The investment bonanza

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    With China taking charge, a strategic realignment in the offing

     

    A staggering US$46 billion are to be injected into Pakistan’s economic mainstream. This is part of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 1+4 formulation: the China-Pakistan Economic Belt, being the pivot, spearheading the development of Gwadar, a warm-water, deep-sea port into becoming a strategic hub in the Arabian Sea along the restive Balochistan province, and generating multi-faceted development in the energy, infrastructure and industrial sectors. The two leaderships have hailed this as a landmark event that would transition the China-Pakistan relationship into “an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”.

    According to all available reports, this is the biggest-ever overseas investment announced by China. The corridor that will run about 3,000 kilometres from Gwadar to Kashgar is expected to be operational within three years. According to the Guardian, “The Chinese are not just offering to build the much-needed infrastructure, but also make Pakistan a key partner in its grand economic and strategic ambitions”.

    The massive investment reflects a strategic shift in China’s approach. Instead of waiting to see the security environment improve in the country like the rest of the world is doing, the Chinese have, instead, opted for investing and becoming partners with Pakistan in its war to combat and eliminate terror. The investment and the accompanying economic and development activity that it is likely to generate would become a key component to creating multi-dimensional and multi-sector opportunities for the underprivileged and marginalised communities of the country spurring them to move into the mainstream of national life, thus depriving the terrorist operatives of their key source of recruiting impressionable minds.

    The massive investment reflects a strategic shift in China’s approach. Instead of waiting to see the security environment improve in the country like the rest of the world is doing, the Chinese have, instead, opted for investing and becoming partners with Pakistan in its war to combat and eliminate terror. The investment and the accompanying economic and development activity that it is likely to generate would become a key component to creating multi-dimensional and multi-sector opportunities for the underprivileged and marginalised communities of the country spurring them to move into the mainstream of national life, thus depriving the terrorist operatives of their key source of recruiting impressionable minds

    There is another equally compelling factor that has brought about this strategic shift. China’s fast-growing economy is in urgent need of additional markets in Europe, Middle East and Central-Asia that it could have easy access to. The way to these markets passes through Pakistan which has been investment-and cash-starved for a painfully long period of time. Consequently, it is a marriage of sorts between China’s urgent compulsions and Pakistan’s myriad needs.

    It should, however, be remembered that there are no constants in inter-state relations. For this marriage to survive and prosper, Pakistan will have to struggle to remain relevant in some key areas including:

    1. Taking brave and effective measures to combat and eliminate the scourge of terror. This would include both short- and long-term initiatives aimed at physical elimination of the terrorist networks and hideouts and gagging their breeding nurseries and hate pulpits.

    2. Increasing and expanding the scope of its cooperation and support for achieving peace in Afghanistan which remains a key factor in reaping the success of the proposed economic corridor. Roping in the Taliban would be a key factor.

    3. Engineering a change of mindset in bringing peace to a traditionally strife-torn South-Asian region particularly in the context of improving relations with India.

    There is another equally compelling factor that has brought about this strategic shift. China’s fast-growing economy is in urgent need of additional markets in Europe, Middle East and Central-Asia that it could have easy access to. The way to these markets passes through Pakistan which has been investment-and cash-starved for a painfully long period of time. Consequently, it is a marriage of sorts between China’s urgent compulsions and Pakistan’s myriad needs

    The national security issue is another key factor that China would like to address through this mammoth investment. With a zero-tolerance policy for terrorists, they would like to bring to an end the prospect of the separatists in the restive Xinjiang province to be influenced by militants from across the border in Pakistan. This is a fear that the Chinese have long harboured, and not without good reason!

    That brings us to the lurking danger that has already begun to cloud the initial euphoria of this unprecedented investment: a palpable lack of transparency concerning various aspects that would drive the mega undertaking through various stages of completion. This is in proverbial consonance with the personalised and secretive style of working of the Sharifs who don’t let anything slip beyond the confines of the close family members and the prized cronies who, jointly, constitute the inefficient team that they solely bank on. Starting with the confusion surrounding the change of route from the original plan to the manner of inducting companies to handle various phases of the project, it appears that the working is going to remain perpetually shrouded in controversial and self-serving manipulations principally meant to cream off a fair amount of the project investment for their personal illicit coffers.

    Of particular concern is the change of route that has driven the thrust away from the heartland of the insurgency-infested Balochistan province to include Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the seat of the Sharif power, and Islamabad, the stronghold of their federal incumbency. The new proposed route that the government is still unwilling to acknowledge leaves the terrorism-stricken DI Khan out of the loop and is now projected to head straight from Islamabad to Kashgar, leaving aside the massively under-developed Gilgit-Baltistan. All this is being done under the umbrella of reaping political dividends from the project. This negates the essence of the Chinese friendship with Pakistan which has remained unaffected by transcending the entry or exit of any political governments in the country.

    The Chinese reiteration of commitment to Pakistan to transform it into becoming an economic hub in South-Asia also marks the advent of a strategic realignment in the region. This is likely to be reflected by Pakistan’s gradual gravitation away from its traditional allies in the West in the direction of China (and eventually Russia). This, in a way, corrects an inherent policy aberration enacted at the moment of its inception that Pakistan has continued suffering from through all the years of its existence. Spurning the overtures from the Soviet Union as a potential partner in the region, the Pakistani establishment had then opted to align with the West, thus damning the prospect of the nascent country to grow among friendly environs

    It would be a fatal travesty to exclude relevant stakeholders from taking joint ownership of this game-changer undertaking. The presence of the Punjab Chief Minister at the airport at the time of receiving the Chinese President upon his arrival and later at his departure from Pakistan to the exclusion of representation from the smaller provinces including Sindh, Balochistan and KPK reflects the myopic and autocratic mindset of the ruling clique. The prospect of this national project degenerating into becoming one for promoting the interests of one province or one political entity would further accentuate the seeds of discontent among the lesser-developed areas of the country and their people. Politics should have been kept strictly out of this national undertaking but, unfortunately, it appears that it has become the dominant component of the package.

    Consequently, what is feared is that a project that is expected to cultivate large-scale economic activity and bring in opportunities for the betterment of this terrorism-and violence-ridden country, and which should have become a unifying force among people hailing from its various parts, is going to drive a wedge of discontent right in the middle owing to a self-interest-driven approach that is gradually unfurling. This has been a traditional tactic that the Sharifs have persistently used in a Machiavellian manner to advance their petty political interests. Remember the change of route of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway that was also undertaken during the rule of the Sharifs? Remember how around seventy kilometres were added to the original route of the motorway owing to the political machinations of the Sharif dynasty? Are we headed for a similar fate for the proposed economic belt?

    Pakistan is perched on the crossroads of potentially taking off as an emerging power base in the region. The only impediment that can stall Pakistan’s progress to that end is Pakistan’s leadership itself. The infatuation of the Sharif dynasty and their multiple cronies-in-arms to control everything to the exclusion of other stakeholders in causing grievous fissures that would eventually imperil the prospect of benefiting from the large-scale people-centred benefits of the proposed mega undertaking. Pakistan will be the only loser in the bargain

    The greatest challenge remains the creation of a secure and enabling environment within the country through various phases of the project. The army has undertaken this arduous task and a special professional force is to be commissioned that will be made exclusively responsible for the hazardous job. This is all very good, but the challenge is of mammoth proportions with risk factor emanating from various sources, some known while others not so, all of which should be put together on the table for an in-depth evaluation leading to the formulation of a comprehensive, sustainable and multi-pronged plan to secure the necessary conditions for work to proceed unhindered. This would also require the support and involvement of the people which will happen only if they have a feeling of ownership of the project and are motivated to link their personal prosperity with the success of the undertaking. This would require an inclusive rather than an exclusive strategy, keeping in focus the welfare of the entire spectrum of the people, particularly those from the lesser developed provinces who have lingered on the fringes of survival through decades. A vast cross-section of the leaders of various political parties has also recommended creating a broad-based ownership of the economic project.

    The Chinese reiteration of commitment to Pakistan to transform it into becoming an economic hub in South-Asia also marks the advent of a strategic realignment in the region. This is likely to be reflected by Pakistan’s gradual gravitation away from its traditional allies in the West in the direction of China (and eventually Russia). This, in a way, corrects an inherent policy aberration enacted at the moment of its inception that Pakistan has continued suffering from through all the years of its existence. Spurning the overtures from the Soviet Union as a potential partner in the region, the Pakistani establishment had then opted to align with the West, thus damning the prospect of the nascent country to grow among friendly environs.

    Pakistan is perched on the crossroads of potentially taking off as an emerging power base in the region. The only impediment that can stall Pakistan’s progress to that end is Pakistan’s leadership itself. The infatuation of the Sharif dynasty and their multiple cronies-in-arms to control everything to the exclusion of other stakeholders in causing grievous fissures that would eventually imperil the prospect of benefiting from the large-scale people-centred benefits of the proposed mega undertaking. Pakistan will be the only loser in the bargain.

    3 COMMENTS

    1. The Chinese gift to the nation is a God's given opportunity to Sharif family and their cronies to siphon off large chunks into their personal coffers thus denying the people once again to get any benefit. The road map and the field guide to manipulate cheat and chisel away is already visible. Who and how to stop them from doing their dirty work is the big question for Pakistan at this momkent

      • I agree with Abdul Hakim that the pertinent question is who will bell this fat greedy cat?
        However let us salute Raoof Hasan who listed the ground realities so vividly and evaluated the pron and cons of the whole Bonanza to stimulate all conscientious-minded Pakistanis to mobilize public opinion to save this life time chance from going flat in the hands of greedy rulers,immersed in nepotism and blindfolded by stooges of the same ilk. It is the game of do or die.

    2. A very comprehensive and objective evaluation of ground realities by Maroof Hasan and forewarning about areas of concern and needed line of action to save Pakistan from being the only loser in the bargain.

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