Is CPEC Marshall Plan of South Asia?

Prime Minister Theresa May meets Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at No 10 Downing Street

Some Pakistani officials refer CPEC as a Marshall Plan. In my opinion, this is an insult to the Marshall Plan….writes Dr Shabir Choudhry

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with top officers at a defence exhibition (File)

Some Pakistani officials refer CPEC as a Marshall Plan. In my opinion, this is an insult to the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan, among other things wanted to empower people. It aimed to strengthen democracies and alleviate poverty and misery.

It wanted to enrich people and educate people by establishing new infrastructure, and by establishing new schools, colleges and universities; and investing in new industries and new technology. American Secretary of State, George Marshall said:

‘Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the USA. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist’.

United States gave over $12 billion (approximately $120 billion in current dollar value as of June 2016) in economic support to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 8, 1948. Much of this aid was designed to restore infrastructure, build factories and help refugees with food and shelter.

Prime Minister Theresa May meets Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at No 10 Downing Street

The second World War virtually destroyed many European countries with very serious shortage of housing and food. The food production was about two third of the pre – war level in 1946-48; and even where there was food it could not be transported quickly to places where it was urgently needed because of destroyed infrastructure. In the Western Europe, approximately 5,000,000 houses were destroyed and around 12,000,000 refugees were present. Very harsh winter also did not help the situation as it destroyed most of the wheat crop the following year. This resulted in majority of Europeans to rely on a 1,500 calorie per day diet.

By 1952, as the funding ended, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels; for all Marshall Plan recipients, output in 1951 was at least 35% higher than in 1938. As a result of good planning, investment, sincerity and hard work the Western Europe which was destroyed by the war, is where we see it today.

The Western Europe had an educated, qualified and dedicated workforce to restore the infrastructure, this is something which is lacking in Pakistan. The Pakistani society, unfortunately is corrupt to the core; and nothing moves without the greasing the wheels of corruption. Officials employed to help and serve the society will not move a file until they are given a lump sum under the table.

Compared to the European countries Pakistan has no agenda of helping refugees or restoring infrastructure. Restoring means structure already existed. The Europeans countries had know – how and technical ability to restore what was destroyed in the war. Pakistan, on the other hand, wants to build a new infrastructure and heavily relies on financial and technical support of China.

CPEC was not initiated because the recipient, Pakistan was recovering from a war. Pakistan is there because of rampant corruption, military rules, extremism, terrorism and very bad governance. There was a democratic system in America, so they wanted to ensure that with help of their funds economic and political stability is established where civil society and democratic institutions can flourish.

China, on the other hand has no democracy and does not care about human rights abuses and complaints of others. In other words, China is not interested in institution building or democratic values or fundamental human rights. Result of this approach is clear lack of consultation and transparency in all matters associated with the CPEC Projects. There is denial of fundamental rights. There is exploitation of natural resources of Gilgit Baltistan and Balochistan. In case of Gilgit Baltistan, it is not a Pakistani territory. Even Baloch rebels claim they are also occupied and Pakistan is exploiting their resources.

Prime Miniusgter Nawaz Sharif with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang

The elite that controls the CPEC or expect to benefit from this mega project, and rightly or wrongly believe that the CPEC will change lives and standards of people of Pakistan; and especially that of people of Gwadar and Balochistan. They think the CPEC will alleviate poverty and help the government to eradicate extremism, terrorism and insurgency. They believe Pakistan can soon be an ‘Asian tiger’.

To make this mega project successful, and to transform Pakistan as an Asian tiger, they need immaculate planning and corruption free implementation, which is nearly impossible to get in present day Pakistan. The infrastructure they have in Gwadar, and in most of Balochistan is far from standards required in modern cities in the 21st century. One can say it is primitive. Interestingly, electricity in Gwadar is supplied by Iran, and people have to go to Karachi to get a reasonable medical treatment.1

The people of Gwadar do not have good schools, colleges, universities and technical institutes to equip people with necessary skills to administer different projects and run the city effectively. With the prevailing situation one has a right to ask what exactly is being built in Gwadar? And more appropriately, how can people concentrate on other issues when they don’t have basic facilities like clean water and basic medical treatment.

What Pakistani leaders say about Gwadar and the promises they make to the local people and people of Balochistan is one thing; but the bitter reality is totally different. Shezad Baloch, in his article titled: ‘CPEC promises the moon but Gwadar just wants water’ wrote:  ‘It is easy to sit in a mansion in Islamabad, making empty promises. It is even easier to dismiss expressions of genuine concern and criticism as an international conspiracy. The people of Gwadar are in urgent need of water. It is their constitutional right and the government is failing to provide it. Transforming Gwadar into a Pakistani Dubai, New York, or Shanghai can wait. Drinking water for the people of Gwadar cannot.’

He further writes: ‘It is hard to imagine going without clean drinking water for 15 to 20 days consecutively, but for the citizens of Gwadar, it is a fact of life. Residents of this coastal city get clean drinking water for just one hour, every two to three weeks. “If you come to Gwadar, bring clean drinking water. These days it’s the most valuable gift you can give,” a friend from Gwadar messaged recently’. 3

Pakistani government and their foot soldiers claim CPEC is a game changer. May be the CPEC is a game changer, but question is in whose favour will this game change? Many Pakistani economists have serious doubts about the CPEC projects and what they can offer to people of Pakistan. We can all agree that the CPEC has potential to make some more billionaires in China and in Pakistan. It can also help China to advance its economic and strategic agenda.

Questions people should ask about CPEC

However, I have the following questions and see if the CPEC satisfies them, and which will enable readers to comprehend if this mega project will empower Pakistan, its society; and if it is anywhere near to the Marshall Plan:

1. People of Balochistan have very serious apprehensions about the CPEC. They feel it is imperial in design and is intended to utilize China’s military and economic might to further fortify slavery of Balochistan; and help Pakistan to loot and plunder natural resources of Balochistan.

There are many statements and interviews of rebel Balochi leaders to support the above view point; and the insurgency in Balochistan and movement of Balochi Diaspora also supports this. People of other Pakistani provinces and Gilgit Baltistan also have similar complaints about the CPEC. If I start giving details of all then the article will become too long.

2. According to many Pakistani economists and business people, Pakistani products will not be able to complete with the Chinese products; and that will seriously hurt the Pakistani industries and exports. Already there is a big trade deficit in trade; and poor infrastructure and inadequate facilities will increase this gap further.

3. Pakistan is unequal partner in the CPEC and decisions will go in favour of the stronger partner, China. This will result in Pakistan losing economically, strategically and will also lose its sovereignty in many spheres of governance.

4. People need to see if the CPEC will empower women and other disadvantaged people in the Pakistani society?

5. Will the CPEC promote peace and stability in the region? Or it will invite other competing powers to intervene in affairs of the region?

6. Will the CPEC create more space for civil society; or it will enable Pakistan to      curb more fundamental rights and shrink already very little space?

7. Will the CPEC help to promote democratic and secular ideals; or those who promote them will be hunted and punished?

8. Will the CPEC empower anti – democratic forces and help to militarise the society; or it will empower the human rights activists to stand up and fight their corner.

It must be remembered that even the elected government with a big mandate is losing power and losing ground to non- state actors and unelected forces; and that vacuum is filled by anti – democratic forces. Militarisation of the society is taking place systematically; and evidence of that is even in a cricket match in Lahore, half an hour was spent in promoting army.

9. Will CPEC a promote vibrant and resilient society? Or it will strengthen undemocratic forces?

It must be noted that a vibrant and resilient civil society does not suite governments of China and Pakistan. So it will be foolish to expect from them to empower civil society.

10. Will CPEC promote transparency and accountability? Evidence so far available does not support this. Anyone who asks about the CPEC is given a shut-up call. Or they are accused of being an agent of India or some other perceived enemy country.

In my considered opinion, nexus between army and religious extremists is going to become stronger. Space for human rights activists and civil society will further shrink. Dissent will be brutally crushed, especially in Balochistan and in Gilgit Baltistan. Export of extremism and terrorism will continue to be unofficial policy of the state policy; and ideology of hatred and intolerance will be promoted under the cover of religion.

(Dr Shabir Choudhry  is a London-based political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir)

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