ChiPak: A Pre­car­i­ous Part­ner­ship


Pak­istan and China char­ac­terise their re­la­tions as higher than moun­tains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eye­sight and sweeter than honey. Dur­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s two-day visit to Pak­istan in April 2015, Chi­nese as­sis­tance of $45.6 bil­lion was pledged for en­ergy and in­fra­struc­ture projects, in­clud­ing $622 mil­lion for ex­pan­sion of the Gwadar port, the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) link­ing Xin­jiang with Gwadar be­ing the cen­tre­piece. Re­cent re­ports from Pak­istan put the planned in­vest­ment at over $60 bil­lion. The fe­cun­dity of the re­la­tion­ship in gen­er­at­ing ep­i­thets and grandil­o­quent state­ments is un­matched, but the re­al­ity on the ground is a mixed bag.

Eco­nomic and com­mer­cial in­ter­ac­tion between the two coun­tries is not a patch on the hype sur­round­ing their re­la­tion­ship. Pak­istan’s trade with China, its largest trad­ing part­ner, has ranged between $12-15 bil­lion an­nu­ally in re­cent years, largely in China’s favour. Pak­istani busi­ness­men de­scribe the China-Pak­istan Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA), op­er­a­tionalised in 2007, as a dis­as­ter for their in­dus­try. A study con­ducted by the coun­try’s top busi­ness body, the Pak­istan Busi­ness Coun­cil, in 2013 con­cluded that postFTA, China’s share in to­tal Pak ex­ports re­mained be­low 10 per cent, whereas China be­came the sec­ond largest source of im­ports, ac­count­ing for a lit­tle over 25 per cent ex­clud­ing pe­tro­leum prod­ucts. It noted that China made no Pak­istan-spe­cific tar­iff re­duc­tions. Con­sen­sus has eluded the two sides for Phase II of the FTA that was to com­mence from Jan­uary 1, 2014, en­tail­ing re­moval of tar­iff on 90 per cent lines.

In his book, The China-Pak­istan Axis, An­drew Small puts in­for­mal es­ti­mates by Pak­istani ex­perts of the Chi­nese in­vest­ment at $5-7 bil­lion in 2013. A very low per­cent­age of pledged Chi­nese as­sis­tance, es­sen­tially as loans, has flowed into the coun­try in the past be­cause of the poor ab­sorp­tion ca­pac­ity of the econ­omy and the ap­palling se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

In a re­gion in dire need of con­nec­tiv­ity, CPEC would have been a wel­come de­vel­op­ment but for its pass­ing through the In­dian ter­ri­tory un­der il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of Pak­istan, and the geopolitics of the re­gion. To­gether with In­dia, Pak­istan can be­come a bridge link­ing cen­tral/west Asia and be­yond on one side to South­east Asia and be­yond on the other. But Pak­istan’s ar­dour for CPEC is matched by its ap­a­thy to­wards the east-west route. In a clas­sic case of cut­ting its nose to spite its face, the coun­try con­tin­ues to op­pose the lu­cra­tive east-west tran­sit across its ter­ri­tory as well as in­tra-re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity within SAARC.

The Karako­ram high­way built over the 1960s and ’70s con­tained the seeds of CPEC. Con­struc­tion of the first phase of the Gwadar port, com­pleted in 2006 with Chi­nese as­sis­tance, was a sig­nif­i­cant step. How­ever, China chose not to take over its op­er­a­tions, ap­par­ently de­terred by the fast de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion. In­stead, a 40-year op­er­a­tions con­tract was given to the Port of Sin­ga­pore Au­thor­ity (PSA). The port failed to take off be­cause of its poor con­nec­tiv­ity to the rest of the coun­try, the re­luc­tance of the Pak­istan navy to hand over the ad­join­ing land to PSA for ex­pan­sion and, again, the ter­ri­ble se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion. In Fe­bru­ary 2013, Pak­istan an­nounced trans­fer of op­er­a­tions to the China Over­seas Port Hold­ing Com­pany Lim­ited. So what made the Chi­nese change their mind de­spite the con­tin­u­ing per­ilous se­cu­rity sce­nario? The eco­nomic ra­tio­nale for the cor­ri­dor is clearly overblown. With oil and gas pipe­lines run­ning to China through Cen­tral Asia, a pipe­line across the 15,000 feet Khun­jerab Pass would make lit­tle sense. While CPEC may make some eco­nomic sense when the Chi­nese plans to de­velop their western re­gion fruc­tify, the con­sid­er­a­tions un­der­ly­ing it are largely strate­gic, with the cor­ri­dor serv­ing as one of the routes for China to by­pass the choke-point at the Strait of Malacca. Gwadar could also even­tu­ally serve as a naval fa­cil­ity for the Chi­nese, lit­er­ally at the mouth of the Per­sian Gulf and as a naval base for the Pak­ista­nis, far­ther from the In­dian coast than Karachi.

The CPEC pas­sage through Pak­istan will not be smooth. Be­sides the se­cu­rity threats, sus­pi­cions per­sist among smaller prov­inces that the eastern leg of CPEC via Pak­istan’s Pun­jab is be­ing given greater im­por­tance than the western leg pass­ing through Khy­ber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochis­tan. An­other worry is the im­pact of the cor­ri­dor on the econ­omy in the medium- to long-term. Speak­ing on CPEC at the Pak­istan Busi­ness and Eco­nomic Sum­mit in Karachi in Oc­to­ber 2016, Eh­san Ali Ma­lik, CEO of the Pak­istan Busi­ness Coun­cil, said, “The gift horse we are

Pak­istani busi­ness­men de­scribe the China-Pak FTA, op­er­a­tionalised in 2007, as a dis­as­ter for their in­dus­try

re­luc­tant to look in the mouth should not turn out to be a Tro­jan horse.” He ex­pressed con­cern about the im­pact of the free trad­ing zones to be cre­ated along the cor­ri­dor on the in­dus­trial clus­ter at Karachi and won­dered whether suf­fi­cient for­eign ex­change would be gen­er­ated to ser­vice the CPEC debt. In­deed, the chair­man of the Se­nate stand­ing com­mit­tee on plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment called for complete clar­ity to pro­tect the coun­try’s in­ter­ests. “China is our brother,” he said, “but busi­ness is busi­ness.”

China has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the build­ing of Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary in­dus­trial com­plex and emerged as its largest arms sup­plier. Pak­istan’s mis­sile pro­gramme has ben­e­fit­ted from out­right sup­ply of the M-11 and M-9 Chi­nese mis­siles in the 1990s and as­sis­tance in de­vel­op­ing other de­liv­ery sys­tems. It is well known that Pak­istan ac­quired nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity much be­fore the May 1998 tests be­cause of tech­no­log­i­cal ex­changes with China, in­clud­ing the de­sign of a Chi­nese weapon tested in the 1960s. Af­ter the Chashma I and II re­ac­tors, cov­ered by the ‘grand­fa­ther clause’ at the time of China’s en­try into the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) in 2004, China has con­tracted con­struc­tion of four more re­ac­tors—two each at Chashma and near Karachi.

The China-Pak­istan nexus is thus much wider than the two is­sues that have grabbed our at­ten­tion of late: China’s op­po­si­tion to In­dia’s en­try into the NSG and the in­clu­sion of Jaish-e-Mo­hammed chief, Ma­sood Azhar, in the list of sanc­tioned in­di­vid­u­als un­der UNSC res­o­lu­tion 1267.

The all-weather friend­ship has, how­ever, failed to ad­dress China’s con­cerns on ter­ror­ism and re­li­gious ex­trem­ism flow­ing from Pak­istan to their restive prov­ince, Xin­jiang. Uighur mil­i­tants of the East Turk­istan Is­lamic Move­ment have found sanc­tu­ary in Pak­istan’s un­ruly north­west over the years. At­tacks have been mounted against Chi­nese na­tion­als in Pak­istan. China has shown no in­cli­na­tion to re­place the United States as provider of out­right grants and bud­getary sup­port to Pak­istan. Their in­vest­ments have been in the form of cred­its, at best long-term cred­its on easy terms.

The Chi­nese are pur­su­ing two con­tra­dic­tory aims in Pak­istan: seek­ing to use it as a strate­gic part­ner and tran­sit route, and ex­ploit­ing its In­dia ob­ses­sion to con­tain the lat­ter. How­ever, they should draw a les­son from the ex­pe­ri­ence of Pak­istan’s first pa­tron, the United States. A mil­i­tar­ily propped up Pak­istan does not nec­es­sar­ily fol­low the agenda of its pa­tron and re­gards the sup­port as a li­cence to con­tinue its ad­ven­tur­ism against In­dia with­out ob­serv­ing any red lines that the pa­tron may draw. Pak­istan’s pol­icy of con­fronting In­dia has re­sulted in its liv­ing peren­ni­ally be­yond its means, the pri­macy of its army, a civil-mil­i­tary im­bal­ance, the desta­bil­is­ing pol­icy of seek­ing strate­gic depth in Afghanistan and nur­tur­ing of groups such as the Lashkare-Taiba, which spread re­li­gious ex­trem­ism in Pak­istan. Con­se­quently, Pak­istan’s ad­ver­sar­ial pos­ture to­wards In­dia con­tains the seeds of its in­sta­bil­ity. A pa­tron seek­ing to en­cour­age this pos­ture to con­tain In­dia will in­evitably find it­self sad­dled with an un­sta­ble ally that can­not serve ei­ther as a re­li­able strate­gic part­ner or a safe tran­sit route.

We can ig­nore the grow­ing China-Pak­istan nexus at our own peril. How­ever, a long-term pol­icy must also not lose sight of the big pic­ture, in­clud­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of this part­ner­ship. If the Chi­nese per­sist in us­ing Pak­istan to con­tain In­dia, sooner rather than later, they may find it to be more pre­car­i­ous than tread­ing on thin ice.



ROAD Trucks trans­port­ing Chi­nese work­ers pass through a glossy high­way in north­ern Pak­istan’s Go­jal Val­ley

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.