Pakistan-China Relations: What are friends for?

China has proven to be a powerful antidote to concerns about international isolation. Relations with America might be on the decline, but isn’t America on the decline also? Even if America’s decline is more wishful thinking than fact, it cannot be denied that China will continue to have a growing role of economic and military power in the region and globally. With Pakistan-Chinese relations as strong as they are, can we really be ‘isolated’? To many of our fellow countrymen, China is not only a cure for isolation, but a panacea that promises to heal all of our problems. We should appreciate China’s vote of confidence, however we should also be careful to take a realistic view of the relationship and what we are getting out of it.

First, let us take an honest view of CPEC. This is a very sensitive issue since the country’s economic hopes have been attached completely to the Chinese investment which has been termed a ‘game changer’ for the country. There is no doubt that such an impressive investment of over $45 billion will have a positive impact on the economy. However, we should also not be naive enough to believe that China is simply handing this has a gift. Analysts are warning not to get overly excited about how much ‘change’ is coming.

In a new piece for Express Tribune, Cambridge graduate and management consultant Faran Mahmood has warned to be realistic and pay attention to ‘the fine print‘ in CPEC.

Drawing parallels, Pakistan is also repeating same mistakes by awarding contracts to Chinese players without any competitive bidding – with a sovereign guarantee of 18% return on investments.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that Chinese will pump money into our local economy by sourcing materials and labour force from Pakistan. The lion’s share of 400,000 jobs that will be created may go to Chinese labour force – not to mention the hefty cement and construction material import bill that may touch the billion dollar mark.

CPEC is not the only issue where China may be working more to its own benefits. There is also defence which is another sensitive issue that is usually discussed based on wishful thinking than cold hard reality.

In the current trendy narrative, US is moving away from Pakistan and realigning with India while we are realigning with China. This model is based on the view that the world is moving away from a single superpower as America declines and China rises and all sides are being rearranged. It should be noted that some analysts like Mosharraf Zaidi disagree with this view, however it cannot be denied that it is the most popular narrative in Islamabad today.

China has promised to stand with Pakistan in any eventuality. This can be understood as no different than the similar NATO alliances that say an attack on any Western country is responded by all. However, in our case we should be careful about whether we are taking China’s promise as only a defensive protection against foreign aggression or whether we are also taking it as license to continue failed policies of the past.

China has supported our positions at the UN, but have these always been in our interests? By blocking the UN from blacklisting Masood Azhar per our request, hasn’t China actually exposed us as supporting jihadi militants? It also makes it harder to change the status quo of our Kashmir policy which has failed for decades to actually help the Kashmiri people. Is a friend who helps an alcoholic to keep drinking really a friend at all?

China wants to keep India from achieving regional hegemony, and knows that supporting Pakistan will help that strategy. However this is different from having Pakistan’s best interests at heart. America wanted to prevent the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan, and supported Pakistan for over a decade as part of their strategy. But does anyone believe America had our best interests at heart? Why are we willing to fall for the same trick twice?

Finally, it would be incomplete to not say a word about the way that certain personalities have been attacked recently. Ayesha Siddiqa is the most recent example, but there are many others also including many famous examples. Each of these people has been attacked for supposedly repeating ‘enemy narratives’ or being overly critical of sensitive institutions such as our armed forces. They are stamped as ‘traitors’ and accused of being enemy agents with the only evidence being that we did not like what they said. No one likes it when their doctor tells them that they have cancer, but no one calls them a traitor for it either. It is understood that by telling you the harsh truth, the doctor is giving you the opportunity to save yourself. Isn’t it the case with these scholars also? Even the claim that they are attacking institutions does not hold up. If Dr Siddiqa points out that there are some corrupt officers, or Husain Haqqani notes that some policies are promoting extremism, the cure is not to get rid of the institution any more than the cure for cancer is to kill the patient! The enemy’s advice would actually be to ignore the presence of the disease which only allows it to spread. It is the friend who wants to heal the patient so that he can become stronger.

 

[SATIRE] Nawab Khan receives a visit from Chinese Viceroy

Imran Khan spanked by Chinese ViceroyNawab Imran Khan’s declared plan to shut down the capital unless his demands are met has been responded with severe displeasure by the Board of the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Company (CPEC). On Tuesday, that displeasure was demonstrated in a rare visit from Chinese Viceroy Sun Weidong at Khan’s Bani Gala palace.

The Chinese Viceroy left no room for misinterpretation as he explained that the Board of CPEC would not allow their investment of tens of billions to be threatened by the antics of a minor provincial chief. With a deeply bowed head, Nawab Khan apologised for the misunderstanding and assured the Chinese official that it was all just a bit of fun and “its planned siege of the city was not meant to derail the present government, the system or create chaos in the country.” While some peasants may be thrashed as part of the drama, the Nawab promised the Viceroy “there would absolutely be no threat to the diplomatic corps.”

Having given his assurance that next month’s protest was never intended to be more than a cheap stage drama, Nawab Kahn stood outside his palace and watched the Viceroy’s caravan drive away. “Sir,” his Secretary Shah Mehmood Qureshi began to say. “Shut up!” responded the Nawab. “Get out! All of you get out!”

“Yes, my Lord,” they whispered and left Khan standing alone on the front steps as a light rain began to fall. As they sat drinking tea in silence, they could hear the Nawab unleash a tirade of obscenities in the distance. Qureshi looked up at his colleague Shireen Mazari who met his eye with a mischievous grin.

Pakistan’s $51 Billion Nuclear Gamble

cut off own headFor some people, the current period of tension with India is a gift. Social media activists, media walas, hyper-nationalists, trolls, comedians, and satirists have been handed the premiere topic for getting the prized clicks and re-posts that build careers, and the feeding frenzy has created an instant feedback loop that is quickly spinning out of control. Did India cross the LoC? Did Pakistan capture enemy soldiers? At the most extreme, Defence Minister has openly threatened to unleash a nuclear war.

While the nationalistic chest thumping has the benefit of feeding the patriotic sentiments, there are costs as well. Obviously there are the possible costs of millions of dead in the case of an actual nuclear war, but this remains unlikely. There are other costs, though, which are paid in national reputation and can be measured in purely financial costs.

Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal recently said Pakistan is borrowing an additional $5.5 Billion from China to upgrade and modernise the Karachi-Lahore railway, raising total CPEC financing to over $51 Billion. At the same time, China has publicly called on Pakistan to resolve differences and improve bilateral relations with India through dialogue.

So far, officials in Rawalpindi and Islamabad have ignored China’s call for peaceful resolution through diplomacy, instead choosing to escalate tensions to the point of threatening nuclear war. In effect, officials are making a $51 Billion gamble that China will continue to invest in a country that says it is on the brink of nuclear war.

Good news from CPEC…but is it enough?

CPEC jobSome good news from CPEC which has finally started to pay dividends in the form of economic benefits. At a recent economic summit in Hong Kong, Shaukat Aziz announced that the project has added 6,000 new jobs for Pakistani workers. This is good news, and noting that that statistics are incomplete means that the number could even be higher. However, even though this is good news that should be appreciated, one has to ask whether it is enough.

Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR) released a fact sheet earlier this year that pegged the number of unemployed in the country at approximately 5.3 million. Official government statistics put the number at 3.6 million, but as IPR explains those are probably under-reported. Even if the official numbers are correct, though, it means that so far CPEC has had virtually no immediate impact on employment in Pakistan.

 

Building Pakistan’s Future

Mumtaz Qadri MosqueFew things tell as much about a society than the physical space itself. America’s Statue of Liberty, London’s grand palaces, the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Amsterdam – each of these gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the society. In Pakistan, too, our architecture tells our story. You cannot know Pakistan without knowing Lahore Fort, Shalimar Bagh, Islamia College, and Mazar-e-Quaid. Architectural landscapes change along with societies, though, and what we are building today is a glimpse into where we are headed tomorrow.

In Pakistan, the future we are building is usually discussed in terms of transportation infrastructure. Whether the controversial Orange Line Train in Lahore, or game changer CPEC, we are told stories about development that will usher in a bright future for the country. However, these are not the only projects taking place, and they may not even be the most important ones.

Jamia Hafsa, the infamous Lal Masjid madrasseh whose students swore allegiance to Daesh, has been granted 20 kanals plot in Sector H 11-4 Islamabad for construction of new facilities.

Across the capital, Faisal Mosque is getting competition from a newer construction – the mosque built to honour the convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This mosque has proven so popular that it has raised funds to double its size.

Religious extremists are not the only ones expanding their space in the country. There has also been an rapid growth of building by DHA, one of the Army’s construction companies. DHA has even spread outside of its usual areas, announcing new developments in Balochistan also.

While religious extremists and the military expand their presence across the architectural landscape of the nation, secular political offices are being bulldozed. This is not a defence of Altaf Hussain, but nobody suggested bulldozing PMA Kakul when a COAS was charged with treason.

Projects like Orange Line Train and CPEC will make it easier to travel and transport both in major urban areas and across the nation. But it is what is being built for people to travel to that that will define our future.