Sunday, September 10, 2017

CPEC — first or final nail in the coffin?

http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/10-Sep-17/cpec-first-or-final-nail-in-the-coffin

So willingly have we taken this path that has brought us to the economic brink, with the Chinese quietly yet persistently nudging us closer inch by inch

10-Sep-17by Shaukat Qadir


I have frequently and at some length I must confess, expressed apprehension about our new relationship paradigm with China, which of course has CPEC at its core. I had been hoping that — if nothing else — my relentless persistence might have prompted the stirrings of some sort of concern among those who softly tread the corridors of power.

Allow me to be clear: I am absolutely in no doubt whatsoever that CPEC holds the key to our economic revival. However, my worry is that we run the risk of being exploited. For we have allowed China to embrace us in a vice-like grip that threatens to cripple, if not crush, our economy. And we only have ourselves to blame. What else can we hope for after outsourcing our sovereignty in this way? As for our future generations — we offer them not a legacy of economic self-determination. Quite the opposite, in fact. We have simply changed the faces of those before whom we bow down; American idols are swapped for Chinese.

Yet alas and alack. It seems that my endeavours have fallen on resoundingly deaf ears.

After Trump’s recent diatribe in which he blamed Pakistan for the US failure to bring peace to Afghanistan — many Pakistanis felt reassured by both China and Russia jumping in to remind the world of our sacrifices. Then came a devastating blow. BRICS, the economic forum comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, issued a statement unanimously expressing misgivings over our support for active militant groups on this side of the border. As if that were not enough, the grouping also indirectly pointed its collective finger at our conduct vis-a-vis Afghanistan. Yet had the Chinese not agreed to rebuking Pakistan — the Russians certainly would have stalled.

The plot then thickened.

The question whispered on everyone’s lips: what caused the Chinese to recant? No one dared to ask this except in hushed tones. Perhaps fearful of what they might hear. Yet before attempting to suggest a response of sorts, allow me to proffer a little perspective.

In the piece I penned last week, I sought to express my confidence in the fact that while our earlier Afghan policy may have been questionable — our hands were no longer dirty. Naturally, such assertions by a terribly ordinary and, perhaps relatively uninformed, individual like myself, are not realistically expected to have any bearing on foreign relations. Nevertheless, is there more here than meets the eye? I, for one, certainly think so.

Regardless of the CPEC point of origin on the Chinese side — it ends at the Khunjerab Pass. Yet the entire Corridor actually runs from Khunjerab to Gwadar. North of this lies China and only China, thereby lending the C to the anacronym. Thus it is the area to south of Khunjerab that gives us the PEC 


Back in May of this year, the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi not only invited India to join CPEC — he went as far as proposing a renaming of the Corridor. This was all on record. Yet the latter part was duly rescinded. However, Chinese ambassadors, generally speaking, aren’t loose cannons the way some of ours are. Thus Beijing’s man in Delhi could never have extended such an overture without explicit approval from the top.

The mission to expunge the ‘offending’ words was surely undertaken at our behest. Yet we would not have been so foolish as to have huffed and puffed over the offer itself, preferring to limit ourselves to language alone. Inevitably, our objections were not taken too seriously in Beijing. The Ambassador was neither sacked nor rebuked. No apology was forthcoming. This could mean that none was actually sought. Or it could mean the opposite and that it was simply brushed aside.

I must admit that I have previously taken to these very pages to explore the above. But, if I may be so bold, I shall revisit the matter.

Regardless of the CPEC point of origin on the Chinese side — it ends at the Khunjerab Pass. Yet the entire Corridor actually runs from Khunjerab to Gwadar. North of this lies China and only China, thereby lending the C to the anacronym. Thus it is the area to south of Khunjerab that gives us the PEC.

There can be no ifs or buts about it, therefore. No country has the right to extend the lucrative CPEC invitation without first securing our specific permission. And if it turns out that this have we given — then shame on us and more.

Seen retrospectively through the prism of the BRICS statement, it now seems that the offer to change the CPEC name was a move calculated to add insult to further injury.

Now we should perhaps advert to understanding the whys and where fores of China’s sudden withdrawing of diplomatic support and in so public a manner.

According to Chinese whispers, Beijing is keen to keep India on side, especially following the recent Doklam confrontation. In addition, it may also be a strategic ploy aimed at assuaging the US, that is, until the Chinese have fully established their presence in Afghanistan. Yet despite the plausibility of one or all the above, I remain unconvinced. For me, China is simply announcing its suzerainty over us. The Chinese Ambassador’s statement was, I believe, intended to test the waters in this regard. And when we took it on the chin without the merest hint of a whisper — Beijing decided to set sail full steam ahead.

We have President Trump to thank for seeing the only other door of economic opportunity shut firmly in our face. Pakistan will very soon have to go hat-in-hand to the IMF. And if we manage to secure assistance, of one thing we can all be sure: the conditions will be extremely stringent, which we will have no option but to accept. Of course, the elite will remain safe in their collective cocoon. Not so the middle- and lower-income groups, who will find their backs well and truly broken.

So willingly have we taken this path that has only brought us to the economic brink, with the Chinese quietly yet persistently nudging us closer inch by inch. Their monopoly over us has now become irreversible. And Beijing has chosen to fire an economic shot over our burning bows of gold, thereby declaring their imperial rule over us.

I have said it before and so I say it again. The overt friendliness of the Chinese ought not to be mistaken for altruism. This is not to say that Beijing doesn’t have an enormous stake in our security. Yet it is to remind that it would have little or no qualms about seeing the Balkanisation of Pakistan — so long as this threatened not its precious economic corridor.

Now, over to you, Dear Reader: does CPEC represent the first or final nail in Pakistan’s
economic coffin?

 

The writer is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI

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