The Pakistani media has termed the six-day visit of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif to China as successful. Prior to the visit, hype was created about its importance and resolving Pakistan’s two major problems: energy shortage and dwindling economy. The PM, to the satisfaction of the people, made the right noises during his first overseas’ visit, which came within six weeks of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s epoch-making tour of Pakistan, in which the foundations of strengthening economic ties had been laid.
Substantial homework had been done prior to the PM’s visit to China and unlike previous instances, concrete follow up within a stipulated timeframe and an “institutional mechanism” for speedy implementation have been established. Setting up task forces on both sides to ensure the timely planning and execution of the projects and Pakistani government's decision to set up a China Cell at the PM House to monitor and pursue the work on projects to forestall delay are likely to ensure fruition of the envisaged projects.
Establishing the economic corridor from Gwadar to Kashgar and the energy projects are the lifeline to Pakistan. Mass transit systems are the need of the hour, but owing to large expense involved, they should be rethought. The express train is a non-starter for Pakistan, while the underground train system can be set up in Karachi only for the time being and metro buses for major cities. Instead, Pakistan should revamp its existing, but inefficient railway system.
Our cash-starved economy will receive a boost through Chinese entrepreneurs, establishing industries and road or rail communication infrastructure in Pakistan, as well as investing in the mining of rich minerals in Balochistan. The proposal for the creation of a joint Pakistan-China Investment Fund, with inputs from Beijing and Islamabad, will be beneficial to both. Chinese investment may be in the form of soft loans, which can be offset by exclusive mining rights to China in Balochistan, Thar and Gwadar Port operations.
Some analysts recommend the establishment of a China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation Council under Prime Minister Nawaz, which must meet every three months to review progress of the various initiatives meant to revive the economy and recover the energy differential. Without such a watchdog, the new MoUs will get buried unacted upon under piles of previous MoUs.
The major stumbling blocks in the execution of the Sino-Pak MoUs are Pakistani bureaucratic red tape, safety and security of the Chinese personnel and stability in Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan. Evidence is now available that India is not only fomenting trouble in Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan, but has also orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai carnage and 2001 attacks on its own Parliament to pressurise Pakistan.
Will Mian Sahib still pursue his one-sided peace overtures to India? He would be advised to ensure the success of the Sino-Pak economic cooperation since his own survival depends on it. The energy-starved people hit by economic constraints and lack of security can well take to the streets and topple his government.
The security of ordinary Pakistanis and Chinese in the ‘land of the pure’ can be guaranteed only if the government sits down seriously with all stakeholders, including the opposition and law enforcement agencies, and evolves a concrete national security strategy that includes exposing Indian machinations in Pakistan, in the light of disclosures made by India’s own sources.
China’s detractors do not want Chinese footprint in Pakistan. Perhaps, it is a conspiracy theory, but my reading is that the leak to Al Jazeera TV of the “Abbottabad Commission Report” on the US SEALs assassination of Osama bin Laden, on the eve of PM Nawaz’ return from China was meant to present Pakistani security agencies in bad light to the world and China.
The report exposes the “incompetence and negligence” of Pakistani government, its security agencies and armed forces in remaining oblivious of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad for years and their inability to stop the US SEALs from infiltrating deep into Pakistan and executing their clandestine operation with impunity.
Since China would be investing heavily into projects in Pakistan through capital, manpower and material resources, it would be perturbed by the inefficiency of Pakistani law enforcement agencies.
Simultaneously, the successful targeting of President Asif Ali Zardari’s chief security officer on July 10 is a clear message that no one is safe in Pakistan, however heavily guarded. The situation demands making a concerted effort to check terrorism on a war footing, lest the best laid plans go awry due to lack of effort and half-hearted intent.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.