The government and the opposition parties are set to clinch a deal on the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) routes as backchannel contacts have yielded positive results.Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal has said that there were no differences, but ‘misunderstandings’ among the parties.
“We know we have changed nothing and all the parties have agreed to the original plan. There is only misunderstanding. We will settle that in the APC on May 28,” he added. Western route originating from Gwadar would pass through Turbat, Panjgur, Nag, Basima, Sorab, Qalat, Quetta, Qilla Saifullah and Zhob and reach Dera Ismail Khan before leading to Islamabad while second (central) route will originate from Gwadar and reach Dera Ismail Khan via Basima, Khuzdar, Sukkur, Rajanpur, Layyah, Muzaffargarh and Bhakkar. The third route will include Gwadar, Basima, Khuzdar, Sukkur, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Multan, Lahore and Faisalabad and then reach Islamabad.
Awami National Party (ANP) and the Balochistan nationalist parties believe the routes have been changed to the benefit of the Punjab. ANP Asfandyar Wali Khan says some people do not want Pakhtun and Baloch people to prosper.“We welcomed the Chinese president’s visit and we support Chinese aid to Pakistan. We are not making this issue controversial, but the federal government is doing so. Give us the details of the agreement between the federal government and Balochistan on Gwadar,” he said at a recent APC in Quetta.
With active consultation of the Chinese authorities, Pakistan has prepared a plan to construct western alignment, central alignment and eastern alignment. The last one has been picked for development in the first phase on China’s demand for security reasons. Federal government is of the view that the western route where Pakhtoon and Baloch belts lie cannot be developed at a faster pace and is riskier in terms of security. However, there is a counter argument that development would address the security concerns. The eastern alignment will pass through Thakot-Mansehra-Islamabad-Lahore-Multan. From Multan, the route will be linked to Hyderabad through Rohri and Dadu. Hyderabad-Karachi portion will be linked through M-9 and Karachi will be linked to Gwadar through N-10 East Bay Express Way along the coastal line.
The work on central alignment will be completed later, while construction on some parts of Gwadar-Dera Ismail Khan via Quetta route has begun. The argument that some parts of the country are being ignored may be true in short-term plan, but in longer term all these cities will be connected to the corridor, he opined. “We are sure the misunderstandings will be removed at the upcoming APC. There are positive signs,” Ahsan Iqbal added.
Disappointed by the low ratings about his one year’s performance as prime minister, and inflow of massive Chinese investment in Pakistan, Narendra Modi has unleashed his hawkish ministers to divert public attention. They are purposely issuing senseless statements to heat up the temperature; erratic defence minster is leading the spree. Instead of retracing the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s rhetoric regarding “neutralizing terrorists through terrorists”, and “…one does not keep 13Lakh-strong army to preach peace”, India is not Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also jumped the fray to reinforce the stupidity of his cabinet colleague. Singh chose to criticize Pakistan’s strong reaction to Parrikar’s remarks and said that the entire world knows who is promoting terrorism. Earlier, reacting to Parrikar’s absurdity, Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had said: “It must be the first time that a minister of an elected government openly advocates use of terrorism in another country on the pretext of preventing terrorism from that country or its non-state actors.”
Earlier in February 2014, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s speech had hit the headlines where he had explained his “offensive defence” strategy as: “if you do one Mumbai, you may lose Balochistan”. In all probability, after hitting dead ends in his Pakistan and China Policies, Modi is managing these through his erratic ministers.
During his visit to China, Modi had expressed concern over the CPEC on account of its passage through AJK. National security adviser Ajit Doval had prepared a detailed note on the issue and he vociferously raised the issue stating that Pakistan could use the infrastructure improvement to give terrorism a further push across the border–a silly logic indeed. Resurgence of a new movement in IHK to raise Pakistani flags has indeed put off Modi. China has vehemently dismissed Indian concerns about CPEC. Now, India is implementing its “B-plan”—subvert the CPEC project. It has assigned this task to RAW. Abundant funds have been allocated to RAW for keeping the route controversy in limelight and snowballing. Strategy is to make the project controversial by projecting as if CPEC would not benefit Balochistan as much as it should.
RAW has a long history of sowing the seeds of separatism in Balochistan pegged around disruption of development projects. It routinely provides logistics, travel facilities and platforms to separatist Baloch elements. Besides RAW, there are other players as well, who are keen to keep Baluchistan on boiling point, and CPEC on stagnations. Moreover, Afghanistan’s Karzai government had allowed RAW to establish its springboards in the form of Indian consulates along Pak-Afghan borders adjoining FATA and Baluchistan. Now signing of MoU on intelligence sharing has put the relationship on a better course. Afghan government may also be requested to curtail the activity of four controversial Indian consulates.
Balochistan’s ethno-sectarian fault lines are quite fragile and hence easily exploitable. With Human Resource Development Index abysmally low, common Baloch, per say, has no independent channels of voice; thus tribal chiefs and other influential persons have monopoly over when and how to convey public sentiment—which is seldom conveyed in its pure content and tenor. These traders of public sentiment speak a different language when in Islamabad, they take another stance in Quetta and exploit the people emotionally when engaging the commoners in their respective constituency.
Going by the history of earlier Balochistan related mega projects, the CPEC is likely to become increasingly contentious. Due to power play amongst the tribal heads, all Balochistan related policies and projects do become controversial, because there is hardly any tradition amongst these leaders’ agreeing on anything unanimously. As a corollary, relationship between the provincial and federal governments perpetually remains on a tenterhook. To survive politically, governors and chief ministers of this province are in a habit of occasionally resorting to rhetoric, through media, against the federal government. Playing to domestic gallery, they would often, speak about unjust resource allocation, exploitations of provincial resources, so on and so forth. Under this domestic political mosaic, arena is conducive for external meddling through interventions—both in cash and kind.
During a recent press conference in Lahore, Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik has stated that he strongly believed that CPEC project should benefit not any foreign multinational but first the people of Gwadar and then those of Balochistan. Here CM has a point, both provincial and federal government need to jointly work out a strategy to achieve this objective in consultation with the Chinese government.
Leader of the Opposition in NA Syed Khursheed Shah has raised a saner voice, by pledging in the National Assembly not to politicize the CPEC issue, he has expressed the view that even after the APC of May 13, confusion still prevails. He has urged the government to call another APC to clear confusion over CPEC project. NA has been informed that government would summon another APC to address the opposition’s concerns.
So far the debate over the CPEC, both within and outside Parliament, has largely been marked by ill-informed rhetoric, compounded by the federal government’s inability to get the story straight at the very outbreak of the rumors. Optimal solution would have been to build the western route of the CPEC first. Uncalled for frenzy could have been avoided had the government taken the concerns about the potential changes in the route seriously at the very outset and addressed the allegations.
Balochistan is a controversy prone province, where anti-federation rhetoric sell well. Some regional and extra regional countries are poised to use this psychosocial pressure point to disrupt the CPEC project. Prevailing conditions in Baluchistan are quite conducive for turning CPEC into an open ended controversy’. It is high time that concerns of Baluchistan are addressed through prudence. For a project as big as the CPEC, which is potentially a game-changing for the economy of all provinces, the nation cannot afford to fall in the trap of spoilers.
The best approach for the federal government would be to make all the information related to CPEC public through print and electronic media as well as websites; and also reach out to the people directly. At the same time, Baloch leadership should understand that due to availability of multiple routes, they do not hold veto power over the CPEC. Making the matter controversial would only cause delay in operationalization of the Western route.
This is first time in the recent years that military commanders have also publicly alleged the Indian hand behind unrest in the country—especially Balochistan. Unlike Indian government’s ‘tradition’ of accusing Pakistan of involvement in every terror attack in India even before investigation starts and without any concrete evidence, Pakistan’s policy has been to avoid naming Indian agencies even when they have incontrovertible evidence. Now, Pakistan has, in all probability, decided to take the RAW matter to the United Nations for sabotaging peace in Pakistan. On instructions of Prime Minister Nawaz, foreign office is working on compilation of a dossier, pertaining to India’s meddling; this shall be handed over to India in due course.
Earlier, evidence about Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan was provided to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he last visited Pakistan in 2013. Evidence against RAW has also been communicated to the Indian government at numerous occasions. Time has come to take the matter to the United Nations under UNSC resolution 1540. Moreover, Pakistan should take-up the matter with friendly as well as not-so-friendly countries which are directly and indirectly meddling in Balochistan, especially those lodging separatist Baloch leaders and allowing then to ferment terrorism in the province.
While federal government is making effort to clarify its position on CPEC, marginalized political leaders known for their controversial stance, alongside some media persons, already appear to have crossed over to the doubters’ side. It looks like that no matter what is done by the federal government, they would continue reciting the assigned line.