Better formal education and clearer thinking through the aegis of opinion builders, intellectuals and the media must be incorporated in accordance with a well-charted course of actio
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s April 2015 visit to Pakistan elevated Sino-Pak ties from ‘all-weather friendship’ to ‘all-weather strategic cooperative partnership to last from generation to generation’. This major progression was manifested in the signing of multi-billion dollars’ development projects in Pakistan including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during the presidential visit. The government of Pakistan, while dispelling apprehensions regarding the priority of communication networks in the mega project, has been vociferously enumerating the merits of the CPEC.
The bigger questions are: is Pakistan ready to undertake this project? What role will Pakistan play in this all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with China? Will it be content to be a Hsiao-Pa, which connotes Pakistan’s junior or lower position vis-à-vis China’s or will the people of Pakistan endeavour to seek more balanced ties with China?
The fact is that the upwardly mobile Chinese, appreciating the importance of Pakistan’s strategic location, have upgraded their level of ties with Pakistan but would prefer to see their strategic partner getting its act together to meet the challenges ahead. Pakistan needs to carry out its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to match China’s expectations from its ties with ‘iron Pak’, a term coined to reflect the strength of these bi-lateral relations. ?President Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream of steering his nation to unsurpassed levels of achievement but taking his neighbours along to share the dividends, includes the One Belt, One Road Project of which the CPEC is but one component. In its giant leap towards progress, China has taken bold decisions for the capacity building of its human resources to achieve optimum utilisation but has also cracked down heavily on corruption.
President Xi’s onslaught to purge Chinese society of graft and sleaze does not demur from placing even senior officials into the dock and meting out the severest punishments if found guilty. If Pakistan is keen to match China in its road to progress, it will have to take a leaf out of China’s book in dealing with corruption with an iron hand. Accountability must be across the board, irrespective of political affiliations and referent power.
The government of Pakistan is projecting the era of prosperity that will follow the fruition of the CPEC but are we ready to reap the rich harvest? It would be prudent to ask the nation to gird its loins to participate wholeheartedly in the project through the capacity building of institutions as well as individuals. The infrastructure development envisaged in the execution of the CPEC necessitates the employment of a sophisticated technical workforce. Instead of hiring international labour at exorbitant wages, it will be cost effective to train Pakistanis so that their acquired skills not only benefit the current project but also future ones.
Pakistan’s security environment is mired with terrorism, extremism and narrow nationalism. Religious, sectarian and ethnic intolerance have made the milieu murkier. Even the Chinese president, cognisant of the law and order situation prevailing in the country, recommended the deployment of a division size force to provide the CPEC project security cover exclusively. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has dented the miscreants’ mischief-mongering capabilities in North Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but terrorism and extremism are mindsets that cannot be eradicated by use of brute force alone. A concerted effort has to be made to indoctrinate the masses positively. Better formal education and clearer thinking through the aegis of opinion builders, intellectuals and the media must be incorporated in accordance with a well-charted course of action.
Chinese governance formulates long and short-term plans, and executes them with diligence irrespective of changes in government. Contrarily, Pakistan follows ‘adhocism’ and suffers from lack of planning. It will be in Pakistan’s interest to seek the continuity of projects through astute planning. Major portions of the CPEC in Pakistan will ply through Balochistan whose residents perceive themselves to be deprived while a some Baloch have adopted the path of insurgency. It is imperative to bring them back into the mainstream of society, not just to ensure the safe completion of the project but essentially because peace must be urgently restored in this strife-torn province.
Pakistan’s foreign policy also merits intensification. Afghanistan, an important neighbour and likely beneficiary of the economic corridor, has trust deficit issues with Pakistan. India, with whom Pakistan’s relations are strained, has expressed reservations regarding the passage of the CPEC through “disputed territory”. The US also has concerns related to the Chinese managing the strategic port of Gwadar. For the sake of allaying suspicions, creating an environment conducive to foreign investment and helping build a peaceful region, Pakistan needs to focus on its exterior manoeuvres.
A well-wisher foreign diplomat observed recently that Pakistan needs a truly national government that can surmount provincialism to govern with the clear perceptions of federal interest. These are some humble recommendations to balance Sino-Pak ties for optimum utilisation of the opportunities ahead.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and a television show host