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IMRAN & CPEC: Tactics to gag media to stem criticism

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Imran Khan

It is clear that CPEC has emerged as Pakistan’s sole saviour and it is desperately clutching at it. The establishment hates comparisons with “East India Company” suggesting one-sided trade and investment and of complains from various regional forces in the country who feel discriminated or kept out of this honey-and-manna project….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Imran Khan

The incoming government of Imran Khan can be expected to come down heavily on public and media criticism and a combination of “national interests” and “national security” may be used to gag the critics of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

This is one of the priority areas and Khan did give some indication of this in his first post-victory speech. And, interestingly, his target was India, that is disliked, and Bollywood, whose films are lapped up by the Pakistanis, much to the chagrin of the establishment.

Few missed the very first reference to India, not to its government or the people, but to the imaging of Khan as “a Bollywood villain” by sections of the Indian media. The targets were Bollywood and media to underscore the lack of genuine sentiment and seriousness in making peace overtures to India.

That Pakistan’s political class and the military that ‘manages’ it dislike s media criticism is well-known. The new element is criticism of foreign critics of the CPEC that, in any case, cannot be controlled.

Hence, Pakistanis are being told that foreign criticism was by “vested interests” that want to put road-blocks in the way of CPEC, to prevent China from helping Pakistan.

These “vested interests” are also ‘jealous’ of CPEC and of China’s growing might. Pakistanis are being told that the “sheer size” of the CPEC appals the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is willing to bail out Pakistan, but would attach serious strings. There is no word, very conveniently, of the strings that China has imposed or is in the process of imposing on this long-term project.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa

It is clear that CPEC has emerged as Pakistan’s sole saviour and it is desperately clutching at it. The establishment hates comparisons with “East India Company” suggesting one-sided trade and investment and of complains from various regional forces in the country who feel discriminated or kept out of this honey-and-manna project.

The Pakistani establishment is unhappy at the foreign critics, especially in the Western media, but gets upset when its own ministers, politicians, parliamentarians who were in the previous National Assembly, the economists and the media borrow points and use similar language to criticize CPEC.

In its editorial, Dawn newspaper has lamented the “angry statement” about media reports at home and abroad questioning the viability of the CPEC.  Far from removing doubts and a sense of alarm among the various stake holders, they have “only fuelled skepticism” and failed to address concerns.

 by . The editorial noted that the statement appeared to be in response to “a few articles that appeared in the international media regarding the terms on which loans have been given by China; the articles have questioned the ability of the Pakistani economy to service these loans.”

For long, even ministers in the Nawaz Sharif government, among them former minister for planning and development Ahsan Iqbal had used similar language to swat away sceptical talk and all the questions raised about CPEC. That was to little avail. But the ministers in the caretaker government to resorted to such indignant pessimistic approach.

The criticism stems mainly from lack of transparency in the way the CPEC is handled, earlier by the Sharif Government and then by the caretaker government.

“The fact is that uncomfortable questions as well as pesky media commentary swirl around the entire CPEC enterprise because of the sheer lack of transparency which characterises the project,” the newspaper observed.

If, when and how the incoming government deals with this remains to be seen. Asad Umar, who is widely expected to be the next finance minister, has said publicly that his government will place all CPEC agreements before parliament. “ indeed, he must be held to this commitment,” the editorial demanded.

It has expressed the hope that once CPEC is discussed and debated in the new parliament, with greater details provided, “much of the irritating analysis and commentary will automatically go away, provided that the information bears out what the government is telling the people and their elected representatives.”

It demanded that the new government must also place before parliament the full text of the Long Term Plan that was finalised with the Chinese side in November 2017.

BOAO, April 10, 2018 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Boao, south China's Hainan Province, April 10, 2018. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi/IANS) by .
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Boao, south China’s Hainan Province, April 10, 2018. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi/IANS)

The Sharif government may have touted CPEC as a ‘game changer’ for the country, but it made a mistake by deliberately concealing important details about the project at the same time.

If CPEC is indeed a ‘game changer’, it is all the more imperative that its terms and conditions, and other details, be known, understood and debated by all stakeholders, including the public, when the next government begins its rule.

When the government tries to advance the project under opaque conditions, feeding a largely cosmetic public relations line to us all, then it naturally arouses suspicion and scepticism.

The criticism stemmed from apprehensions, for one, about the high interest rates China would be charging, secondly, for the uneven and even unfavourable terms and conditions under which the Pakistani traders would have to do business with China under CPEC.

The third and the most important for the domestic politics is that lack of transparency many believer that Punjab – those parts that elected Sharif and those close to him would gain, while other parts, and other provinces would get short-shrift.

Fact of the matter is – and this hurt and belittles Pakistanis – is that the biggest project that they have handled so far in their seven- decade existence is the Indus Water Project. Massive in terms of money and manpower invested, it was very limited in its ambit, in no way comparable to what China is coming in with under the CPEC.