Facing resistance to the development of the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from not just Balochistan activists but also the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) over the alleged negative impact of the proposed CPEC on the western parts of Pakistan, the Chinese embassy in Islamabad recently released two press statements in a week’s time to clear the controversies and “rumours” surrounding the project. While Islamabad has termed the CPEC a game-changer for Pakistan’s economy, the PPP has dubbed it as the “China-Punjab Economic Corridor”, implying that the corridor will be beneficial to Punjab (in eastern Pakistan) and not to the western parts.
Opposition from Balochistan activists to CPEC as well as propaganda by some Pakistani politicians have collectively upset China and the extensive coverage in the Pakistani media of the Chinese embassy’s statements is being interpreted as the beginning of a series of warnings for the Pakistan government to take care of the “security issue” that now threatens the development of the CPEC.
A Chinese embassy statement released between 2-7 October maintained that the “CPEC is for Pakistan as a whole and will bring benefits to all Pakistani people, including people from the western parts”.
Evaluating the security concerns around the CPEC, F. Jeffery, an independent analyst of South Asian region born in Pakistan, said, “The CPEC has created some urgent challenges for Pakistan; however, these challenges are not restricted to security. The biggest security challenge for Pakistan right now is to keep the Baloch insurgency at its lowest. Pakistani agencies say they have undeniable proof that India has been backing Baloch separatists. As of now, Pakistan has been able to control the Balcoh insurgency. But insurgencies can be revived easily, so it’s not a constant.”
Explaining India’s role in the whole issue, Professor Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation, said, “For India, the problem is that nobody has taken our permission to utilise the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which has been recognised as a disputed territory among India, Pakistan and China. Yet, work on CPEC construction has begun in the region without taking India into account. As far as the problem with Balochistan goes, their concerns are legitimate. Due to the construction of the proposed CPEC and occupation of Punjabis in Balochistan, the Baloch people are on the verge of becoming a minority in their own land. Even the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has passed a resolution against CPEC. So, the allegations that India is sponsoring the anti-CPEC propaganda falls flat.”
Explaining the ground reality, Azizullah Bugti, former secretary general of the Baloch Republican Party, Swiss chapter, said, “Where the CPEC is being constructed, indigenous Baloch people are being forced to leave their homes. In the past few months, many Baloch civilians have been killed in military operations by the Pakistani military and many chose to abandon their homes in fear of new army operations in the region.”
Several journalists, sector experts and economic analysts in Pakistan have admitted to the genuine exploitation of resources in Balochistan that has led to the uprising of the nationalist movement against Pakistan. The fishing community of Gwadar port, controlling which is the ultimate aim of the CPEC for China, has been displaced due to a ban on fishing in the area for “security reasons”, since the Pakistani military protects Chinese workers in Gwadar by means of check-points and guarded convoys. This foreign infiltration of indigenous resources is deemed intolerable by Baloch separatist leaders.
Jeffery said, “Just recently, two Chinese engineers were killed by Baloch separatists who threatened to continue with such attacks. Such attacks could damage the morale of those working on the project. Right now, Pakistan has given every Chinese worker two Pakistani army soldiers for security, but if the insurgency is revived to its full strength, Pakistan may have to give more than just two soldiers for each worker. Taking out more soldiers to guard Chinese workers can prove to be a challenge for Pakistan in the long-term, unless it increases its overall number of soldiers. More successful attacks on Chinese workers would mean more frustration with the Pakistanis in Beijing. China is determined to see the CPEC through and even issued a statement saying it would send the Chinese army in Pakistan in case of any foreign aggression against Pakistan.”
Bugti said, “We are not against any development, but as far as the CPEC is concerned, it is beneficial for Punjab. Even the Baloch in Pakistan’s Parliament were not taken into confidence. Pakistan is using force to crush the Baloch political voice which is being raised against the genocidal project termed as CPEC. We hold China equally responsible for the Baloch genocide as the Pakistani army.”
For China, apart from the security of its workers constructing CPEC, corruption in Pakistan’s civilian government is another major issue. Jeffery said, “As any Pakistani would tell you, the Pakistani civilian government, not just the current government, starts big fancy projects which never see the day of completion because of corruption.
China has shown its concern over the corruption issue and has privately conveyed its obvious reluctance to trust the civilian government 100% on CPEC. In fact, I would go as far as saying that if the Pakistani army were to back out of the CPEC for some reason, so will the Chinese. China will never trust the Pakistani civilian government to see through with the completion of the project.”