Vision and actions

Pakistan will have to overcome a number of challenges to meet the expectations of its 'iron brother'

Vision and actions
President Xi Jinping’s two day visit marked the formal launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. What he actually said during his various speeches was simply a reiteration of his vision on regional and global connectivity through rail, road and maritime links across the world.

When the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and Southeast Asia in September and October of 2013, he raised the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (hereinafter referred to as the Belt and Road). At the China-ASEAN Expo in 2013, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasized the need to build the Maritime Silk Road oriented towards ASEAN, and to create strategic propellers for hinterland development.

A document titled ‘Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road’, issued by China’s joint National Development and Reform Commission (of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Commerce) released on 2015/03/28 says: “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor are closely related to the Belt and Road Initiative, and therefore require closer cooperation and greater progress.”

The document reassures that the initiative is not only in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter but also upholds China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence: mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

The Belt and Road Initiative has also seen the China-led emergence of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and a new Silk Road Fund – with a total of some $90 billion established as seed capital by China itself, with a further $60 billion available from other funds.

This context leaves little doubt about the Chinese seriousness behind the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which the Vision Document underlines “require closer cooperation and greater progress.”

And herein lies the silver-lining for Pakistan, articulated by President Xi several times during the visit – from his continued commitment to Pakistan to the endorsement and appreciation of Pakistan’s role “when China stood alone” to the Pakistan Army’s “sacrifices and successes in counter-terrorism terrorism operations.”

“China considers Pakistan as its ‘Iron Brother’. I remember the time when China was completely isolated in the world,” the President said during his address to the Parliament, alluding to the 1960s, when Pakistan opened its airspace for China and established diplomatic relations with it.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was unusually upbeat too. “We are starting a fresh phase in our geo-economic partnership that will create new jobs, start businesses, promote education and professional training and help eradicate poverty. This corridor will become a symbol for peace and prosperity,” he said after the signing of 51 agreements and MoUs.

President Mamnoon Hussain also informed his Chinese counterpart that the Pakistan Army has created a special security division for the protection of Chinese engineers, project directors, experts and workers employed on various Chinese funded projects across Pakistan. The special force will consist of army, FC and the civilian law enforcement personnel.

The Chinese president also went out of the way to underscore Pakistan’s difficulties arising out of the anti-terror war. “Pakistan has stood on the frontline in the international fight against terrorism, it has made tremendous efforts and endured enormous sacrifice, and shown great character and courage in the face of adversity,” said Jinping.

Official statements and speeches also reflected the Chinese appreciation for Pakistan’s counter-terror operations since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb nearly a year ago, noting that their security interests were inter-connected, and thus were determined to work together to fight the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a terrorist group active in China’s Xinjiang province but also has bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The army chief conveyed to the Chinese President that the campaign against ETIM and all other groups is relentless and indiscriminate because they are a threat to us all, an army official said of Gen Sharif’s meeting with President Jinping.

“China commended Pakistan’s major contribution to the international counter-terrorism efforts, and will continue to support Pakistan in implementing its counter-terrorism strategy in accordance with its national conditions and enhancing counter-terrorism capacity building,” a joint statement issued at the end of the visit said.

This also ties into the concept of “common Asian security architecture” that the Chinese leadership has been peddling of late. They believe that bilateral security cooperation should morph into multilateral strategic dialogue and counter-terrorism consultations which are absolutely essential for the creation and expansion of the economic corridors to the west of China.

Chinese officials and diplomats in Islamabad say that the improved security conditions were a significant consideration for their President’s Pakistan visit and the formal launch of the CPEC-related projects. He somehow got convinced that the civil and military leaders are on the same page in their counter-terror efforts and that both seem to have turned the page for the better in the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in December, something that President Jinping deemed fit to mention in his address to the parliament as well.

Jinping brought some strong messages too. He stressed national unity for development. He also underscored internal security as the pre-requisite for stability and development. More interestingly, he skipped issues such as Kashmir, thereby indirectly advising Pakistani hosts to review their Kashmir policy in order to remove a major sticking point in relations with India. And we must not forget – at home, the government under President Jinping has been relentless in enforcing the Rule of Law and penalizing all those found involved in corruption. He is walking the talk and would naturally expect the Pakistani to walk the talk too.

The biggest challenge for Pakistan now will be how to meet the Chinese expectations of quick and smooth implementation of the CEPC. While the entire security apparatus continues to hunt down terrorists and militants under the National Action Plan, a big question is whether the bureaucracy and political leadership in Pakistan can align themselves with the swiftness that is required for translating agreements into reality? Scores of hurdles – political (objections to the CPEC route), security (Baloch and TTP insurgency) and bureaucratic – and issues of transparency are some of the pressing challenges the government and the military will have to ride through.