Thursday June 13, 2024

Corridor of secrecy

By Sanaullah Baloch
June 30, 2016

Separating politics from economics is a terrible idea. With wise policies, the political elite create an environment that generates economic activities. Furthermore, better economic conditions, equality and inclusivity in the national process create social and political stability.

So it is a sign of political maturity when people raise their concerns over inequality and policies that are selective, not collective. However, debate and contradictory ideas on policies and projects that have a direct impact on our lives are not encouraged any more in Pakistan’s ‘controlled democracy’.

The recent statements from the military and civilian elite in Islamabad and the security forces that control Balochistan leave no room for a logical and positive dialogue on the CPEC and its implementation and long-term effects.

And, in particular, representatives of an oppressed province are branded as traitors or as anti-development – which ultimately qualifies such voices to be one of the ‘enforced disappeared’ or targeted and killed.

These people are treated as enemies who want to destabilise Pakistan and disturb its economic development. But there is a difference between an enemy and a stakeholder. Such statements and judgements are a dangerous trend which suffocates and stagnates discussion on issues of national importance.

The Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtuns are stakeholders in the CPEC. Their concerns about transparency, inclusivity, benefits, management and even the security aspect of the project must not be treated and translated as attempts to sabotage it.

Media houses have been instructed to report ‘all-is-well’ stories about the CPEC and ignore the very pertinent protests, demands and ideas around this issue. Such policy of ‘blackout’ will neither help Pakistan nor our Chinese brothers to adjust their risk log and mitigation strategies according to local needs.

Pakistan’s military leadership should use its soft power to encourage oppressed, marginalised and exploited masses and groups to come forward openly and raise their concerns through a peaceful and democratic way.

There have even been countless corruption scandals that have surfaced on contracts related to the CPEC projects but all these scandals have been shelved in the name of ‘national interest’.

To avoid mistakes and misadventures, it is the duty and constitutional responsibility of state institutions to encourage dialogue on a variety of issues. No doubt, Pakistan’s defence forces have a responsibility too to protect such national projects. But the continuous and firm security support to the CPEC – which has plenty of economic and political flaws including the volcanic capacity to trigger more political and social fault lines – is beyond comprehension.

The CPEC is not a ‘free lunch’. The project is structured on the bases of project financing not as an FDI, soft loan or a grant. Project financing has demanding requirements and in the CPEC’s case there is no clarity and transparency on these agreements and arrangements.

If CPEC-related agreements are between state institutions and public representatives then what is the harm in disclosing all these details and soliciting expert and stakeholder feedback through an inclusive and participatory process?

Financial experts and legal advisers, including transparently elected representatives from all four federating units, have to spend a considerable time and effort on deliberating, structuring, and detailed appraisal of, the CPEC.

It must be ensured that the federating units and all the parties’ obligations are negotiated and are contractually binding. Moreover, the sharing of risks and benefits brings all four provinces into a close and healthy relationship.

In addition to the transparency and openness, the CPEC lacks inclusivity. Projects have been dotted around the more advanced and developed districts of Pakistan.

Due to its geographic location, strategic port and route, Balochistan should have been the topmost priority. The facts indicate otherwise. The CPEC’s early-harvest projects are in full swing in Punjab and Sindh. Out of $28.6 billion early-harvest projects, Punjab has the lion’s share of $13 billion, Sindh $4.6 billion, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa $1.8 billion, Islamabad $1.5 billion, Gilgit-Baltistan $920 million.

Balochistan stands with less than $660 million. Lacking ‘economic viability’, the $9 billion, 6,600MW Gadani Energy Park launched in 2013 has been shelved. The $360 million, 300MW, Gwadar Coal Power Project has also been shelved.

The major contributing factor that is making the CPEC a unique geo-economic reality is Gwadar and Balochistan’s strategic location and geography. Since the signing of the 2002 Gwadar Port Project construction and later on the unilateral handover to China in 2013, none of the details and agreements have been shared and discussed in Balochistan.

In addition, the influx of staff and labour, social and cultural experiments, employment, security arrangements, environmental impact, revenue sharing, administrative control and, more importantly, the geopolitical impact of the project on the country and Balochistan need to be thoroughly debated.

The current federation is the result of a political agreement between different interest groups to create a society where policies, incentives and economic development equally benefit the federating units. However, this very basic principle was ignored and selective and exclusive economic policies created more incentives for the one region that currently dominates Pakistan’s political, economic, industrial, social and agriculture landscape.

To address such historical mistakes, the CPEC and any future economic policies and projects need to be inclusive – both in terms of design and implementation.

A fearful environment has been created, discouraging any logical and productive discussion on the topic. Political parties are disregarded. The Balochistan National Party’s January 2016 APC resolution and recommendations have been totally ignored.

A $250 million dollar Special Security Division (Force) has been established with zero representation from Balochistan’s impoverished districts. The national discourse is not looking at this as an opportunity that would have increased trust and the stakes of the disgruntled Baloch in the CPEC.

Achieving prosperity and equality in Pakistan depends on solving some basic political problems. The Pakistani elite’s controlled policy of discouraging a national debate on the CPEC and its implementation strategies is harming this national project.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan.