NEW DELHI: Despite China reinvigorating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with a fresh infusion of $11 billion in July, growing discord at the working levels as well as corruption is marring its flagship Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan.
In recent meetings between Chinese and Pakistani officials, reports of which have been leaked and seen by TOI, the Chinese side have expressed anger and frustration with Pakistan regarding lack of security — these complaints are escalating to senior levels of the Pakistan army who are expected to comply with Chinese demands. Pakistan has raised an entire special security division (SSD) to provide protection to Chinese contractors and workers along CPEC.
The discord between the two sides has been sharp regarding the Karot hydropower project in Punjab, as well as at the Azad Pattan project, where the Chinese are unhappy about the progress and lack of security. A similar story is heard from the Kohala hydropower project. Repeated Chinese complaints have led to both the army and civilian government scrambling to accede to these demands. Disputes over design and execution of this project have been going on since 2019. When officials from the two countries attempted to resolve them, China refused to accept the resolution plan given by Pakistan.
In other places, for instance, in the Mattiari-Lahore road project, or even the Peshawar-Karachi road project, the Chinese contractors are chafing against what they call “strict security” by the Pakistani SSD. They want to be able to get around a lot more and have demanded greater “flexibility” of movement, particularly in Lahore.
In a third instance, the two sides are squabbling over the amount of protection the Chinese company, China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) have demanded at Sukhri Kinari Hydro Power Project. The Pakistan SSD wants to monitor fewer sites, the Chinese want more, and have complained that they are being asked to hire additional security guards.
The agreements at the strategic levels in both countries show a tight relationship where CPEC is key to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). With all its trials, CPEC appears to be moving forward. Recently, Pakistan’s Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved the strategically important $6.8 billion Mainline-1 (ML-1) railway project—the most expensive project under CPEC.
At the ground level, however, it is a different story, with compounding security worries for China, massive corruption by entities from both countries and a growing debt trap for Pakistan.
China has repeatedly raised concerns in recent weeks at rising violence by Balochistan militants which, according to Pakistani security experts like Muhammad Amir Rana, are expanding their footprint from Balochistan into Sindh, as was seen during the June 29 attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange.
According to media reports, China has been asking Pakistan to get the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) banned by the UNSC, but this movement has not received traction yet.
Recent reports have given glimpses of the scale of corruption in CPEC deals which have been detailed by internal reports which basically show both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan are on the take.
Investigations into poor quality construction of a new airport in Islamabad showed defalcation of funds by a large number of people in the upper reaches of the Pakistan military.
A related problem is that incidents of violence by Chinese workers or contractors against Pakistani security men go unaddressed, with army officers repeatedly asking their men to stand down and not confront the Chinese, affecting the morale of the men.