CPEC – An Alternate Perspective

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In the onset of regional socio-political developments, CPEC will be an ongoing matter of debate for coming years in more than one way, especially from Pakistan’s stand point as a lot more than just “a lot” is on stake, not only from geo-political and strategically but also from socio-economic point of view. For better or worse CPEC now seems to be the ultimate bucket housing most eggs of Pakistani interests which makes it imperative to keep a continuous watchful eye on what exactly is going down on the ground, intent should be to pick the facts, adopt rational attitude, evaluate realities and their impacts. Adopt, forecast and refine the tactics to maximize productive outcome as things begin to transcend from design board to reality.

When one reviews the mainstream intelligence he finds there are mainly two extreme accounts being propagated and floated around the national circuit. One declares CPEC as ultimate triumph with no consequences and the other which calls it a disaster with absolute no benefit at all, both sides have been flexing their intellectual muscles on the matter ever since the initiation of the grand project, their display of argument however generally is purely based on the associations and agendas; either hidden or exposed.

Objective of this discussion is to perform a top down assessment on CPEC in context of its insinuations and implications with a rational and coherent approach, like most things, mega projects can also be represented in the form of mathematical expression which has two sides, positive and the negative, intention should be to maximize the positives and evaluate and marginalize the negatives. Therefore, focus here is to base discussion on facts and measure their aces and ploys from a viewpoint which in the larger picture should benefit Pakistan. In order to reach a balanced expectation chart pertaining to CPEC, it is important that one should keep eventualities in mind and point out matters which are still in the grey area and require some fixation.

The Beginning & The Background

In ambition of Chinese vision of “One Belt, One Road”; on 20th April 2015, Chinese premier Xi Jinping visited Pakistan. Pakistan and China signed an agreement to commence work on the $46 billion agreement (roughly 20% of Pakistan’s annual GDP) intending approximately $28 billion worth of fast-tracked “Early Harvest” projects to be developed by the end of 2018, hence the beginning.

From a Chinese perspective, cooperation in the areas of security and economics are closely intertwined, and improvements on one side can improve the other. It is almost as though security and economics are two separate wheels on the same vehicle, and both need to be rotating to move things frontward. Chinese want to depend less and less on their current shipping route of strait of Malacca which is under relentless American strangle-hold at any given point and raises a considerable risk of becoming a choke point. Therefore, anything which provides assistance to Chinese trade to break free from this fright will be profoundly appreciated from Chinese stand point, hence, Gwadar and CPEC become Chinese’ top priority.

At the same time, being a natural ally of Pakistan on most internationally significant matters, Pakistan; due to its key geographical proximity is China’s vital partner in countering American economic and strategic hegemony on regional and global scale, a stronger and stable Pakistan could prove to be an important tag-partner when needed, therefore China believes economic development can strengthen Pakistan’s internal stability, thus reinvigorating the latter’s economy through investment in infrastructure projects as well as the construction of oil and gas pipelines. China hopes this will create a certain level of stability within Pakistan and in turn stabilize China’s western periphery, particularly the province of Xinjiang. It is safe to say that CPEC is over  all a 75-25 deal mainly in favor of China protecting and expanding Chinese interest. Pakistan needs to make most of its 25%.

Pro CPEC Narrative:

CPEC has been called a “game changer” and even a “twist to fate” by an overly enthusiastic faction of Pakistani press and sitting government, with some analysts saying that this $46 billion unprecedented Chinese investment over the next decade-and-a-half will make Pakistan the next Asian Tiger, ultimately giving way to an effusive chant of “thank you China” which can be heard from statements of officials and by optimistic analysts and journalists, with important optimistic commentators going so far as saying that this measure speaks volumes about the “pledge” of the Chinese leadership towards Pakistan and its people, putting the American aid in context which contrasted to the $5 billion investment in recent past.

This group of commentators are quiet single minded to say the least and are absolutely hell-bent in dismissing any potential negative impact of CPEC, their narrative is largely based on bombast repetition with less focus on facts and more on proclamation of myths, neglecting actual ground difficulties and over-all impact analysis, their approach is overly simplified that pro-CPEC means pro-Pakistan and if anyone speaks against CPEC in any sense of the meaning whatsoever, then it means they are definitely an enemy of Pakistan or a foreign stooge.

This abrogated practice is denting the positive-critical thinking phenomenon, marginalizing people and factions who are willing to put efforts to evaluate the impact of CPEC on the basis of facts and figures feel shy of sharing their opinion due to fear of prejudice oriented bashing barrage from this all in all pro CPEC entourage.

Anti CPEC Narrative:

There is a whole group of people and media personnel who inspect the scenario from harsh anti Pakistani perspective they bestowed upon themselves unilaterally, viewing Pakistan from spectacles of foreign origin. According to them CPEC is a fruitless project which is only an extension to serve Chinese  intentions of neo-colonization through expansion of economic means. This group of analysts only see and highlight the negative side of the venture, the security concerns it raises and the potential bad influence in shape of widening trade deficit on the Pakistani economy it is going to bring, their main emphasis is more on strategic points. Most repeated point anti CPEC faction proclaims can be termed as something like this: CPEC is a contract between two unequal partners whether you see it in the strategic perspective or in the economic perspective.

According to them It is somewhat similar to hiring a house (corridor) by a rich tenant by paying a huge amount of rental in advance as security thereby inactivating the poor land lord to get it vacated any time in future as he would not be able to refund the security, the scare of East India Company.

Conclusion

Real problem is that even after more than a year of the initiation of CPEC project, there is an evident continuous ambiguity about what the $46 plus billion project entails. There is little to no public information and disclosure as to what will be constructed, how it will be financed, that is, whether some of the resources will be a grant or a loan, and on what terms and from whom, and who will build the various parts of the project, which includes roads, railway, pipelines and other infrastructure. In fact, if one reviews official government website designated for CPEC he finds that little details are available there, other than the more obvious road which will link Kashgar to Gwadar, some other projects such as the Orange line route in the city of Lahore — are reportedly to be part of the corridor. Such is the absence of public information about this huge mega project, creating and causing much debate and consternation, with allegations that the Punjab and its incumbent government which is also in power in Islamabad, will benefit disproportionately.

Based on above facts it is safe to say that there are certain grey areas of distress which need to be addressed and answered as soon as possible, such as clarification on blur terms and conditions of Chinese loans to develop roads which Chinese will use and Pakistan will have to repay debt. Secondly, Pakistani government’s lack of commitment in providing actual details. Thirdly, the area of major concern is the unbalanced trade relation CPEC is going to bring forth. There is no compression between cost of Chinese goods and Pakistani commodities, for example, if surgical and sports items manufacturers in Sialkot are to compete with their Chinese counterparts they definitely will require some sort of assurance as prices of Pakistani goods will be greater due to higher manufacturing cost, therefore it is natural that international buyers will definitely prefer cheaper Chinese products over Pakistani ones, as those will be available through same supply chain. Similarly, another point of concern is that since Gawadar will be a tax free port, therefore there will be no duty on the materials/goods Chinese will be exporting importing through Gwadar, hence depriving Pakistan of a source of income, how is this deficit going to get compensated? Lastly, there is still ambiguity over the fact whether the trucks, containers and freights carrying Chinese goods will pay any toll tax  while passing through north of Pakistan to south or vice-versa, most probably not, this raises a serious question about what we are actually going to get from CPEC? A number of power plants? Series of roads and infrastructures to be developed by Chinese for their own use? A  few hospitals financed on blur terms? How is Pakistan going to repay the Chinese debts? What will be the real source of revenue for Pakistan from CPEC?
In spirit of bringing further clarity, it is imperative that the government of Pakistan in collaboration with the Chinese stakeholders and other concerned authorities should strive to explain these questions in order to bring transparency and achieve a unanimous sense of ownership among people of Pakistan regarding the whole mega deal. Otherwise, people will continue to get misguided and fall to smoke screens which anti-Pakistani factions create based on a false assumption, which will ultimately daunt the credibility of this huge joint venture. As discussed in the beginning, like any grand phenomenon, CPEC also has an extensive spectrum of impacts, both good and bad. If the above mentioned apprehensions are addressed with optimistic attitude and the deal gets executed with clear, compact and constructive intent, then CPEC has more than substantial potential to transform the fate of Pakistani economy, expand Pakistan’s role in the regional strategic developments and craft a way to prosperity. But to attain all that questions raised above need to be answered to shape the project into a real success story and a fruitful exercise for the people of Pakistan. The bottom line is, CPEC is definitely an outstanding opportunity to reshape the design of Pakistan’s destiny, like any opportunity it has chances and risks, to capitalize on chances, risks need to be identified, contained and minimized.

 

Ahsan Malik is an IT professional with a passionate & candid version of his own on national and international issues relating to Pakistan, he tweets @MohdAhsanMalik and can be reached at [email protected]

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