On 15 May, Pakistani newspaper Dawn published details of what it said was the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Master Plan. Whether it is accurate, or authentic, remains open to question, but there have been enough reports in the Pakistani media to suggest a lot of it is indeed accurate.
How incredible that Pakistan is in such a state of denial and wretchedness that its military is even considering this “master plan” as a legitimate way forward for the country. Observe the blindness of the "leadership": it is handing the country over to the tender affections of China, which has just put restrictions on the use of the name "Mohammed" on its territory, the prophet of the religion in whose name Pakistan was created; not to mention that the Father of Pakistan was himself named Mohammed.
Still, never mind the symbolism. Let us say that the military establishment (and it is the military leading this effort with the politicians in tow) is acting for strategic gain. Let us assume that pragmatism prevails over Islamist posturing in this case. Pakistan has done that many times before, when its military-bureaucratic elites have smelled the American greenback. Now they are sensing the same thing, from China, the self-declared “iron brother” which has described the Sino-Pak relationship as “sweeter than honey”.
There is no illusion among the Pakistani elite as to what exactly CPEC is all about. The Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) last year released a policy brief titled, ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor – A Chinese Dream Realized Through Pakistan’, apparently without the slightest sense of irony. There are a couple of articles here and there in the Pakistani media asking how exactly the large mass of the Pakistani population will benefit from all this, but that is mainly pro forma.
No one can blame China for the actions it takes in its interest, and this is indeed in its best interest – a large fairly resource-rich colony which is already a permanent thorn in the side of a major competitor, and will be a bigger one when Beijing is through with CPEC. And the Islamabad government is in such a parlous state that it is willing to write off the country’s autonomy in return for more money for the already-wealthy, as well as to keep alive the wispy remnants of a dream of ruling over India. Facts in exchange for fantasy. What’s not to like?
For Beijing, Pakistan is only a means to several ends – a way overland into the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, a virtual chokehold over the western geography of India, and – less talked about but more important – a potential stranglehold over trade via the Straits of Hormuz from the facilities at Gwadar, hitherto a monopoly of the Western powers and their friends on the Arabian Peninsula.
How this will be received by the big powers that, so far, have controlled access into the Gulf remains to be seen. There will undoubtedly be a pushback. India has already made it clear that it has a range of objections to the CPEC project, and these are not solely to do with the fact that the occupied Indian territory of Gilgit-Baltistan is going to be one of the hubs.
The Pakistani elite will try to play off the US and its allies on the one hand, and China on the other. It is not likely that Beijing will play that game quite in the same manner as the Americans did in the past. The so-called “master plan” envisages a scale of surveillance and intrusive state activity that is not comparable to anything that the Americans have done in Pakistan. While Pakistan could say “no” to the US, it is not likely to be quite as simple as that with the “iron brother”.
And what of the land and people of Pakistan? Will they get any benefit out of this “sweeter than honey” relationship? The chances are, they will fare no better, or not much better, than they have until now. The plan as revealed by Dawn is unabashedly clear about its intentions. Indeed, the whole thing is transparently obvious as a mechanism to use the state and territory of Pakistan by drawing on the limited imagination and the unlimited loyalty of the elite into an embrace tightened by both debt and dependency.
It is in fact a worse surrender than the one “Tiger” Niazi signed in Dhaka in 1971. Here, the generals and politicians are surrendering due to an inability to govern, not an inability to fight. A fitting finale, one might think, to the first modern state created in the name of Islam, by a man with the name of its prophet, that it turns itself over to a godless state for care-taking.
An EU citizen of Indian origin, Jai is based in East Africa and is a keen observer of Eurasian and South Asian developments.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!