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What’s Happening in Pakistan? 

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– Shantanu Mukharji

In a recent Pakistan related development, Alice Wells a leading US diplomat representing South and Central Asia, in a striking statement, has questioned the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in terms of its commercial viability.

Instead, she recommended US model of private sector led development as the ideal model. Her outbursts (Nov 21) came at the Wilson Centre, a Washington DC based Think Tank where she was addressing an august gathering.

In the same vein, she claimed that China has benefited more from the US when US, European, Japan etc. had substantially gained during the regime of Den Xiaoping in 1978. In fact, according to Alice Wells, China has not yet done anything worthwhile for Pakistan. Also, CPEC does not give Pakistani young people or to the Pakistani commercial companies the same opportunities that the Chinese themselves have been enjoying for a very long time.

Significantly, Pakistan trading with China also remains lopsided. A time therefore, has come to question the Chinese Communist Party’s largesse based on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) experience and that China offers funding in terms of loans but it is not a member of Paris club which is an informal conglomerate of creditor countries. China also does not report on its overall landing despite being the largest lender, globally. Lack of transparency was confirmed as a Chinese tactic posing high risk to countries that borrowed from China to finance their development projects.

Very interestingly, Alice cited the case of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and airport runway in the Maldives among the China funded projects which appear doubtful carrying absolutely no commercial feasibility leading to unsustainable debt which is avoidable.

Further, Alice Wells described the first ministerial meeting of the QUAD comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan as a strong manifestation of alternative for several infrastructure. Representative of QUAD recently met in New York to fine tune their road map for further forward movement.

On his part, however reacting to Alice Wells’, comments, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Paul W. Jones stated (Lahore, Nov 25) that Pakistan should understand Alice Wells’ statement and that should be taken positively. Jones endorsed Alice Wells’ remarks that the CPEC might take a toll on Pakistan’s economy as it was not an aid, but a form of financing that guaranteed profits for Chinese state-owned enterprises. Pakistan, however, had rejected the statement saying Alice Wells’ speech on the CPEC was based on wrong analysis and incorrect assessment.

Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to Islamabad Yao Jing also rejected Ms Wells’ statement, saying “Pak-China relations are based on win-win cooperation and are mutually beneficial. Yao also expressed astonishment over Wells’ statement of higher tariff in power plants, established under the CPEC. Paul Jones further questioned that when in 2013, the Chinese companies were establishing power plants in Pakistan, US was not factored.

In light of these exchanges and developments, Wells’ speech is seen as an incisive critique of Chinese policy, and of the development model conceptualized by the BRI. The speeches are also viewed as an expression US’s Indo-Pacific which stress for more freedom and prosperity than China. Also, it is easy to agree with her CPEC criticism, the concern she articulated about cost, debt transparency and jobs are acknowledged by many. Some are also arguing that US can do better in Pakistan which remains doubtful.Analysts also reckon that the Wells’ speech is a wakeup call for Beijing about Washington is concern for the CPEC.

Compounding further internal issues, Pakistan is battling several complex problems, as before, but this time it looks these problems have already assumed serious proportions looking beyond redemption.

In this regard, the recent Supreme Court judgement curtailing Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s three year extended term may provide temporary succour to the General and  his flamboyant Prime Minister Imran Khan, but the Chief Justice Khosa, in his landmark verdict has clearly shown that the judiciary is still in control and any executive order extending Army Chief’s term requires a legislative endorsement or a formal nod from the parliament to do so.

This is a signal to the deep state and the political establishment that there is a judiciary in Pakistan which enjoys primacy over other institutions.The message of November 28 pronouncement is loud and clear and examining the judgement a little closely establishes the fact that the Chief Justice Khosa was fearless and gave a forthright mind which is also perhaps a caution to the military that enough is enough.

Meanwhile, the prominent newspaper daily ‘Dawn’ in its recent editorial has described the judgement as a face saving opportunity to decide on a course to save the institutions and not a single individual. This apart, this judicial decision is a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government as it is Imran Khan who took the initiative in granting a three year extension to Gen Bajwa on the pretext of addressing issues emanating from the Kashmir related developments.

In another development, case of most recent stabbings at the London Bridge by the assailant of Pak origin, has brought to focus about the state of youth in Pakistan. Usman Khan, (28, who was later killed by the London Metropolitan Police) the stabber, who took two innocent lives, had spent his youth in Pakistan before migrating to the U.K. It is reliably known that Usman had earlier undergone a legal sentence and was highly radicalized through Islamic zealots.

It is further gathered that Usman Khan was part of the Al-Qaeda group and had facilitated training camps through Al-Muhajiroun – an extremist inclined group. Even the presiding judge, at the end of his judgement in 2018, had described Usman as a dangerous Jehadi. It could, however, be merely coincidental that the London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, Neil Basu, who oversaw the London Bridge anti-terror operations, is of Indian origin.

Academics and Civil Societies in Pakistan as well as the huge Pakistani population in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other places in the UK must act as watchdogs eyeing such elements, originally from Pakistan, who have strayed in the pit of religious extremism, threatening peace. This also throws up security challenges in parts of Western Europe, especially in Holland and Germany, where threats of Islamic terror still haunts. Any segment of Pakistan complicity remains possible.

[The writer is a security analyst and a freelance columnist on topical issues.  He was formerly the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. The views expressed are personal.]

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