The Sino-Indian War of 1962 completely transformed the strategic landscape of the South Asian region. The Islamic Republic and the atheist Chinese revolutionaries became friends forever. After the war with India, the two countries started viewing New Delhi as a common enemy. This drew Beijing and Islamabad closer. Pakistan played a crucial role in ending Chinese international isolation in the 1970s. Some analysts believe that it was Pakistan that helped arrange the visit of American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the communist country that later prompted the US to recognize the socialist government. During the time of Z.A.Bhutto such relations got further warm.
During the 1980s, Pakistan threw blanket support behind the West but the Pressler and Brown Amendments by American Administration and sanctions after the 1998 nuclear detonations seemed to have convinced the Pakistan ruling elite that Washington is not predictable and its fickle policy did not augur well for the Islamic Republic. It was this realization that prompted Pakistan to draw much closer to Beijing that culminated in the Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is the part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The $960 billion project is being described as the biggest business initiative in recent world’s history. It is likely to cover over sixty states and more than 1.5 billion of the world population. CPEC is the jewel of this initiative. Beijing is likely to pump around $62 billion into this project. The work on CPEC triggered euphoria in the country. Early harvest projects more or less have been completed in time. Some of the projects witnessed tremendous speed and it seemed that the dream of CPEC would turn into a reality very soon.
India, America and a number of other countries are wary of this giant project. New Delhi has even raised questions about the project’s legality. There seems to be a tremendous pressure on Pakistan to give up this project altogether. The dire economic situation has forced Pakistan to seek financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Islamabad has also approached the International Monitory Fund and the World Bank for financial assistance. These institutions draw their funding from the US and Western countries. They seem to be exerting pressure on Islamabad to give up this project altogether. However, Pakistan’s incumbent government has fiercely resisted such moves. America has publicly criticised the project in recent weeks.
The assistance from the IMF and other financial institutions is likely to flow for a few years while our friendship with China is all weathering. It is not ephemeral in nature. China also came up with a couple of billion dollars to help us out but given the global gloomy economic scenario and the recent corona-virus outbreak it cannot extend blanket financial support to Pakistan. Trump’s trade war with China is hurting the second largest economy of the world while trade rivalry with Canada and other Western countries are also affecting the Chinese economy adversely. Therefore, Pakistan needs to understand these compulsions of China.
Beijing needs to understand that the sword of FATF is hanging over Pakistan’s head. New Delhi is trying to get Pakistan black-listed, a move that China frustrated many times. Islamabad understands that Beijing cannot come to its rescue every time at international forums and that it has already taken a number of steps to address the concerns of international community regarding terror funding and the activities of defunct sectarian and jihadi outfits. Therefore, the two countries have to do some brain-storming to save this crucial project from getting extremely slow.
Perhaps Pakistani parliamentarians could sacrifice their salaries and perks and privileges for five years. If all the law makers of the federal parliament, four provinces, AJK and GB make this sacrifice, we can save around Rs20 billion, which could be added to CPEC projects. China has announced to enhance imports from Pakistan. This is an excellent opportunity for Pakistani businesses which they must avail by improving their capacity and quality. Our agriculture goods and other sectors of economy could benefit if Beijing grants preferential treatment to Pakistani businessmen. In addition to that the socialist country could also shift some of the industries. Such shifting will boost employment opportunities which will raise public support for CPEC besides foiling the nefarious propaganda that CPEC projects have caused the flooding of Chinese goods into Pakistani markets.
Free education of engineering and medical sciences at Chinese universities could also benefit Pakistan economy because Pakistan middle class, especially professionals like doctors, engineers and business graduates, tend to migrate to advanced countries for better prospects. One may argue it causes brain drain but at the same time it will help Pakistan get crucial remittances that could be instrumental in stabilizing the economy. Pakistan should develop tourism side. The Chinese are among the top nations visiting other countries every year. Pakistan houses a number of historical sites. In addition to that picturesque valleys could also attract the tourists from the second largest economy. Earning from this and a number of other sources could be diverted to CPEC projects which will help Pakistan in the long run.
Pakistan could also help China excel in sports. We have expertise in cricket and squash. The PSL is being watched by millions of people. It is also attracting the attention of business community and investors. This could be a great opportunity for Chinese businessmen as well. They can fund cricket teams on the pattern of English Leagues. This will help China to carve out a place in world sports while it will benefit Pakistan’s manpower and economy. A better economic situation will enable Pakistan to sustain any pressure from the western capitals over CPEC. So, slowdown on CPEC projects should not affect our long terms interests and we should come up with a plan to expedite these projects and reap their benefits.
(The author is a researcher and freelance journalist based in Karachi)