LONDON: The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) hosted a seminar ‘CPEC – East India Company Mark 2?’on 7 November in the European Parliament. The seminar was organised by UKIP MEP Jonathan Bullock and a Member of the Committees on Budgetary Control and Industry, Research and Energy, to discuss the interrelated legal, geo-strategic, economic and environmental issues of the CPEC, which directly impact the stability of South Asia. The seminar was attended by MEPs, policy advisors, terrorism experts, security officials, government agencies, human rights activists, scholars, academicians and students from all over Europe.
Junaid Qureshi, Director EFSAS, explained CPEC’s disastrous effects in Baltistan and how CPEC exacerbates the conflict in Jammu & Kashmir.
Geoffrey van Orden, MEP, Chair of the Delegation for Relations with India and Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Terrorism, analysed if building the multibillion economic corridor throughout Pakistan had some parallels with the East India Company and argued that acquiring control of trade, inevitably translates into governmental influence. Referring to the current Sino-Pak stalemate regarding Pakistan’s financial obligations to China; he said that Pakistan might find itself in a situation where the only solution for overcoming this debt is through transfer of power, independence and sovereignty to Beijing.
Dr Paul Stott, Lecturer at the University of Leicester and in the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and EFSAS Research Fellow, focused on the US under President Trump and his approach to China and Pakistan. Stott believes that Pakistan has blown it with the US; the US sees only Pakistan through the prism of its connection with China. Stott remarked that the US-Pakistan relationship deteriorated since Osama Bin Laden was found in Abbottabad and that Pakistan’s sponsoring of terrorism/provision of safe havens for extremist groups/individuals remains a significant factor in shaping of US foreign policy. Stott stressed that during the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda Sanction Committee, China blocked the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar as a proscribed terrorist, despite calls from India and US. China has also turned a blind eye to the mainstreaming of terrorists into politics such as LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, showing what a long leash is being given to armed actors, potentially in Jammu and Kashmir. Stott encouraged the international community to be very critical of China’s relationships, foreign policy and intentions, especially of projects like the CPEC.
Dr Matthew McCartney, Director of the South Asia Program and Professor in the Political Economy and Human Development of India at Oxford University, discussed the economics of CPEC. He explained how CPC is an organic development arising from China and Pakistan’s historical connections. He suggested China’s financing of infrastructure has less strings attached than IMF or US loans that would have stringent conditions and regulations. He demonstrated how infrastructure usually diminishes the disparity of prices of goods. McCartney concluded CPEC will have little impact on the prosperity of Pakistan.
Dr Dorothée Vandamme, Research Associate at the University of Louvain, Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts and the Genesys Network and EFSAS Research Fellow, deliberated on the role of the Pakistani Military Establishment in CPEC. Vandamme explained that the building of the CPEC has further reinforced the role of the already powerful Army; this has been displayed via the safeguarding of the CPEC project by armed personnel, providing security for Chinese workers ensuring the stability and continuity of the project. According to Vandamme’s data, 15,000 troops have been dedicated to this division, and expected to rise to 25,000; China remains Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and continuously displays the pattern of being more inclined towards negotiating with the Pakistani military rather than with the civil government of Pakistan. Vandamme reasoned that according to Beijing, the Pakistani Army has proven to manifest greater stability than any civilian government and keeps pulling the strings either when in power or behind the scenes. Vandamme argued that the new government in Pakistan was unlikely to change its poor economic condition, if Pakistan requests assistance from IMF, IMF will demand more transparency on CPEC in return, which neither Beijing nor Rawalpindi would be prepared to give.
Fernando Burges, Program Manager at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, presented a negative take on repercussions from CPEC construction through the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan, part of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir over which Pakistan does not have any legal right, arguing that in this backdrop the CPEC is illegal. Burges remarked that the indigenous people of Gilgit Baltistan have been stripped away of their natural resources and forced to accept the CPEC project without any compensation. He highlighted the fact that those who have opposed the building of the corridor have been subject to violent crackdowns and enforced imprisonment under the pretext of Anti-terrorism laws.
Burzine Waghmar, Member of SOAS, University of London, Centre for the Study of Pakistan, Centre for Iranian Studies, and London Middle East Institute and EFSAS Research Fellow, began his speech by quoting the American Analyst of Pakistani Studies, Christine Fair, who described the CPEC project as, ‘Colonizing Pakistan to Enrich China’. Waghmar said Europe must begin to pay attention to Chinese expansionist designs, since Beijing is drafting its own parallel system of rules through BRI. He quoted Gilgit-Baltistan’s arable land at just 1% and its population, as per the 1998 census, is under 2 million he queried where the Hunza, Burusho and other settled indigenous population will go when outside investors come in to parcel out this hilly area whose alpine ecosystem will be exposed to immense industrial upheavals and pollutants. Waghmar compared Pakistan to a Greek tragedy.