Monday July 22, 2024

Nawaz, Panama and CPEC

By Saleem Safi
July 24, 2017

The spokespersons of the prime minister have been trying to convince the people that the prime minister is being targeted due to CPEC. However, such claims seem rather baseless.

Undoubtedly, India and the US would want political instability and even martial law in Pakistan. But if there is one country which wishes a strong, stable and peaceful Pakistan, it is the People’s Republic of China. The US has always played a double game in Pakistan’s domestic politics. The duplicity of the US is crystal clear from the fact that when Shahbaz Sharif visited Washington a few days before the 1999 coup, the then US assistant secretary of state stated on record that the US stood with democracy in Pakistan. However, after the coup, the world saw how Washington supported the Musharraf regime for eight years.

Even today, the US seems to be pursuing the same policy. I feel that Washington asks Nawaz Sharif to stay firm and, at the same time, it also asks his opponents to run over the government.

Political instability and martial law in Pakistan are in the larger interests of India and the US. The reason is obvious: Gen Musharraf started the Kargil adventure during the previous Nawaz Sharif government, but once in power, he begged  Vajpayee for negotiations. Similarly, Musharraf did not listen to anything about the Taliban in Afghanistan, but once in power opened airbases for the US and let the CIA work with impunity inside Pakistan.

India and the US consider the Pakistan Army to be the main hurdle in their strategic interests and suspect it of turning Pakistan strategically towards China and Russia. In this context, both the countries would dearly wish political chaos and involvement of the army in Pakistani politics. But it seems that both the countries have no role in the Panama leaks and the Panama case. Similarly, it also seems rather absurd to claim that CPEC will be affected by the PM’s resignation.

The Panama leaks are a result of the efforts of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). In Pakistan, the credit of the Panama leaks goes directly to Umar Cheema – a prominent investigative journalist of The News International. Following journalistic ethics, Cheema sent many emails to the Sharif family for their views prior to making the leaks public. Jang, The News and Geo have the credit of breaking this story in spite of tremendous pressure from the government.   

The credit of taking the Panama case to court goes to the JI’s Sirajul Haq. Credit also goes to Imran Khan and Sheikh Rasheed who turned to the Supreme Court after the failure of Islamabad’s lockdown. However, in the whole story – from the leaks to the apex court – there are no footprints of the US or India. One wonders where the external conspiracy is. Admittedly, the Arab countries, especially the UAE, extended full support to the JIT – contrary to the Sharif family’s expectations. Instead of reading the writing on the wall and resigning, the prime minister seems adamant to resist and confront.

As far as CPEC is concerned, the strategic project is neither the brain child of the ruling family nor will it be affected by the prime minister’s resignation. It is a well-known fact that the initial sketch of the project was prepared by China with DG ISI General (r) Ihsanullah Haq during the Musharraf era. It was the Musharraf government that started work on the Gwadar Port, without which CPEC would be impossible. Then it was Asif Ali Zardari who entrusted the contract of the Gwadar Port to China and signed an MOU on CPEC.

Beijing’s ties with Islamabad are historical and strategic, and subject to no individual, family or political party. China has no role or interests in the domestic politics of Pakistan, and treats Pakistan as a friend irrespective of who is in power. Unfortunately, Nawaz Sharif tried to personalise these strategic ties and branded CPEC as a special favour to his government. This resulted in opposition and nationalist parties criticising the Chinese government. 

China has started half a dozen similar corridors under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. However, no controversy has surfaced regarding the other corridors. But Nawaz Sharif’s pursuit of vested interests and political agenda made the project controversial and a source of division and resentment. China wanted the shortest route to Gwadar as well as the socio-economic uplift of neglected regions like Balochistan and Gilgit. Any ruler would have extended the benefits of the project to Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan on a priority basis. But our rulers deprived the people of the neglected regions by turning the western route towards the east and channelling the benefits of CPEC towards a specific region. The misleading tactics of the ruling elites undermined their credibility.

Similarly, being a main stakeholder, the army demanded its due role in the project. During Raheel Sharif’s tenure, a joint civil-military committee was also proposed but PM Nawaz kept insisting on keeping the projects in the hands of a few blue-eyed boys.

I have continuously demanded that representation should be given to all the provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK in the CPEC Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) and working groups on the pattern of China, which has involved Xinjiang state in the JCC.

But unfortunately, instead of giving due representation to the provinces and regions, the government relied on keeping the respective chief ministers happy.       The people of Balochistan demanded their due share in the project, but the prime minister obliged only Muhammad Khan Achakzai and Dr Malik. Similarly, instead of giving due share to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the PM used the loyalty of the GB chief minister, who stayed silent.         

Moreover, voices were raised for a due share for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After getting free from the dharna, CM KP Parvaiz Khattak also raised the issue. However, instead of extending the benefits of the project to all of KP and Fata, Khattak was calmed down by his constituency being granted economic zone status and a mass transit train in sheer violation of merit. Khattak was even promised a decisive say in granting contracts to Chinese companies.    Maulana Fazlur Rehman was also initially vocal about the western route of the corridor, but went quiet after he was granted a road to Dera Ismail Khan.  

The nation wants transparency in CPEC.     I believe that when the details of the projects under CPEC are disclosed, people will forget the Panama and JIT disclosures.

Keeping this background in mind, I firmly believe that the success of CPEC depends on the resignation of the PM. It is surprising that Nawaz Sharif’s spokespersons create the impression that his resignation will result in the failure of CPEC. They may be able to fool the nation, but not the government and people of China.      


The writer works for Geo TV.