London: December 18, 2017. (PCP) A well-attended, successful panel discussion, held at the Royal Asiatic Society in London, consisting of reputable scholars affiliated with various academic institutions including Oxford University, Birmingham University and SOAS University of London, deliberated upon the legal, economic, environmental and geo-political impacts of the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The event was organised by the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), a global leading independent, EU accredited think tank, based in Amsterdam and moderated by Dr. Sweta Raghavan, Managing Director of Scientists & Co.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crucial component of China's much-hyped One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, remains a hot topic internationally since its announcement in 2015. The collection of infrastructure projects that are currently under construction throughout Pakistan, is an undertaking that has been advertised as a tale of success and the ultimate example of how two countries could prosperously collaborate, however, after the initial euphoria, clear evidences provide for the reality that such a politically charged economic project is also a ground for brewing trouble. In addition, a significant portion of the corridor will pass through Gilgit Baltistan, part of the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which further raises questions on its legality.
Dr. Troy Sternberg, Research Fellow in the School of Geography at the University of Oxford, Dr. Filippo Boni of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham, Dr. Shabir Choudhry, Chairman South Asia Watch, Burzine Waghmar, affiliated with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and with the Centre for the Study of Pakistan, Centre for Iranian Studies, SOAS South Asia Institute and London Middle East Institute, and Junaid Qureshi, Director of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) were part of the panel which critically examined the question whether the CPEC will prove to be a diplomatic debt-trap or economic game-changer for South Asia.
Mr. Burzine Waghmar said that Pakistan’s long relationship with China as its ‘all-weather friend’, is an asymmetrical deliberately cynical relationship wherein Beijing has always assumed the mantle of an Marxist imperialist. He questioned the love of Pakistan for their Muslim brethren in Jammu & Kashmir and Palestine while it remains silent over the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Province where even fasting in Ramadan is prohibited, while adding that this selective outrage is hypocritical, to say the least. Discussing the economic ramifications of the CPEC for Pakistanis themselves, Mr. Waghmar stated that Islamabad had to accept that all CPEC contracts must be with Chinese contractors who are not obliged to partner with local manufacturers, supply-chains or firms.
Dr. Troy Sternberg, an environmentalist from Oxford University mainly discussed the environmental and ecological impacts of the CPEC, saying that the landscape where the construction of the CPEC is proposed, will be one of the main challenges for the Chinese multi-billion dollar project as one has to deal with physical limitations. He further explained that the exploitation of water and other resources in the region, resulting in vulnerable ecological consequences and adverse contributions towards climate-change, cannot justify CPEC’s possible projected economic monetary benefits. He questioned Chinese and Pakistani understanding of the law of gravity as the CPEC is also meant to facilitate the transport of goods uphill conquering mountains of several thousand feet, stressing that transportation to Gwadar will be easy while transportation to Kashgar will certainly bring physical and practical challenges which neither the Chinese nor the Pakistanis seem to have considered.
Dr. Shabir Choudhry in his speech said that the CPEC, besides its economic aspect, has salient parts which are hidden and will have great geo-political and strategic significance and which could be interpreted as having a strong imperialist agenda. He stated further that Pakistan’s ruling elite has a long history of taking dictations from powerful allies. After the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and even tiny United Arab Emirates which have many times influenced Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies, this role, to a large extent, has been taken over by China.
Dr. Filippo Boni remarked during his presentation that the success of the CPEC is important for Beijing as it would showcase to the world the feasibility of China’s OBOR initiative as well as demonstrate the tangible benefits derived from being in China’s camp. He stressed that CPEC could be best seen as an investment package. Discussing the economic angle of the CPEC, he said that the early-harvest projects have proven to work, but that there are also certainly transparency concerns in the long run which ought to be addressed.
Junaid Qureshi, in his speech, examined the legal aspects of CPEC, particularly in relation to the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan, and thus, Jammu & Kashmir. While explaining the contradictions of subsequent Pakistani Government’s actions in relation to the Pakistan’s own Constitutional provision (Article 257 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) pertaining to the disputed State of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr. Qureshi said, that according to Pakistan’s own Constitution, the ‘relationship’ between the people of Pakistan and of Jammu and Kashmir is not yet, final, and is going to be decided in the light of a possible accession. This, legally, establishes the fact that the disputed areas of Jammu & Kashmir, currently under administration of Pakistan, are not legally part of Pakistan. As such, any unilateral alteration, without that stated possible accession, has to be examined in the backdrop of this constitutional provision, which by definition makes the abrogation of the State Subject Rule in Gilgit Baltistan, the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order and the transformation of Gilgit Baltistan into a possible province of Pakistan, illegal.
He ended by saying that the construction of CPEC, complimented by the military benefits for both China and Pakistan and an investment of 50 billion dollars, had all the ingredients to exacerbate the complexities of the Jammu & Kashmir-Issue, threaten peace and secure China’s strategic interests by allowing it, after the Shaksgam Valley and the Aksai Chin plateau, to increase its illegitimate share in the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
The panel discussion was followed by a vibrant Q&A discussion, in which students from various reputable universities, human rights activists, scholars and academicians, political bodies, CPEC experts, journalists, Chinese, Pakistani, Japanese, British nationals and voices of the large South Asian Diaspora in the UK took part. During the interactive debate, a consensus emerged that besides the fact that the CPEC should be revisited in view of its illegalities pertaining to the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan, it also requires urgent transparency in order to be make this project accountable to the people of Pakistan, who in the long run will be burdened with its costs.