There are high hopes in Pakistan from the multi-billion dollar Chinese financed project popularly known as CPEC. It will strengthen already close bonds between Pakistan and China. For Pakistan, it will mean a massively overhauled communication infrastructure, complete with new roads and railway lines, gas pipelines and optic fibre link. It will create approximately 700,000 new jobs and will add up to 2.5 per cent to Pakistan’s annual growth rate. China also has high stakes in CPEC. It is designed to provide them quicker access to markets in Europe, Central Asia and South Asia. China is some 13,000 km from Arabian Gulf with a shipping time of about 45 days. CPEC will shrink this distance to merely 2,500 km – an 80 per cent reduction. The shipping time will reduce to 10 days i.e. a 78 per cent reduction. CPEC is a megaproject. Its spread and swathe of the enterprise can be gauged from the fact that it covers a number of existing road and rail networks including the Karakoram. It is visualized that within the framework of CPEC the current communication infrastructure will be improved and upgraded and new rail and road segments built, where needed. The Corridor is not being built in isolation. It is part of the overarching Chinese plan known as One Belt One Road or OBOR. This ambitious plan is a mesh of roads and maritime routes connecting Asia with Europe, reducing distances and improving connectivity. The Corridor will run nearly 3000 km across the length of the country on multiple axes. A number of infrastructure and energy-related projects are planned within the framework of CPEC. From the Chinese point of view it will provide them direct access to the Indian Ocean.
Threats to CPEC
Projects of national importance always have challenges to surmount. CPEC is no exception. It is confronted with a number of grave external and internal threats. External threats are from countries and agencies inimical to the national interests of Pakistan. Combined with internal threats, these make an explosive mix. There is a general sense that these threats have to be addressed jointly by Pakistan and China. Pakistan wants to broaden cooperation with China on matters related to security and intelligence sharing. It also wants data on the Chinese workers to provide them better protection. The security of the Chinese working in Pakistan is a matter of top concern for Pakistan. Projects of national importance have been jettisoned due to internal differences. A case in point has been the Kalabagh Dam. This proposed hydroelectric dam on the Indus River at Kalabagh in the Mianwali District of Punjab Province has the design capacity to produce 3,600 megawatts of electricity. Pakistan is short of between 5,000 to 7,000 MW of electricity. In the absence of a major electricity producing venture, this shortage is likely to snowball to around 20,000 MW within a span of 10 years. The Kalabagh project was expected to tide over the energy woes of Pakistan but had to be shelved because of lack of consensus among the provinces. The Kalabagh Dam issue still arouses passions. Some people are strong advocates of the project and others who consider this a divisive subject and not worth pushing. It is strongly felt among responsible circles that the hype about the Western route being ignored is a ploy by those who are bent on stopping the project from succeeding. Worries have been heightened due covert activities by hostile agencies. The infamous case of Kulbhushan Jadhav has set the warning bells ringing. Jadhav, an Indian naval commander, was apprehended for spying inside Baluchistan. One of his principal tasks was to obtain information about CPEC in order to sabotage it. The Interior Ministry of Pakistan claims that the operatives of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies – the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and the National Department of Security (NDS) are actively operating in southern Punjab with a view to disrupting projects affiliated with CPEC.
Pakistan has not been alone in highlighting the Indian activities in Balochistan. None other than the former US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has been openly blamed India for fomenting trouble in Balochistan from across Pakistan’s western border. Speaking on the subject of Afghanistan at the Cameron University in Oklahoma in 2011 he stressed that India has been using Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. Lately senior Indian leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parikar, Interior Minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval have all admitted Indian involvement in Balochistan through aggressive public statements. This combative attitude has only made the matters worse.
Pakistan Army and CPEC
There is no doubt that everyone in Pakistan wants to see CPEC succeeding. This national desire is bolstered by Pakistan Army’s commitment towards making CPEC a reality. The successive Army Chiefs (General Raheel Sharif and now General Qamar Javed Bajwa) have declared CPEC a national project and on a number of occasions assured the nation that the Army will see to it that the project is completed as per plans.
It is quite evident from the statements emerging from the Army Chief(s) that first and foremost objective of Pak Army is that work on the Corridor is completed as per schedule without any delay. The Army understands that any procrastination in this project of national importance would only add to the cost and impede Pakistan’s path to economic recovery. It will also encourage the divisive elements to increase their opposition against the project. For better management of the project, Army wants to be a part of CPEC. In this context a former two star general from the Corps of Engineers has been placed in the Ministry of Planning to coordinate the affairs of CPEC. Seized by a sense of urgency, the Army has placed all its resources for the construction and protection of the Corridor at the disposal of the nation. The Frontier Works Organization (FWO) has been pressed into action to build new segments of roads in Balochistan. In February this year, the Army chief personally drove the prime minister to show him the Gwadar-Hoshab section of the road built by Army Engineers.
The Army considers physical protection of the construction work as important. Two security divisions have been raised for the purpose. The strength of one division is 12,000 men. It comprises nine army battalions and six wings of paramilitary forces drawn from the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Rangers. Funds are being allocated for the security forces. The Government was quick in granting the approval. This Division will provide security to the Chinese engineers, project directors, experts and workers employed on various Chinese funded projects across Pakistan. Nearly three and a half thousand Chinese nationals are working on 118 projects, including the CPEC, in Sindh and Balochistan alone. These Chinese workers have been targeted in order to create a scare among them. A 2,000-strong special security cell has been constituted from within the Sindh police for their protection. The government is thinking of expanding this force. The Karakoram Security Force (KSF) is entrusted for the protection of the traffic on KKH. In particular they are charged with providing security to Chinese workers engaged in extending the width of the KKH. In order to regularize this Force, it has been merged with the local police. In addition there are paramilitary forces such as the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Scouts. The GB Scouts has the expressed mission of not only protecting the northern borders of Pakistan but also protecting the communication centres and routes, and supporting the Civil Administration in the maintenance of law and order.