Beijing’s flagship programme, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) worth approximately $62 billion, has already received criticism from India and the US. Experts believe that the CPEC project is most vulnerable to militant threats.
With soaring India-China tension on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), anti-China sentiment has risen in India after the violent clash in the Galwan valley where 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number on the Chinese side were killed.
“There is an elevated sense of concern at the moment around the fact that China-India tensions have become so bad, and this might lead to the Indians providing more discreet support for Baluchi groups, which is something that they have done in the past,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute whose research focuses on terrorism and counterterrorism.
The Baloch groups say that the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan are hit by China’s “expansionist” and “oppressive” policies that are intended to “subjugate” them. According to Zhou Rong, a senior fellow at Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, the separatists are only competent of little more than “toppling telephone poles and damaging railway tracks”.
“But now, most of their chiefs are from the new generation with college degrees and education,” he said. Also, there seems to concerns about the external forces that might support these groups in fulfilling their agendas.
Earlier, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing had said CPEC is no longer threatened by the Baloch militant organisations adding that the members of the banned organisation aren’t true Pakistanis and they should work in the interest of Pakistan.
Border and Road Initiative (BRI) launched the multi-billion dollar CPEC programme in 2015 intending to connect Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
The program was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping. After completion of key projects in the first phase, “the second phase will focus on the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), strengthening trade and cultural ties through joint ventures and exchange of delegations,” said Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan.
However, the progress has been slow due to several projects being delayed or shelved. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely to worsen the situation.
The US has also criticised the CPEC programme saying that it is neither transparent nor cost-efficient. It has further warned Pakistan that it is subjecting itself to expensive loans under China’s BRI through which Beijing has pledged more than US$60 billion so far.
However, the warning has landed on deaf ears and Islamabad has defended the programme saying that this is an opportunity for Pakistan for its economic development.
“Countries like India and the US are trying to create disturbance in the region and create hurdles for the early completion of this project,” said Syed Inam ur Rahman, a professor at the International Islamic University in Pakistan. Analysts believe that the CPEC programme can get caught in the rivalries between the three neighbours viz-a-viz India Pakistan and currently India China as well.