The Chinese are coming to Pakistan just as the British first came to the subcontinent — with plans of colonising the economy, tweaking the culture and turning it into a client-supplier state perennially in its debt.
A detailed report by The Dawn on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), makes Chinese president Xi Jinping resemble Robert Clive out to turn India's western neighbour into a vassal without firing a shot, and, ironically, make it bear most of the cost of the complete and total subjugation.
As the newspaper points out in an exclusive report, the flood gates are opening. And, "what comes through once that door has been opened is difficult to forecast."
Contrary to popular perception, the proposed CPEC is not just about Chinese access to Pakistan's Gwadar port and through it to Africa, the Middleeast and markets down under as far as New Zealand. It is a mammoth plan for controlling Pakistan's domestic markets, agriculture, dairy, poultry, supply-chains, internal security, surveillance system, cultural ethos and even entertainment.
If Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Beijing to participate in the One Belt One Road (OROB) accepts the plan in toto, he would be effectively turning his country into a Chinese province and its people into mass consumers of and labourers for Chinese products.
Consider some of the proposals reported by the newspaper:
Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif with Chinese president Xi Jinping. PTI
1) Chinese control over thousands of acres of agriculture land for setting up demonstration projects to cover everything from production of seeds to irrigation technology to storage and supply chains. According to the report, "the plan outlines an engagement that runs from one end of the supply chain all the way to the other. From provision of seeds and other inputs, like fertiliser, credit and pesticides, Chinese enterprises will also operate their own farms, processing facilities for fruits and vegetables and grain. Logistics companies will operate a large storage and transportation system for agrarian produce."
2) China also plans to deploy its information technology for effective surveillance of cities from Karachi to Peshawar. The entire region would be monitored 24 hours for law and order. The network for this surveillance system would also help Chinese channels to broadcast their programmes for the cultural assimilation of the local population. "The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan's economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan's history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises," the newspaper says.
3) Though the Chinese are ready to effectively take over markets, supply chains and even security — there are plans for a "safe cities project"— they are trying to minimise their own exposure because of the risks — political instability, terrorism, inflation, Pakistan's inability to attract foreign currency and the influence of the West.
China believes that Pakistan can absorb a direct investment of just $1 billion per annum because of its own fragile economy. So, it wants its client state to generate finances for the project through loans, sovereign guarantee bonds and participation of local governments.
According to the newspaper, "Gwadar receives passing mention as an economic prospect, mainly for its capacity to serve as a port of exit for minerals from Balochistan and Afghanistan, and as an entreport for wider trade in the greater Indian Ocean zone from South Africa to New Zealand. There is no mention of China's external trade being routed through Gwadar."
Chinese intentions are obvious. It is creating demand for its own industry in Pakistan, using its land for producing products that it could export to the rest of the world and treating Pakistan as one of its provinces by controlling the security and surveillance environment. All this may look like a win-win deal to Pakistan because it is hoping that Chinese intervention would kick-start its struggling economy and generate high employment.
There are obvious downsides. Just like the East India Company made inroads into the sub-continent in the guise of traders and merchants, Pakistan will gradually come under the baton of its neighbour, surrendering its economy, security, markets, technology and culture to Chinese influence. And since much of the finances would be provided through local participation, its entrepreneurs and governments would be in huge debt and someday pay a huge price for the inability to repay.
India can look at both the positives and negatives of the development. Huge Chinese investments in almost every sector of Pakistan's economy and control of surveillance would automatically bring about a measure of stability and responsibility. Since the Chinese are gambling heavily on Pakistan, they would obviously like to control risks like terrorism, political instability and confrontations with neighbours that can trigger a blowback. A stable and responsible Pakistan, obviously, could be a more welcome neighbour than a rogue state in financial and political mess.
The downside of course is that China's presence in and control of Pakistan's security environment turns the neighbour into a more formidable adversary. With the Chinese planning to get entrenched deep in Pakistan's markets, industry, cities and fields, India would have to deal with increased Chinese interference in bilateral disputes. It would also help China encircle India, a dream that is top on its agenda.
There is, of course, the possibility that much of the proposed plan would remain just on paper. Since memories of the British Raj aren't too old, Pakistan may have not forgotten the biggest lesson from it: Smart invader first sends its traders and investors