What CPEC Can Do for Pakistan’s Internal Security

By: Trisha Ray, Columnist

Photo Credit: CPEC Official Website

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) project, has been compared by Bloomberg to the Marshall Plan in terms of its potential economic legacy.[i] However, the CPEC’s most enduring legacy will be in the realm of security. Its infrastructural and economic advantages, paired with the political importance of ties with China, has made Pakistan particularly malleable to Beijing’s security demands. China has begun urging Pakistan to strengthen operations against militant groups, and Pakistan has acquiesced.[ii] The CPEC therefore serves not only as a strong incentive for Pakistan to improve its internal security, it also means that China’s economic prospects are intertwined with the stability of the region.

Why Pakistan Is Willing to Pay Any Cost for CPEC’s Success

CPEC is an ambitious project that will connect the province of Xinjiang with the port of Gwadar in Pakistan via a network of highways, railways, and pipelines.[iii] This includes a complete reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway, the nation’s ‘jugular vein’ that connects Pakistan with China through Gilgit-Baltistan.[iv] The deal also includes over $33 billion worth of energy infrastructure that would supply Pakistan with much-needed electricity.[v]

The economic and infrastructural benefits are appreciable, but Pakistan also stands to gain leverage in its foreign relations, particularly vis-à-vis the United States. CPEC, along with the overarching OBOR, links China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran.[vi] Security analyst Shaukat Qadir has likened these economic linkages and the military cooperation they are likely to foster to a modern-day Warsaw Pact.[vii] For Pakistan, the CPEC, therefore, serves as a means to hedge against their ‘fair-weather friend’, the United States, especially in light of the latter’s growing closeness with India.[viii]

A final benefit of the CPEC for Pakistan is military equipment and vessels from China. On January 14, 2017, China “handed over” two ships to Pakistan for the security of the CPEC.[ix] Two more ships will be delivered by China at a later date.[x] These acquisitions are timely: India’s navy has been expanding and modernizing rapidly over the past two decades, replacing its Soviet-era vessels, commissioning stealth warships, and acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.[xi] For Pakistan’s navy to be on par with India’s, it needs all the assistance it can get.

CPEC and Internal Stability in Pakistan

China is urging Pakistan to improve internal security, and the infrastructure built to support the CPEC will make this change possible. The Karakoram Highway, mentioned in the previous section, passes through the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). KP is the site of a number of pro-Taliban organizations and has further been inundated by militant spillover from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), all of which exacerbates KP’s governance and development problems.[xii] As a result, poor governance, underdevelopment, and militancy are interlinked, each aggravating the other. Khalid Jan, a financial analyst at the provincial Department of Commerce and Industry, has called CPEC a lifeline.[xiii] China has promised KP a fast track railway, a hydropower project, and roads.[xiv] KP, in response, has taken steps to improve ease of business by passing police reforms that aim to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability.[xv]

Pressure from China can also encourage resolution of outstanding domestic disputes. A recent instance of this is the proposal to elevate the status of Gilgit-Baltistan from self-governing administrative territory to province.[xvi] Gilgit-Baltistan, which connects Pakistan to China, is crucial for passage through the CPEC. The area is staunchly pro-Pakistan but has not been formally recognized because of its possible future role in a Kashmir referendum that could tip the vote in Pakistan’s favor.[xvii] The contested nature of the area, however, makes China uneasy about the fate of its investments. Official recognition of Gilgit-Baltistan as a province would bring stability to the region and greatly reduce China’s economic risks. Thanks to the CPEC the proposal is moving forward and, if passed, would resolve a decades-old provincial dispute.

CPEC is not the magical solution to all of Pakistan’s internal problems. Perhaps the most glaring problem with the way the central government is carrying out the negotiations is the near lack of consultation with all the provinces: allies and opposition alike.[xviii] Smooth implementation of CPEC-linked projects requires the cooperation of all the provinces involved. Nor have the major political parties considered the possible effects of the influx of Chinese soldiers and workers on local populations. Similar influxes of Chinese workers in African nations like Ghana and Algeria have led to social conflict and unemployment.[xix]

However, the opportunities presented in the realms of governance and security as an upshot of CPEC may give Pakistan the boost it needs to move toward greater stability. Pakistan’s need for an economic boost and friendly powers, if not full-fledged allies, gives China a position of authority, a position that it will likely continue to exploit, given Beijing’s impatience with any internal dispute that may come in the way of its investments. However, the government of Pakistan, both central and provincial, would be wise to ensure that the imperatives of the CPEC don’t override the welfare of their people.

[i] Enda Curran, “China’s Marshall Plan”. Bloomberg. August 7, 2016. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-07/china-s-marshall-plan.

[ii] Zia Ur Rehman, “ETIM’s presence in Pakistan and China’s growing pressure”. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre. August 2014. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/183175/381280b226170116bb6f07dc969cb17d.pdf.

[iii] “How will CPEC boost Pakistan economy”. Deloitte. Accessed January 24, 2017. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/pk/Documents/risk/pak-china-eco-corridor-deloittepk-noexp.pdf.

[iv] Shabbir Mir, “Dangerous road: Security challenges loom large on Karakoram Highway”. The Express Tribune. August 25, 2015. http://tribune.com.pk/story/944107/dangerous-roads-security-challenges-loom-large-on-karakoram-highway/.

[v] Deloitte. January 24, 2017.

[vi] Jack Farchy, James Kynge et al, “One belt, one road”, Financial Times. September 14, 2016. https://ig.ft.com/sites/special-reports/one-belt-one-road/.

[vii] Shaukat Qadir, “CPEC: another Marshall Plan?”. The Express Tribune. January 25, 2017. http://tribune.com.pk/story/1306921/cpec-another-marshall-plan/.

[viii] Interview Pervez Musharraf. “Pervez Musharraf on U.S.-Pakistan Relations”. Interview by George Perkovich. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. October 26, 2011. http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/10/26/pervez-musharraf-on-u.s.-pakistan-relations-event-3416.

[ix] Behram Baloch, “China hands over two ships to Pakistan for maritime security”. Dawn. January 16, 2017. http://www.dawn.com/news/1308491.

[x] Aamir Latif, “Two Chinese ships join Pakistan navy for joint security”. Anadolu Ajansi. January 15, 2016. http://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/two-chinese-ships-join-pakistan-navy-for-joint-security/727606.

[xi] “India: Navy Modernization”. Global Firepower. Accessed December 9, 2016 http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/india/in-navy-development.htm.

[xii] S.R. Mehboob, “Governance and Militancy in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province”. CSIS. December 2011. https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/120119_Mehboob_KhyberPakhtunkhwa_Web.pdf.

[xiii] “Appreciation: CPEC termed lifeline project for K-P”. The Express Tribune. January 6, 2017. http://tribune.com.pk/story/1022570/appreciation-cpec-termed-lifeline-project-for-k-p/.

[xiv] “KP to sign string of agreements with China”. The Nation. December 29, 2016. http://nation.com.pk/newspaper-picks/29-Dec-2016/kp-to-sign-string-of-agreements-with-china.

[xv] Nisar Mahmoud, “Assembly passes KP Police Bill 2017”. The News International. January 25, 2017. https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/181627-Assembly-passes-KP-Police-Bill-2017; “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Bill, 2017”. Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan. Accessed January 26, 2017. http://www.pakp.gov.pk/2013/wp-content/plugins/google-document-embedder/load.php?d=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pakp.gov.pk%2F2013%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2FKhyber-Pakhtunkhwa-Police-Bill-2017.pdf.

[xvi] “Pakistan mulls elevating status of Gilgit-Baltistan on Chinese insistence”. Dawn. January 8, 2017. http://www.dawn.com/news/1231394.

[xvii] Ibid.

The referendum is part of a 1948 UN Resolution that calls for a plebiscite to decide the status of Kashmir, following Pakistan’s retreat from the contested territory. http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/47(1948).

[xviii] “China urges Pakistani leaders to resolve issues over CPEC project”. Dawn. January 10, 2016. http://www.dawn.com/news/1231852.

[xix] “Chinese workers impress Africa but results not always good”. Daily Nation. August 21, 2008. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/africa/1066-461718-7th3i3z/index.html;  Afua Hirsch, “Influx of Chinese goldminers sparks tensions in Ghana”. The Guardian. April 23, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/apr/23/influx-chinese-goldminers-tensions-ghana.

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