Saturday, January 16, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 17, 2016

CPEC discontents In response to the demands made in the All Parties Conference (APC) organized by the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) in Islamabad on January 10, amongst which was one for Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to take charge, the latter chaired his own APC on January 15. All the parties represented in the first APC were present in the second one. This allowed a frank and free exchange of reservations, questions and criticisms on the part particularly of the parties representing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan to be aired and for the PM to address these discontents. Also in response to the allegations of ‘change of route’ of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the PM held out the assurance that the western route would be constructed first, a four lane highway would be built in the first phase, which could be expanded later to six lanes. The railway, fibre optic cable and other infrastructure would all be completed by July 2018 (around the time the present government’s tenure expires). Economic zones would be set up along the route in consultation with the provinces. A high powered steering committee headed by the PM and including the chief ministers of the provinces has been set up to meet every three months (or earlier if needed) to review progress. These decisions seem to have satisfied the KP chief minister, who was very voluble in his criticisms of the intended plans for the CPEC, including the charge that Punjab was trampling over the rights of the other three provinces by ‘hogging’ all the benefits of the project through the eastern route. Actually this was based on a false perception that the two routes were mutually exclusive. Both have to be built. The question that so agitated the KP and Balochistan representatives was partly rooted in the fact that the project partners may have preferred phasing the CPEC in such a manner that the relatively developed infrastructure along the eastern route be utilised on priority basis to take advantage of the quicker implementation and returns promised by that ground reality. When the furore broke, China was troubled and the federal government put on the mat by KP and Balochistan. After the necessary clarifications and pledges by no less than the PM have been delivered, it appears all reservations and misperceptions have been laid to rest. The only question unaddressed (at least as far as media reports reveal) is the apprehension of Balochistan that the development of Gwadar Port (and the city that will grow around it inevitably) would disturb the demographic balance in the province. Nor were their concerns about preventing people coming to work in Gwadar being barred from acquiring residential status or voting rights in Balochistan part of the final decisions as far as one can tell. This oversight is not without importance or implications. One of the concerns regarding the CPEC traversing Balochistan is the possibility of the nationalist insurgency impacting the project. If Gwadar’s conundrum is not addressed, these concerns could harden into reality. The PM should now place this question too before the steering committee to come to a consensus that allays the fears of Balochistan. It is an interesting post facto thought to wonder why such a ‘mountain’ has been made out of ‘a molehill’ as subsequent clarifications and decisions have shown. To understand the huge trust deficit on show between the three ‘smaller’ provinces on the one hand and Punjab and the Centre (virtually synonymous under the present dispensation) on the other, we have to traverse time and history to understand the knee-jerk reaction from KP and Balochistan. Unfortunately the explanation for the psychology that permeates the ‘smaller’ provinces is rooted in our history. Old style colonialism may have beaten a retreat from the subcontinent in 1947, and without going into the argument just how ‘independent’ ex-colonies like Pakistan became as a result, it is undeniable that a system of internal colonialism took root in Pakistan almost from day one. Punjab achieved the unenviable appellation of ‘big brother’ benefiting from the post-colonial state structures because of the institutional makeup of powerful state institutions such as the military and bureaucracy. After the death of the Quaid, the political class proved weak and ineffective, if not opportunistic, and steadily gave ground before the encroachments of these state institutions until Pakistan entered the realm of military regimes and the concomitant constructed national security state. Without delving into the case of East Pakistan (ironically housing the majority of the country’s population), that black chapter and subsequent events in what remains of Pakistan point in the direction of the internal colonialism thesis. Given this reality inherited from the past, only an open, sincere, democratic dispensation can deal with these historically received grievances and discontents, as the PM’s APC initiative on the CPEC shows.

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