It will not be untrue to say that Pakistan is facing the worst meltdown since its existence. Security crisis, broken political system, flood tragedy and its domino effect on the environment, half-hearted projects like CPEC, and economic whirlpool, to name a few.
What makes the situation more problematic is the lack of concern of policymakers and higher echelons who are bent on saving PML-N’s political capital, which has taken precedence over the more necessary rescue of the country.
After giving up his obsession with keeping the rupee artificially raised and his pride high before the IMF, the country’s finance minister Ishaq Dar has finally come to terms with the situation at home.
Rumors in political circles of Islamabad suggest that the government has gone for debt restructuring, thereby declaring Pakistan as a defaulter.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahbaz Sharif’s recent meeting with an international financial firm suggests that this organization will be looking over debt restructuring operations. The process of setting up Pakistan’s budget and restructuring its loans will take two years. The lenders will be given special concessions by the nation for restructuring the repayments, increasing the gross debt of Pakistan. Down go the dreams of the “game-changing” CPEC project that was supposed to pave way for new industries, increase exports manifold, pay off debts, create new employment opportunities, and make Gwadar the Dubai 2.0.
Since 2013, $62 billion has been spent on CPEC. The Pak-China friendship is under strain. In difficult times, Chinese capitalism, as how capitalists are, has shown that they are about profit, not philanthropy. Quietly, the reports of Parliament and Senate committees on CPEC have been removed from government websites. Last year the public account committee held only two meetings on the subject.
If Pakistan goes for debt-structuring, China would either let this slip by or take up the matter at international tribunals. In any case, CPEC is under pressure due to two reasons: political chaos and security issues in Pakistan at the moment.
Though at the inaugural ceremony of nuclear power facility – K3 in Karachi, PM Shahbaz Sharif assured that CPEC projects from now onwards will be completed at pace, it hardly seems likely.
Political stability and a safe environment are necessary for the Chinese to operate. They are facing great resistance among the locals because Pakistan has given them free will to use and abuse local resources, putting in jeopardy the livelihood of the locals and degrading their environment, as they have in Balochistan, Gilit-Baltistan, and (so-called) Azad Kashmir (Pakistan-administered).
Last year a well-educated 30-year-old Baloch woman affiliated with the BLA (Balochistan Liberation Army) blew up herself along with three Chinese academicians and their Pakistani driver in Karachi.
Recently, in a protest held by Moulana Hidayatur Rehman at Gwadar outrightly threatened the Chinese to leave Gwadar. The Gwadar Rights Movement (GRM) under his leadership has been holding demonstrations against the Pakistan government because they are agitated that their concerns have been sidelined since the inception of the project. Even after being told they will be jailed, the protestors are maintaining their position. Some government officials have revealed China is on the brink of leaving Pakistan if this situation prolongs.
The GRM is fighting for a proper supply of water and electricity, safe drinking water, deep-sea fish trawling, healthcare, and education infrastructure, and jobs for local youth in CPEC – all of which were promised by China but never delivered. Environmental concerns due to mining and deforestation have added to the Baloch woes. Harassment of women at checkpoints and massive crackdowns on protestors which led to casualties, further added to the differences between the Chinese and the Balochis.
Given the situation, the Chinese will probably stop investing in future projects in Pakistan. And Phase 2 of CPEC will remain out of reach for a decade.
On the other hand, the IMF will not allow for decisions in favor of China as it has criticized the role of Chinese loans in third-world countries. And so the future of the relationship between the Chinese and Pakistan Army is skeptical. The government is trying hard to restore this trust. Though that will be a difficult job because no military exchanges are taking place between the two nations. The delay in delivery of the J-20 fighter jets to Pakistan from China is an indication of the souring camaraderie. If the upcoming general elections scheduled for the end of this year are in Imran Khan’s favor, the Chinese and their plans can further jeopardise. So for now, with the interference of the Pakistan Army in the country’s politics, widespread terrorism, and the common man’s resentment against the Chinese imperialistic projects, the sun is setting on CPEC.