New Delhi: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which was described by Pakistan as its gateway to economic prosperity, has slowly but surely come to a halt. Dogged resistance from Baloch nationalists, missed deadlines and massive corruption among Pakistani policymakers have led to a situation where China is refusing to meet the commitments it had made of investments in CPEC.
When CPEC was announced on 20 April 2015 by the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi-Jinping, the total investment that Pakistan, by way of loans, was supposed to get from China, was around $46 billion. However, four years down the line, the Pakistan government has got only $26.5 billion, according to informed sources and authoritative documents. The CPEC encompasses 18 major energy projects and five infrastructure projects, including taking measures to operationalise Gwadar port fully. And now Pakistan will be required to pay $40 billion as loan repayment to China over a period of 20 years, that is by 2038.
How Pakistan will pay this humungous amount, given its current economic condition, is a totally different story.
The major focus of CPEC, when it was brought into existence, was building a network of roads, railways and pipelines that included an 870-km road cutting across Balochistan.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to multiple sources in Balochistan, who said that CPEC projects passing through that region were either lying useless, or their construction had been stopped.
Sample this. Construction for the New Gwadar international airport, touted to be the largest airport of Pakistan, construction for which was scheduled to start in mid-2017 and was expected to be completed by 2020, saw its ground-breaking ceremony only in March this year. It is unlikely to get operationalised, if it does ever, before 2023-2024.
Though the road through Balochistan, to connect other parts of Pakistan to the Gwadar port, has been completed, yet it is not being used because of resistance by the Baloch, who have continued to fight for a separate country while ignoring offers of millions of dollar worth of bribes.
Top Baloch leader Dr Allah Nazar Baloch told The Sunday Guardian, “Though they have installed armed checkpoints every 2 km of this particular road, no movement of cargo takes place. The one time they tried, when 50-60 cargo trucks, escorted by multiple armed vehicles and an army chopper, were on their way to the port, resulted in failure as the trucks were not able to reach their destination without being extensively damaged because of the repeated assaults that the Baloch nationalists carried out on them. Since then, no cargo movement has taken place on this route.”
A resident of Gwadar said: “It is of no use. No one uses that road. The port too is very rarely used. Once in a blue moon it sees ships that bring workers and materials. A Chinese ship had sailed from here in March 2018, nothing much after that.”
In August 2017, the Pakistani ambassador to China, Masoud Khalid, in an interview to a Chinese media group, had said that the port would be operationalised within four years.
The one incident that perhaps sounded the death knell of CPEC’s projects in Balochistan was the attack on Pearl Continental hotel, the reality of which, claim Baloch leaders, Pakistan continues to hide even now.
On 12 May this year, Baloch nationalists carried out a deadly attack on Pearl Continental hotel, built atop hill overlooking the Gwadar port. It was the only five-star hotel in the region and hence was used by top officials working with CPEC, including Chinese and Arab investors. This hotel, locals say, is the best guarded establishment of the region with an armed roadblock at every 1 km on its way.
In a fire-fight that lasted approximately 44-48 hours, three Baloch armed individuals, according to the Pakistan government, killed five people, all Pakistani nationals, before they were neutralised by the Pakistan armed forces, who used fighter helicopters as well.
However, as per Allah Nazar Baloch, at least 80 people, all Chinese and Arabs, but not men belonging to the Pakistan armed forces, were killed in the attack.
“The attackers were heavily armed. Each one of them carried a huge number of hand grenades apart from assault rifles. One grenade can destroy everything under a 12 sq feet radius. These attackers told their friends, till the time they were communicating—before the communicating lines were disconnected by the army—that they had killed a large number of Chinese and Arab nationals who were staying in the hotel. The entire area was cordoned off for days by the army so that the actual number of the dead never came out. I can say with authority that the number of Chinese and Arab nationals who died in the attack was almost 80,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
This one attack, according to observers, has severely dented China’s intention to invest further in CPEC as it raised serious questions on how capable the Pakistan army was to defend itself and its assets in what can easily be called the most militarised zone of their country.
This was not the only attack. Baloch militants have been able to carry out repeated attacks against Chinese assets and local contractors and their equipment and machinery on a daily basis, something that is not allowed to come out in the local media.
“The Pakistani military had convinced China on several occasions that CPEC was a security-proof project. Yet, their convoys, even now, travel under the protection of gunship helicopters. The attack on Pearl Continental made it clear that the Pakistan army cannot ever subjugate Balochistan. This attack played a final role in ending the project,” said a Gwadar-based journalist. According to him, Gwadar was right now filled with army personnel and intelligence agency officials. “It is a ghost town,” he said.
“The money that was meant for infrastructure projects, has been diverted for security purpose. The majority of the projects are running way behind schedule, many have been dumped because of lack of security cover,” he added.
Corruption, too, played a big role in making sure that CPEC was doomed from the start. Now, things have reached such a stage that Pakistani politicians are publicly talking about how corruption has dented the CPEC.
Earlier this year, Pakistan’s Minister of Communications, Murad Saeed had told the media about the large-scale corruption that was taking place while implementing the mega infrastructure projects all across the country.
Earlier in September 2018, Abdul Razak Dawood, Pakistan’s minister for commerce, industry and investment, had said that all CPEC projects could be suspended until a review was completed, while criticising the previous government headed by Nawaz Sharif for granting China “too favourable” terms on many projects.
Even a former spokesman for the provincial government of Balochistan, who spoke to The Sunday Guardian, said that CPEC was a dead project. “Land has been taken for Gwadar airport, but no work has been done on it. A 300 MW power plant was also supposed to come up in Gwadar, the land for which was also purchased, but no work is visible. There is stagnation at Gwadar port. I think the project is almost gone,” he said.
According to him, the general consensus was that large-scale corruption has forced China to pull back from CPEC and Balochistan.
“They even did not invest the amount that they had initially promised. Pakistan is not China where you can be assured of meeting the deadline or be ready to pay for missing the deadline. Corruption and Baloch resistance have killed the project. China is not a fool that it will continue to spend more money in a place where there is no surety that even if all the projects are completed, though delayed, they will be allowed to function at an optimum level by the Baloch. China should thank God if it manages to get anything out of this project,” he added.