The result of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) would be Pakistan turning into a country like Greece and taking unprecedented loans in the name of CPEC. Our voice will not be heard until and unless we rebel.” This is what Pakistan’s own intellectual Dr Qaiser Bengali, an economist, was saying in Karachi last week addressing a meeting. It was an expression of the growing concern among social scientists, activists and analysts.
Those involved in the meeting have seen Islamabad sliding irretrievably under Beijing’s thumb in the same manner it came under American hegemony by joining the CENTO, Washington’s group set up to counter growing Soviet influence during the Cold War. They are probably the few remaining civil society activists who oppose the Chinese hegemony.
The CENTO arms and cash that Pakistan obtained under that pact with the US were used to build up Islamabad’s stance vis-a-vis India. In 1965 and 1971, these were used to get India to surrender. But time and again (including 1999’s Kargil), it was Pakistan that had to face total defeat and seek the intervention of the US, USSR and China to get itself out of the sure exposure of its failure, both at the diplomatic and military level.
Without taking the right lesson from the repeated defeats, Pakistan has now gone over to China which is seeking to dominate the world. The warning to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan’s own intelligentsia has come right at the time Sharif is leaving for Beijing to attend China’s Belt and Road Forum, of which CPEC is a part.
The benefits are all for China: The rail and road line link Beijing’s troubled province of Xinjiang to the sea.
Xinjiang is a Muslim-dominated province. Inspired by their religion, the Muslim Uighurs are battling the communist country’s anti-religious assertions. China has banned wearing of hijabs by Muslim women, even the use of normal Muslim names including those resembling the Prophet’s name (Muhammad) and holding of religious gatherings like Friday prayer groups.
Any public expression of religious identity by the Muslim minority in these areas leads to atrocities by the Chinese army. Pakistan, which calls itself the sword arm of Islam, is not only turning a blind eye to this ruthless suppression of human rights of fellow Muslims, but has also emerged as Beijing’s sidekick.
The CPEC would be piling debt on a debt-ridden (a debt of $73 billion) economy because of the soaring trade deficit ($28 billion) of the economy of Pakistan. For all practical purposes, the Islamic state is in economic decline. Pakistan, for decades, has lived by exploiting the West’s anti-Indian Cold War mentality. But almost all Western governments have become well informed about Islamabad’s real intentions.
Beijing keeps its options in Pakistan alive by extending economic loans and aid in the name of using Pakistani territory as the fulcrum of its own One Belt, One Road policy of rallying Asian countries under its leadership. The Pakistani intelligentsia is saying that the proposed rail, road and industrial belt through Pakistan is China’s attempt to get rid of its huge surplus of steel, cement etc. in the wake of a steep fall in Chinese exports to the West.
By giving all this as part of its loan to Pakistan, China is seen as raising Pakistan’s debt load which is already high. Ultimately by 2030, when the project is to be competed, Pakistan will be subservient to China like Greece was compelled to please its creditor Germany this decade.
To please Islamabad, Beijing, which does not even allow Muslim citizens of China (in Xingiang and other provinces) to use many Muslim names, backs terror leaders of Pakistan by vetoing their listing in international registers of terror-mongers. So China attempts to suppress jihadi terror in its own territories but supports Pakistan and prevents the listing of people like Masood Azhar and JuD leader Hafiz Saeed as terrorists, and thus hinders the international battle to contain and destroy Islamist terror that has affected countries across the world from the US to Europe to Japan.
It is informative to recall that the former US Joint Chiefs of Staff head Mike Mullen called yet another Pakistani terror outfit, the Haqqani network, as “the veritable arm of Pakistan’s ISI”.
New Delhi has therefore done the right thing in not attending the OBOR Forum that Beijing has organised in the name of reviving the ancient Silk Road. However, China is hell-bent on going ahead with this idea even as it threatens to take over territories of several Southeast Asian countries like Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and raises claims over the Indian territory of Arunachal Pradesh.
The main purpose is to hold up Beijing as the one leader without a second in the world as the 21st century is increasingly being described as the Asian century. For Pakistan, it is a big opportunity to be a satellite of a power that is seeking to encircle India now that America is refusing to buy Islamabad’s anti-India political merchandise.
But leading Pakistani thinkers are waking up to the danger of such a policy whose sole objective is to destroy India, even as New Delhi is getting increasingly admired for its global economic salience and strong roots of democracy and peaceful economic change.
The anti-Indian (read anti-Hindu) virus is so deeply entrenched in the body polity of Pakistan that it has no qualms playing second fiddle to China which is denying even basic human rights to its Muslim minority. And why are our in-house ‘secular’ and Muslim leaders who shout hoarse against perceived atrocities by Israel on Muslims, keeping quiet over this issue?
Former Rajya Sabha member and Delhi-based commentator on social and political issues