Economic Corridor development for whom and at what cost?

By Abdul Khalique Junejo

Since its inception Pakistan has been monopolized by the trio of feudal, mullahs and the bureaucracy both civil and military (earlier the former had the leading role, afterwards the later has dominated). They are inherently authoritarian in nature, hence prefer monologue. Any dissent is declared blasphemy. Firstly, they used ‘Islam’ to silence dissenting voices and criticism of the state policies. Then the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ was invented to justify the arbitrary acts of the rulers. CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is the latest addition to this list of ‘holy scriptures’.  The term CPEC has been made the criterion to judge one’s wisdom and the commitment to progress. It has been elevated to a benchmark to gauge the level of patriotism of any citizen. Any kind of criticism is considered the cause sufficient to declare any person traitor or the agent of enemy. Its regarded as more sacrosanct than even the human lives. Recently a terrorist attack in Balochistan’s capital Quetta killed about 80 people, out of whom more than 50 were senior lawyers. The ‘civil and military leadership’ of the country declared it as a ‘conspiracy against the CPEC’.

Yes, CPEC is a big development project, and no doubt this region, like rest of the world, needs development. But the million dollar question is; development for whom and at what cost?

Certainly, the primary beneficiary of any real development should be the local areas and the first recipients of the fruits of such development must be the indigenous people. It is not so. It can be called anything but the development. And if it is so then ‘the indigenous people must be partners in the decision making process’ which is not an exception but is becoming a rule worldwide.

In the case of China Pakistan economic corridor, the center point is Gawadar port which lies in Balochistan. This project is part of China’s grand scheme of OBOR (One Belt One Road) that wil connect China with the world and help open new vistas for the huge trade potential of the emerging economic power. CPEC’s basic function would be to connect Gawadar port with China’s western region of Kashgar and the initial, hence essential, part of the road will pass through Balochistan. Therefore, Balochistan should have played the role of the main stake-holder and the concerns of the people of Balochistan (and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan) should get precedence over anything else.

But the facts on the ground speak otherwise. People of the areas have no say in the planning and execution of the project. Even their elected representatives are not consulted. They are made to accept what they are told is ‘in their best interest’. Any kind of disagreement or difference of opinion is condemned as anti-development and even anti-state.

This reminds one of another episode in the long history of arbitrary rule in Pakistan. When the entire Sindhi nation, from assembly to street and from experts to farmers, was protesting the infamous Kala Bagh Dam project, country’s military ruler General Pervez Musharaf reviled Sindhis as ‘illiterate’ ignorant and unaware’ and boasted that he knew better what was good for Sindhis.

All the wisdom, sincerity, patriotism and the urge and dexterity for development is reserved for, and restricted to, Punjab only. All the delegations, planners, experts and administrators, from China prefer to meet Punjab chief minister and army chief before, sometimes over and above, the Prime Minister (and it is a world known fact that the army is heavily dominated by Punjab). That is why a strong feeling prevails that ‘all the decisions of the state of Pakistan are made in the interest, and by the consent, of the Punjab’.

Just one small example to augment this argument: the allocation, in the budget of the current fiscal year, for the CPEC projects is Punjab Rupees: 80.7 Billion, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP) 39.8 Billion, Balochistan 18.1 Billion and Sindh 6.5 Billion. The launching pad of the project is Gawadar and the direct and the shortest possible route is the one passing through Balochistan, K.P. and G.B. still the largest chunk of money goes to Punjab. The so-called ‘Eastern route, passing through Punjab, is given priority over the ‘western route’, the actual one. The argument forwarded to ‘justify’ such discrimination is that ‘the money is spent where it is needed the most and since Punjab is more urbanized and more advanced, hence there is more potential for further development which ultimately contributes to the overall national progress’.

This same argument is sold in the case of other development sources /resources. Sindh is by far the largest producer of oil and coal, Sindh and Balochistan are the main sources of natural gas and most of the electricity is produced in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. Also, Sindh is home to the two operational ports of the country i.e., the Karachi port and the Qasim Port. But most of these sources are used in and/or by the Punjab in the name of ‘national progress’. However when, on the same analogy, suggestion is made to utilize wheat, produced in Punjab, where it is needed the most i,e Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and include the underground sweet water of punjab into the national pool of the available water, the proponents are threatened with ‘the cutting of tongues’.

The proposition of Punjab being more advanced (than other federating units) has its own weight. But the most important question is how it has happened. Very simple answer is that through the colonial structure of the Pakistani state dominated by Punjab. Similar answers can be easily found in the history. European countries achieved fast development and turned into industrial powers thanks to their colonial policies in Asia and Africa. Britain became the biggest industrial power of its time at the cost of, among others, the sub-continent.

Another similarity between yesterday’s Britain (and other Europeans) and today’s Punjab is their approach towards feudalism. Britishers defeated and abolished feudalism in their own country after a protracted war but in the sub-continent they not only maintained but supported and strengthened it. In Pakistan’s case , the Punjab, by virtue of their sway over the state, have promoted trade and commerce along with establishing  vast network of big and small industries in their own province resulting in the much talked-about urbanization while in other provinces, particularly Sindh, they have collaborated with the feudals. And we all know that feudalism, in its nature, is an anti-development phenomenon.

Feudalism (with its anti-development qualities) was also one of the factors that played the role in the independence of Bangladesh. Bengalis had abolished feudalism during the early years of Pakistan and East Pakistan was a middle class dominated society. In the 1970 general elections Awami League, the party of the middle class, being inherently anti feudal and secular, won 99% seats from East Pakistan and a clear majority over-all. Fearing its progressive manifesto, the feudals of Sindh and Punjab (in the shape of PPP), reactionary Mullahs and the Punjab dominated army formed an unholy alliance to deny Awami League its right to rule the country. The rest is history.

As for as Sindh is concerned there is another factor also having potential to adversely affect the future of Sindhi nation. Sindh is already the unwilling recipient of huge influx of people from other provinces and other countries, thanks to the economic, social and security policies of the state, threatening demographic upheaval. The development of CPEC is certainly going to enhance this existential threat for Sindhis.

There is no disagreement that CPEC is a big development project but it would be more appropriate to describe it as China Punjab Economic Corridor. Also, there is no big argument with the government’s claim that project will prove to be a ‘game changer’ but the question is who would be the beneficiary of that change and who would bear its negative consequences as the renowned human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir touched the topic when she said that ‘the development in Lahore at the cost of Baloach population would be un-acceptable’.

While embarking on contentions schemes like the CPEC, Pakistani rulers would be better advised to have a look at the earlier policies they pursued unilaterally and arbitrarily. In the name of security, solidarity and progress of the country, they made friendship with the super power America while created animosity with the federating units. The results are there for everyone to see. Now they are repeating the same process with emerging super power China taking the place of America. No need to repeat the lesson that ‘if you traverse the same path, you reach the same destination’.

Abdul Khalique Junejo is an op-ed writer, minority right activist and lawyer.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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