The International Crisis Group has reported widespread discontent with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) among the local people over issues like inadequate employment and the overbearing presence of the military in civilian life along the 2,700 km corridor.
“People in Gwadar area have borne the aggressive actions of the military in the past. They are now worried about the overbearing military presence,” Richard Atwood, ICG’s director of policy, told TOI over the phone from Brussels.
Gwadar port is a key element of the CPEC as China hopes to access the Arabian Sea and use it to open up an alternative sea route for its exports. The area falls in restive Balochistan province, home to a major insurgency problem that has resulted in heavy military presence.
The ICG report will force politicians to pay attention to the rising discontent because it comes weeks ahead of extremely controversial elections in Pakistan.
The Brussels-based non-profit organisation said the $62 billion CPEC may result in political tensions and animosity unless Pakistan and China take immediate steps to mitigate existing concerns of common people.
“Pakistan’s economy clearly needs reform to better serve its people, and many officials say CPEC will help in this regard,” it said. “But as currently rolled out, the corridor risks aggravating political tension, widening social divides and generating new sources of conflict in Pakistan.”
China is desperate to avoid incidents that can upset the project because it the best showcase for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative which it wants to spread across all continents.
Some areas along the corridor has seen a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment due to the displacement of communities to make way for infrastructure projects, without clear details or resettlement plans, the report said.
Besides, militants have killed scores of Pakistanis for being involved with the CPEC, it said. ICG even raised doubts about CPEC’s ability to deliver economic gains to Pakistan despite repeated claims along those lines by politicians in Pakistan and China.
“While it is too early to assess if CPEC can deliver the economic gains Islamabad promises, the project risks inflaming long-standing tensions between the centre and smaller federal units, and within provinces over inequitable economic development and resource distribution,” the report said.The CPEC plan involves constructing a network of transport, energy, industrial and agricultural projects that will stretch 2,700 km — from the port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to Kashgar prefecture in China’s westernmost region, Xinjiang.