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Pakistani Generals tighten grip over multi-billion dollar CPEC projects

Pakistani Generals tighten grip over multi-billion dollar CPEC projects

It did not come as much of a surprise when China’s defence minister General Wei Fen Fenghe, during his visit to Islamabad earlier this week, thanked the Pakistan Army for its support in providing a secure environment to the $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. Foreign policy experts said that this only confirms the fact that the Pakistan Army has assumed full control over the multi-billion dollar infrastructure project.

According to a Nikkei Asia report, Pakistan will now pass a legislation to set up a supranational body to monitor the mega project.

A parliamentary committee has already passed the CPEC Authority Bill 2020 in November despite the strong opposition to the move. This month, the bill will be presented to Parliament for a final vote, amid Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to bring the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region under his wing, despite widespread disruptions and protest.

Nestled between the Hindukush, western Himalayas and the Karakorum ranges, Gilgit- Baltistan not only provides a critical land link between China and Pakistan but is also rich in metals and minerals.

“The development indicates that the Pakistan Army would be the single point of contact and reference when it comes to monitoring the CPEC,” said Shakti Sinha, former bureaucrat and director at Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Policy Research and International Studies.

“The Ministry of Planning should be ideally in charge of the project but this shows that the ministry will not be in the loop, the army effectively will call the shots as far as CPEC is concerned,” Sinha told Indianarrative.com. He added that “barring the thin façade” of civilian government, the army has the de facto decision rights.

“Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party are considered to be aligned with the interests of the army, had been working for months to get the draft bill through the committee, the Nikkei Asia report said. The proposed law seeks to reinstate the controversial CPEC Authority — which has been defunct since the expiry of a presidential order in May,” the report pointed out.

The position of CPEC CEO will now be abolished. Under the new framework, a chairman, who will be appointed by the Prime Minister, will lead the authority. The chairman will report only to the PM.

The legislation would allow shifting of control of the mega infrastructure projects to the CPEC Authority led by retired army General Asim Saleem Bajwa. Until now, the monitoring was in the ambit of civilian bureaucracy. “Bajwa would report directly to the prime minister instead of the ministry and replace the planning minister as co-chair of a Pakistan-China joint committee,” the report said.

“Now with the Gilgit-Baltistan coming under its ambit, the Pakistan Army’s role is even more crucial as the region has remained disputed for decades but at the same time, it is important for China as well as Pakistan to have control over this area for the construction of CPEC,” an analyst on condition of anonymity said.

The move to take over Gilgit-Baltistan has been perceived by his own countrymen as an attempt to please China. The CPEC passes through the strategically located region.

Without Gilgit-Baltistan, Gwadar which stretches to Xinjiang will have limited access for the Chinese. The Gwadar Port is central to the CPEC, which has 23 energy projects including multiple road and rail projects, and special economic zones.

The Netherlands-based European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), said CPEC has emerged “as the bird laying the golden eggs for the military establishment.”

<strong>Gilgit-Baltistan, a tale of woes</strong>

The local residents of the region have been forced to accept the terms and conditions laid by the authorities for the construction of the CPEC without being consulted or compensated, a report by the Unrepresented Nation and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) highlighted.

Gilgit-Baltistan, with a population of about 2 million, has seen constant human rights violations. Poverty, slow economic development, exploitation of natural resources and growing sectarian turbulence have marked the region. “While Islamabad earns billions in revenue from Gilgit-Baltistan annually from trade and transit, water resource exploitation, trophy hunting, eco-tourism, mineral exploration and direct and indirect federal taxes, the significant majority of these earnings are not allocated for the development of the region,” the UNPO report stated.

The construction of the much-hyped mega infrastructure project has already displaced thousands of people but there is fear that many more will lose their land and livelihood.

The EFSAS said that the “the much-publicized CPEC may benefit Pakistan and in particular its Punjab province, but it will render more than 10,000 people of Gilgit-Baltistan jobless, once the existing dry port is relocated from Sost in Gilgit-Baltistan to Havelian in Pakistan.”