By Dr Shabir Choudhry
As long as CPEC related projects are not completed and dollars are coming in, Pakistani government, Pakistani people and even the religious parties can ignore anti Muslim policies of China. To these people regular flow of dollars, whether from Washington or Beijing, is more important than to speak about anti Muslim policies. Anyone who dares to draw attention of the Pakistani elite towards wrong policies is surely asking for trouble, especially if that person is a nationalist from Jammu and Kashmir.
I know many people won’t like it, but bitter fact is Pakistan sided with Britain and France when they attacked Suez Canal, Egypt, a Muslim country in 1956. Siding with a poor Muslim country, Egypt could not bring dollars, so Pakistan sided with the aggressors because America wanted that. Also this diplomatic blunder was to bring dollars and pounds to Pakistan; and for dollars and pounds the Pakistani elite can sell Pakistani men and women and even sell the national pride.
Similarly when dollars were coming – in, the Pakistani ruling elite helped America and provided all sorts of logistic support, including airports, unchecked entry and exit to Pakistan and bases from where drones could fly that America could easily kill Muslims in Afghanistan and in certain parts of Pakistan.
Ironically, on one hand Pakistan was apparently on the side of those who were fighting terrorism; and on the other hand Pakistani agencies were helping those who were considered as terrorists by America and the world community. Idea was to keep the Afghan pot boiling and bleed America, just like they were bleeding India in Kashmir. If America had won in Afghanistan, and had eliminated all the opposition there was no need for Pakistan’s support and that would have stopped flow of dollars.
Americans may think they are smart, but Pakistani elite out manoeuvred them and it took them many years to understand duplicity of the Pakistani elite. One Pakistani commentator said: Musharaf was apparently playing a double game after 9/11, supporting the United States and the Taliban at the same time.
China’s anti Muslim campaign
‘We demolished nearly 70 percent of mosques in the city’, claimed a Chinese official.
News flashed during last Ramadan that Muslims in China were not allowed to observe Ramadan as it affected their performance at work. To the Chinese officials economic production is more important than religious sentiments of Muslims. Not a single voice was heard from Pakistan against this because Pakistanis know it is not wise to bite the hand that feeds. Religious parties also thought it was prudent to remain quiet.
The latest information coming out of China is more disturbing. According to a report compiled by RFA’s Uyghur Services, ‘The Chinese government has destroyed thousands of mosques over the past three months in the restive Xinjiang region in Beijing’s latest attempt to “rectify” the largely Muslim population there’.
The Chinese government officials refused to reveal how many mosques were demolished, however, RFA’s Uyghur Service claim that around 5,000 mosques were destroyed over the three months of the campaign’. 1
China is doing all this under the “Mosque Rectification” campaign which was launched by the Chinese Central Ethnic-Religious Affairs Department and managed by the local police. A local policeman Eysajan Yaqup said:
“Convincing the people that one of the purposes for demolishing the mosques was for the safety of the worshipers was a bit difficult….Some of them laughed at us when we explained the purpose, and some of them stared at us to show their disagreement.” Eysajan Yaqup said he and other officials ignored the laughter and the stares and “most of the prayers were silenced… “We successfully completed our duty within three months”. 2
Beijing blames Uyghur extremists, who were at one time getting support from Jihadi groups of Pakistan, for a string of violent attacks and clashes in recent years. However, ‘critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009’. 3
China is determined to crack down on all religious activists, and for this purpose they have employed an army of religious affairs officials who strictly impose limits on all forms of religious worship, and ‘crack down on faith-based activities that haven’t submitted to government regulation’. For this purpose they regularly conduct night time police raids on Muslim households in Uyghur, impose strict restrictions on ‘Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including clothing and personal appearance’.
One critic of the Chinese campaign said, “First the authorities jailed all the young men who could oppose such a policy with the strike-hard campaign that started May 2014, then the authorities implemented new rules to punish rumour spreaders and now this campaign to demolish mosques”. 4
Pakistani government and religious parties are tight lipped about what is happening to Muslims in China. However, they all become fully active once they know that Muslims in India are not allowed to eat cow meat, and some people are tortured or killed. They present these incidents as if future of Islamic faith rests on eating cow meat, which is forbidden to eat in India because of Hindu religious reasons.
CPEC, corruption and Pakistan economy
While chairing high level meeting, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, ‘CPEC is a cornerstone of Islamabad’s own quest for regional connectivity and shared prosperity’. The meeting evaluated various policy options related to different challenges Pakistan is facing, especially with regard to foreign relations and internal and external security threats.
Nawaz Sharif elaborated his policy preferences by saying:
“Peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and economically integrated region must be our shared objective and we must strive for realizing this objective. This could be possible only when we demonstrate a commitment to our aspirations of peace, progress and prosperity”. 5
One can commend sentiments of Nawaz Sharif, but does he really think the real rulers of Pakistan will allow him to pursue the above policies. He nearly lost his job for the third time just because he wanted to implement certain policies which were detested by them. Peace and stability in the region doesn’t suit people with vested interests in Pakistan.
Anyhow, when money is coming – in, the money receivers in Pakistan do not care about the interest rate and other attached conditions with the loan. For them it is sufficient that money has come for development projects which will provide opportunities to siphon off some of the money. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, wrote: ‘Development is theoretically compromised by corrupt practices….Both corruption and developments go hand in hand’.6
Happiness and satisfaction is everywhere in the concerned quarters that China will provide extra Rs107.76 billion as soft loan for the three new projects on the Western route which many felt was neglected. Details of these projects are as follows:
- 280-kilometers road from Raikot to Thakot at a cost of Rs 8million;
- 210 kilometres dual carriageway from Yarik to Zhob at cost of Rs 80bn; and
- 110 kilometres road from Basima to Khuzdar Rs19.76 bn.
Apart from those who hope to make some money out of these projects, those who complained that the government was not serious about the Western route should also be happy that their areas were not neglected. Interestingly this takes the cost of CPEC related road projects to Rs1.025 trillion so far. 7
These projects are expected to complete by 2020, but the ‘monthly instalment will start from next month (January 2017). My suggestion would be, first complete the current project, then once this is giving a return go for a new loan’. 8
Atif, a Pakistani critic of the CPEC asks rationale of all this:
‘China is financing roads for his own need, same goes for that 45 billion. What matters is that are we going to get any benefit in form of royalty or just be happy with the thought that we will have 2-3 good roads with Chinese trucks. I was wondering have we evaluated that environment affect due to increase of traffic. I would be more happy if china finance tree plantation as well on massive scale.’ 9
Khurram Hussain is an investigative journalist who has pointed out numerous hidden costs in the CPEC which the authorities deliberately want to ignore. Providing security to the CPEC related activities will not be an easy task; and its costs could very easily be in ‘excess of Rs100 billion per year’. Apart from that CPEC related loans payment per annum is ‘projected to be more than $3.5bn’.10
Pakistan government’s debt servicing liability for the period July 2016 to September 2016 was Rs 413 billion; and net revenue receipt for the same period was Rs 369 billion. 11
So one can see Pakistan doesn’t have sufficient income even to pay back the existing loans. One wonders how Pakistan will repay when the CPEC related loan instalments also begin. People need to think failure to pay the loan will result in what? What Pakistan will give to China to settle this huge loan?
This disparity in income and debt servicing indicate very serious questions. Does it mean Pakistan will have to borrow money for defence related expenses? Does it mean they will have to ‘borrow to cover pensions – both civil and military? The federal government must borrow to cover the expenses of running the civil government. The federal government must borrow to cover public order and safety affairs. The federal government must borrow to cover environment protection. The federal government must borrow to cover health affairs. The federal government must borrow to cover the expenses on ‘culture and religion’. The federal government must borrow to cover all allocations for social protection’. 12
Pakistan’s debt liabilities were Rs16 trillion in June 2013; and now in the fourth quarter of 2016 this stands at Rs 22 trillion. In the last three years the government has taken out additional loan of $61 billion. What that means is every person in Pakistan has debt of Rs 115,000. This debt per capita was Rs 80,000 in 2013. At the end of 2016, Pakistan’s debt liabilities were Rs 22.4 trillion; and it was Rs 19.8 trillion in 2015. People have a right to know where these billions of money are being spent. 13
Around 50% of Pakistan revenue goes to debt servicing, which stands at Rs1.36 trillion. According to economist Farrukh Saleem, if debt continues ‘to grow at the current rate, Pakistan would be indebted to the tune of Rs 28 trillion or an equivalent of $280 billion’. He further says, ‘we are in a debt-trap whereby we must borrow more just to pay off the debt that falls due. We are also in a growth-trap whereby the GDP is unable to grow beyond four or five percent a year’. 14
This is the situation of Pakistan’s economy and debt servicing without the loans of the CPEC related projects. Farrukh Saleem asserts that ‘We are now preparing to add an additional $46 billion worth of debt and liabilities in the form of projects under the CPEC. For Pakistan, this rate of debt accumulation is not sustainable…Continuing on the current path would mean enabling our debtors to control every aspect of Pakistani life. Remember, “Creditors have better memories than debtors”. 15
Pakistani exports are going down, and when CPEC becomes operational the Chinese goods will flood the Pakistani markets which will seriously hit the Pakistani products. Pakistani exports for the period July 2016 to November 2016 were $8.7 billion; and imports for the same period were $17.3 billion. One can see Pakistan’s trade deficit for these months is a colossal $8.6 billion.
The above facts do not paint a rosy picture of Pakistan’s economy, which must be strong enough to meet challenges of the CPEC projects, and inherent responsibilities. Many thinking Pakistanis are seriously worried about lack of concern of the authorities on deteriorating economy of Pakistan.
It is bitter fact that the Pakistani establishment can do anything to protect and advance their interests or interests of their class; and there is a long history to support this view. In the past, policies were enacted by keeping pleasure or displeasure of Washington in mind. Over the past decades pleasure of Saudi Arabia and China gets great importance.
In 1963 Pakistan gifted around 2,000 Sq miles of Jammu and Kashmir territory from Gilgit Baltistan to China to win friendship of China and to strengthen bilateral relationship.
After the 1965 war, both India and Pakistan returned to pre war positions on the international border and on the Cease Fire Line. However, this position changed after the 1971 war. In 1972 – Simla Agreement, in order to get back around 5,000 sq miles of the Pakistani territory which India occupied in the war; and to get back 90,000 Prisoners of War, Pakistan gave away parts of Jammu and Kashmir territory to India, hence change from Cease Fire Line to Line of Control.
As a thinking citizen of Jammu and Kashmir State who wants united and independent Jammu and Kashmir with secular and democratic system, I am seriously concerned what will happen if Pakistan fails to pay back CPEC loans. What will Pakistan do when the Pakistani economy reaches a point where some tough decisions had to be taken in the ‘national interest’?
I wonder what Pakistan will sacrifice this time to save ‘national interest’ and national pride. In order to please China or, at least, to satisfy them, are they going to give away some more territory of Jammu and Kashmir; or they will handover Gwadar to them.
Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org