In the sixty-eight years of Pakistan’s existence the most significant feature of its socio-economic development has been the contradiction of its economic growth having an inverse effect on the living conditions of its ordinary people. The present economic slowdown that was the result of a crashing economic downfall since 2008 is now unravelling into another decline.
With the latest mini-budget presented at the behest of the IMF on December 1st by the finance minister Ishaq Dar and the beginning of the rise of the inflation rate, the stark prospect looms of further price increases and mounting economic hardships for an already impoverished populace. The 40 billion increases in taxation on imported products will inflate the prices across the board. The blatant reality is that the rulers are least bothered what to say or are the least worried about the drastic impacts these measure will have on the masses.
The trade deficit has soared to 24 billion dollars and is further rising. The foreign debts have peaked to new heights with unprecedented conditions and high interest rates. Exports are on in decline year after year and manufacturing production is floundering with imports of even household commodities. The World Bank, IMF and other imperialist financial institutions are tightening the screws with increasing domination of imperialism.
With the most atrocious conditions imposed on the workers, the ruling elite has failed to attract foreign investment that has actually halved in the last year alone. Despite the ramshackle economy, the ruling elite is boasting of its robustness and being praised by the imperialist rating outfits for its onslaught on the masses to preserve capitalist coercion. However, the hopes are being pinned on the ‘miracle’ of Chinese investment in the name of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
On the face of it, this could open up new vast vistas of development and progress. The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor according to its planners is a megaproject that aims to connect Gwadar Port in South West Pakistan to China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang bordering northern Pakistan, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. This economic corridor will run about 3,000 km from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated at over $46 billion, with the entire project expected to be complete in several years.
The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative. Other than transport infrastructure, the economic corridor will provide Pakistan with telecommunications and energy infrastructure. The project also aims to improve “intelligence sharing” between the countries. The Pakistani media and government have described the investments as a "game and fate changer" for the region.
According to The Guardian, "The Chinese are not just offering to build much-needed infrastructure but also make Pakistan a key partner in its grand economic and strategic ambitions. The project will also open trade routes for Western China and provide China direct access to the resource-rich Middle East region via the Arabian Sea, bypassing longer logistical routes currently through the Strait of Malacca.”
The project was first proposed in a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Nawaz Sharif on 22 May 2013 in Islamabad. The Pak-China Economic Corridor Secretariat was inaugurated in Islamabad on 27 August 2013. In 2014, the Chinese government committed to spending $45.6 billion over the next six years to build the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will include the construction of highways, railways, and natural gas and oil pipelines connecting China to the Middle East. China’s stake in Gwadar will also allow it to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean, a vital route for oil transportation between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Another advantage to China is that it will be able to bypass the Strait of Malacca. As of now, 60 percent of China's imported oil comes from the Middle East, and 80 percent of that is transported to China through this strait, the dangerous, piracy-rife maritime route through the South China, East China, and Yellow Seas.
These facts clearly reveal that this project is basically designed by the Chinese elite to serve the geopolitical and strategic interests of the Chinese state. On top of that, it is the policy of Keynesian economics being pursued by the Chinese ruling elite to keep the Chinese economy growing and stimulating manufacturing production that has declined due to the shrivelling of the markets in Europe and the US due to the capitalist crash of 2008.
Such huge projects – some of them very extravagant – are being executed with capital investments through state credit financing that has already ballooned the Chinese state debts to 250 percent of its GDP, higher than that of Greece. The Chinese are desperate to restore their industrial production after their growth rates plunged from about 14 percent in 2007 to the present 6.8 percent in this period. However, another important aspect of this ‘offer’ by China is the lust of the Chinese bourgeois for more profits on the basis of financial support of the state in such mega-projects within China and abroad.
These foreign investments are designed to benefit Chinese capitalists using these projects to raise their rates of profits by squeezing the labour and resources of the lands where these investments are made. The Pakistani ruling classes and state aristocracy are accomplices in the plunder of its people.
According to a Reuters report, “In November 2014, Chinese government announced that it will finance Chinese companies to build $45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC.” Documents quoted by Reuters show that China has promised to invest around $33.8 billion in various energy projects and $11.8 billion in infrastructure projects, which will be completed by 2017 at most. The deal includes $622 million for Gwadar Port. Under the CPEC agreement, $15.5 billion worth of coal, wind, solar, and hydro energy projects will add 10,400 megawatts of energy to the national grid of Pakistan. Woe and behold, all this investment will be in the form of loans that the downtrodden people of Pakistan have to repay with interest, the rates of which have not been transparently made public. Most engineers and technicians with higher pay scales will be Chinese!
However, the response of the corporate media and the political elite in Pakistan has been ecstatic. They are least interested in the betterment of the masses in Pakistan as their interests are mainly to get contracts and subcontracts in these projects from the Chinese capitalist conglomerates and add to their plunder. All political parties are espousing this project as a miracle that will change Pakistan’s fortunes. The differences over the route etc., are mainly to get this project to pass through routes that are more accessible to various sections of this comprador ruling class.
Apart from the economic and practical viability of the execution of the CPEC there are serious security concerns for this project. China has expressed concern that some separatist groups in Xinjiang may be collaborating with insurgents in Pakistan, and has expressed a desire to strengthen security provisions. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for past attacks on some Chinese contractors and officials. Chinese bureaucrats have raised concerns that construction workers could be kidnapped and ransomed, as dozens have been in the last period in other projects.
Pakistan is planning to train 12,000 security personnel to protect Chinese workers on the corridor. At present, 8,000 Pakistani security officials are deployed for the security of over 8,100 Chinese workers in Pakistan. Armed separatist groups operating in Baluchistan, including the Baluchistan Liberation Army, have carried out several attacks on the Chinese officials and engineers working in this area. Wu Zhaoli, an assistant research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in his article published in Global Times, argued that "security concerns are a critical cause which helps to determine the path of this corridor.”
This CPEC project can also aggravate the already complicated and burning national question in Pakistan. The Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province adopted a resolution against the alleged decision of the central government to change the multibillion route of the proposed project by diverting the route in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the NWFP. The provincial assembly advised the central government to stick to the same route as agreed upon between the governments of Pakistan and China, and passed a resolution stating that a change in the route not incorporating Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would disadvantage the economic interests of the people of the war-torn province.
Various Balouch nationalists have also expressed resentment at the project. The desperate and appalling conditions of the inhabitants of Gwadar are not improving and they are being deprived of their rights in the area. The chances of the alleviation of the poverty and suffering of the people living in Baluchistan will not occur. Other Balouch nationalist leaders and parties have called it a "conspiracy that would stimulate migration of people from other provinces and make the Balouch a ‘minority’ in their homeland.” There is also resentment in Sindh and other nationalities through which this ‘corridor’ has not been routed.
Chinese intelligence agencies have communicated to the Pakistani authorities regarding "foreign hostile agencies" that could support rebellious elements to sabotage the project. Apart from those youth that are waging a struggle against the national oppression and brutalities of the Pakistan army, there are also several proxies of the American, Indian, Saudi Arabian and Iranian regimes that have their own imperialist hegemonic intentions over the region.
What has to be understood is that such projects of imperialist investment are executed to enhance the financial interests of the imperialist bosses and the strategic designs of their states. The question being asked by some political gurus and media experts is whether Pakistan is being turned into a Chinese colony? Although this may be an exaggeration, with the present epoch and the character of the Chinese capitalist restoration it is not completely ruled out.
The fact is that there are deep military, economic and political interventions of the Chinese ruling class in Pakistan. Obviously, in a world with the balance of forces in such disarray and US imperialism still at the helm, in spite of its debilitated state, such a prognosis is a bit over the board but the imperialist designs of China’s aristocracy are very much palpable. And a sort of imperialist plundering it certainly is.
This is particularly the case in Baluchistan that has now become the battleground of the new Great War games of the imperialists intervening with state and non-state proxies to grab the minerals, strategic positions and resources of the region. What is clear, however, is that this CPEC project cannot alleviate the poverty of the masses and transform the primitiveness of regions like Baluchistan into modern and advanced areas.
The burden of the loans and dictates of the bosses in China will bear heavily on the Pakistani masses, aggravating their misery and deprivation. It is only a delusion for the oppressed masses. On a capitalist basis such projects only intensify the contradictions of combined and uneven socioeconomic conditions in these societies. The implosion of these heightened contradictions will accentuate the conflicts, bloodshed and the mayhem that already stalk the land. The plight of the masses will only worsen when the basic aim of all projects and investment is to extract profit and not the fulfilment of human need.