Big catchwords are being thrown around with wild abandon, with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seen walking hand-in-hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping in too many carefully orchestrated photo-ops.
By Angshukanta Chakraborty
Big catchwords are being thrown around with wild abandon, with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seen walking hand-in-hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping in too many carefully orchestrated photo-ops. But behind the hoopla around One Belt, One Road summit, and the brouhaha over the much talked about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are the not-so-noble intentions of the Beijing elite to turn Pakistan into some kind of a proto Chinese colony.
Or, in the words of national security expert Brahma Chellaney, “at least a vassal state”.
In a massive exposé on what exactly is going into the CPEC, respected English news daily from Pakistan, Dawn has revealed Beijing’s “master plan”.
In other words, that’s something involving large-scale, invasive and penetrative surveillance of Pakistani cities, visa-free entry for Chinese nationals into Pakistan and appropriating Pakistani agriculture to grow crops to suit Chinese interests.
If you go back to the history of British colonialism in India, agriculture, demographic occupation, and surveillance form the basis of any attempt to informally colonise a sovereign country, and once its economy has been made thoroughly dependent on the colonising power, once it has been drained enough to not being able to sustain itself, does the formal occupation and transference of power actually take place.
Oh yes. But such is the not-so-glorious reality behind the much-hyped CPEC, and its positioning as the new connecting link to drive the 21st-century global order. Just like the British built the Indian railways to belatedly justify and legitimise its inglorious rule over the Indian territory, expansive and much advertised Chinese plans to build road, rail and infrastructure link linking the port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea with China’s own Xinjiang province, the arterial route of the envisioned One Road, One Belt map, are about colonising Pakistan.
Let’s enumerate the points chalked out by Dawn and the caveats it has sounded on CPEC, as well as the Long Term Plan (LTP) involving China, Pakistan, and neighbouring states.
Agricultural land to suit Chinese projects
As the report in Dawn says, “thousands of acres of agricultural land will be leased out to Chinese enterprises to set up ‘demonstration projects’ in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technologies”. This means, that China can just turn vast swathes of Pakistani territory, and this includes Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and other disputed areas in which India has a rightful claim, into virtual Chinese laboratories of extravagant experimentation, which can very well go wrong.
Not only is this a thinly-veiled land grab, this is turning the whole of Pakistan into a Chinese laboratory for testing out new products, ethics be damned. As the report says: “The main thrust of the plan actually lies in agriculture, contrary to the image of CPEC as a massive industrial and transport undertaking, involving power plants and highways. The plan acquires its greatest specificity, and lays out the largest number of projects and plans for their facilitation, in agriculture.”
Is this the Chinese bureaucracy-speak for conducting illegal experiments on biochemical weaponry? Given China’s and Pakistan’s shared militaristic interests, this is hardly far-fetched. Even when the goal is not to harness biochemical weaponry, China might push genetically modified crops and seeds in Pakistani lands and can bring about large-scale geo-engineering that could be detrimental to the shared ecosystem of South Asia.
As the US experience with its NSA’s invasive surveillance apparatus proved, snooping never stops where territories end. So, CPEC’s plan to bring about “full system of monitoring and surveillance” with hardware stationed in big cities such as Peshawar and Karachi, 24-hour video surveillance and recordings on rods and busy marketplaces for “law and order”, is practically handing over to the Chinese whatever’s left of Pakistan’s freedom to be.
Given China’s own record at stifling access to information online, disallowing a number of global search engines, video sharing websites and even social media networks, what the Chinese dominance in Pakistani surveillance would mean? In fact, as the report in Dawn says, “not only for internet traffic, but also for terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the ‘dissemination of Chinese culture’” will be effected.
Essentially, Pakistan is handing over its internet and broadcast media to China and this might spell doom for Pakistan’s own limited independence and whatever remains of its press freedom. Soon, we can expect encroachment into print media space. Much like the absolute lack of press freedom in China, Pakistan too would be seen propagating political worldviews that suit the Chinese, and might be detrimental to its own ideological and political sovereignty. Can you imagine what this means?
At the very least, you can bid goodbye to those mellifluous Pakistani soap operas because they soon might not fit what the Chinese consider a worthy popular culture. Pakistani subjectivity, the beautiful language of Urdu, and other languages such as Pashtun, Punjabi, Sindhi may all suffer as Mandarin is made compulsory.
Plus, we need to ask: If such a large-scale takeover of Pakistani’s internet and broadcast media, as well as installing 24X7 surveillance in its biggest cities, will that be limited to overseeing only Pakistani territories? Won’t it have a spillover effect on India, particularly the international border shared with Pakistan, the Line of Control?
Essentially, this means compromising India’s own intelligence and territorial sovereignty with massive high-tech surveillance from across the Pakistani border. For example, what does it mean that the Chinese would build a “pilot safe city” in Peshawar? Does this mean that while being surrounded by insurgency-ridden areas in the northwest, particularly in NWFP and Baluchistan, there would be impenetrable citadels for the Chinese and Pakistani elite that would be completely cordoned off for the ordinary, poorer Pakistani? Would parts of Pakistan become inaccessible to the Pakistani citizen? What kind of a techno-savvy hellish digital dystopia are we looking at across the border?
Colonising Pakistan’s economy
The CPEC master plan, as per the Dawn report, “envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises.”
It goes on to detail how China wants to re-engineer a key policy environment to make Pakistani economy conducive to serve Beijing’s interests. It says: “In other cases, such as textiles and garments, cement and building materials, fertiliser and agricultural technologies (among others) it calls for building the infrastructure and a supporting policy environment to facilitate fresh entry. A key element in this is the creation of industrial parks, or special economic zones, which ‘must meet specified conditions, including availability of water…perfect infrastructure, sufficient supply of energy and the capacity of self service power’, according to the plan.”
The report goes on to say: “The plan states at the outset that the corridor “spans Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and whole Pakistan in spatial range”. It’s main aim is to connect South Xinjiang with Pakistan. It is divided into a “core area” and what they call the “radiation zones”, those territories that will feel the knock on effects of the work being done in the core area. The core area includes “Kashgar, Tumshuq, Atushi and Akto of Kizilsu Kirghiz of Xinjiang” from China, and “most of Islamabad’s Capital territory, Punjab, and Sindh, and some areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, and Balochistan” from Pakistan.
It has “one belt, three passages, and two axes and five functional zones”, where the belt is “the strip area formed by important arterial traffic in China and Pakistan".” What are “radiation zones”, shall we ask? It seems in the special economic zones that China wants to set in Pakistani territory, it would set up labour and industrial camps that would involve working on hazardous issues. Is China making a large-scale plan to revamp Pakistan’s nuclear power for militaristic ends? Other forms of radioactive industrial works? What happens in case of an industrial accident?
It’s obvious that much like the classic coloniser-colony equation, resource extraction from Pakistan’s north-western zone, to fuel crazy Chinese dreams of global dominance, is soon going to become a reality. There will be more pollution, decimation of the ecosystem, redirecting of meager water bodies with unsustainable and forced dams, and turning large swathes of northwest Pakistan into mining wastelands.
Financing Pakistan’s redevelopment, or turning Pakistan into a Chinese vassal?
By now it’s fairly obvious that the redevelopment of Pakistan under CPEC is a Faustian bargain. While the Chinese Development Bank, Asian Development Bank and the New Development Bank are all ensuring that money is poured into CPEC, we need to ask why Islamabad is agreeing to sell its soul for scrap to Beijing’s clearly imperial vision? The answer lies in Pakistan’s military-industrial complex and its cavalier attitude towards ordinary Pakistanis as long as their petty interests are being served.
As renowned Pakistani-American scholar and observer of Pakistani military-industrial complex and foreign policy, Ayesha Siddiqa, notes, Pakistani military elite is getting ever more casually crass about its exploding powers and the stranglehold it has on the civilian government. Is the CPEC really what the Military Inc wants to consolidate ever more power and money in its hands?
As Siddiqa writes: “This confidence waned after the 2000s but seems to have returned with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In fact, it is stronger than what was felt in the past because, unlike the US which was always concerned about India’s reaction to arms supplies to Pakistan, Beijing’s primary concern is its one-belt-one-road (OBOR) project. Talk to some of the track-II generals and they will also add Russia as part of the new alignment between China and Pakistan. This means a level of confidence that from a historical perspective has always resulted in escalation. Since the 1960s, the risk of conflict has increased every time both India and Pakistan were at the same level of geopolitical buoyancy.”
There have been several meetings among respective high-ranking military officials of China and Pakistan in the run up to the OBOR conference. But as noted in the “finance and risk” section of the Dawn piece, there’s very little financial motive for China, which is loaning out enormous amounts to Pakistan for the “redevelopment”.
Even the plan notes that politics and security issues in Pakistan are overarching. “There are various factors affecting Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention. The security situation is the worst in recent years”.
The use of the term “Western intervention” is a dead giveaway. Not only is the CPEC Beijing’s long-term plan to completely isolate Pakistan from the American arc of influence, it’s about expanding Chinese footprint in Asia and reconfiguring what many call the Asian century. The CPEC is the terrestrial equivalent of the maritime influence that China is gaining at sea, particularly in its naval and military bases in South China Sea that are direct challenges to the US and Japan.
What about India?
So, Pakistani military-industrial elite is ready to sell its soul for scrap, if in return it gets access to China’s enormous military and financial prowess. Will cross-border terrorism from Pakistan be under check, or will it transmogrify into even more sinister version of itself? Will India be assaulted in the cyber space, intimidated with the increasing number military bases that China would be setting up in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir under the garb of CPEC?
From Aksai Chin on the eastern side of India’s mountainous north and the 1962 war, despite the Line of Actual Control, territorial sabre-rattling is a routine item in Sino-Indian relations. The recent snubs over dreaded Pakistani terror-accused Masood Azhar, blocking proposal at the United Nations to list the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief as a terrorist, as well as the showdowns over the Dalai Lama, have all contributed to soaring of India-China relations.
But nothing compares to the imperial ambitions of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. All in all, it seems India has many reasons to worry.