Pakistani PM Imran Khan had said this in July: his government would complete the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at “any cost”, as the project is a manifestation of the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan. And he goes on, despite everything.
He is in fact launching the construction of a mega-city in Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). According to the project, the city, built under the CPEC project, will have apartments, theme parks, a golf course, commercial zones and public buildings.
A model town, in which a couple of plots will be allotted to the government, part of four memorandums of understanding signed in 2017 between the KPK government and the Frontier Works Organization.
A project worth 10.86 billion dollars likely to transform the landscape and the life of the province. Beside another Model Town in Peshawar, the project includes also 3 hydroelectric power plants in Chitral, an oil refinery in Karak, and a cement factory in Haripur. Thousands of people had their villages razed to the ground because of Taliban and Army raids, and are still waiting to have their houses re-built, but never mind, critics say.
Will CPEC Projects In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Actually Create Jobs For Locals?
Model towns, where most likely only Army people, government officers and politicians will live, are apparently more important than relocating displaced locals and clearing the land of the landmines planted by the Army itself.
The official narrative follows the usual guidelines: first of all, that the CPEC projects in KPK will create “thousands of jobs” for locals. Unfortunately, while the mega-city project was being launched, in Karachi, thousands of workers were protesting against China and the way Chinese companies working for CPEC projects were dealing with their staff.
Locals are not only hired just for low-level jobs – when and if they are hired – but are paid much less than their Chinese counterparts. It has been happening in Balochistan for years now, and is happening everywhere that CPEC projects are being implemented. Sindh, to be precise, has been in turmoil for all of the month, with days of rallies in many cities of the region led by the leaders of all the major political parties. The government has in fact established – against the Constitution of the country and the international convention and without a discussion in the Parliament – a ‘Pakistan Island Development Authority’ to develop and manage the islands “in the internal and territorial waters” of Pakistan.
Only Islamabad Believes The Promises Of Beijing
According to the Pakistani press, the move of the government has been discussed only with the Army and with a couple of businessmen close to it. The ordinance has emerged, locals say, expressly to change the status of the islands located on the coasts of Sindh: in particular, to take under the Central Government's control the twin islands of Bhundar (or Bundal) and Dingi.
According to Sindhis, China is behind the move of the government, and China wants to develop the twin islands on the model of Hong Kong.
The deal was apparently finalised during the last meeting between Imran Khan and Xi Jinping, along with another deal regarding the Diamer Basha Dam, which is now fully part of the CPEC project, even though the people of Sindh have already expressly denied their consent to the project.
Locals and activists say that Beijing, not satisfied with the invasion of Balochistan and the exploitation of its resources and of the rights of the citizens, wants to now explore new opportunities of human rights violations and destruction of environment in Sindh.
Pashtuns in KPK share the same fears. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the fruit of the friendship – “sweet as honey and deep as the ocean” – between China and Pakistan, and it is actually part of a broader Chinese project, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program, which aims in theory to reconstitute and expand the ancient Silk Road.
The Chinese investment in the project is about USD 50 billion, and according to the Pakistanis, it will produce a 2.5 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product as well as create thousands of jobs.
But, beside the Islamabad government, nobody believes the promises of Beijing. Not even the government.
Why Islamabad Must – Willingly Or Otherwise – Dance To Beijing’s Tune
Recently in fact, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, previously the Minister of Maritime affairs of Balochistan, revealed to the Senate that Pakistan will get only nine percent of total revenues from Gwadar Port. The remaining 91 percent will go to China over the course of the next 40 years, as per the agreement signed between the two countries.
Senators raised their concerns over this substantial imbalance of sharing assets, but civilian institutions in Pakistan count nothing. Moreover, CPEC is not only an economic project, but a military one too. According to data on global military spending released by SIPRI, China is, at the moment, the second largest country for military spending after the United States. And the roads built within CPEC or OBOR projects are closely followed by military bases.
But there’s very little that the citizens of the country can do.
China now firmly controls Pakistan, both economically and politically – and Islamabad, increasingly isolated politically and economically – is dependent on the goodwill of others; so it must willingly or unwillingly dance to the tune of Beijing and of the all-weather friendship with the Devil.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)