Pakistan recently cleared a bill in Parliament that will virtually give the Pakistan army sweeping control over the $60 billion. Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects while diminishing the role of the civilian government.
The proposed law has caused discomfort in the opposition ranks and sparked concerns over the possible implications of establishing a “parallel government”.
Military control over the CPEC project benefits China in more ways than one, according to various experts.
Pakistan Army directly involved in CPEC part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to expedite the pace of the projects.
Ensuring a healthy pace of BRI projects in Pakistan is crucial for Chinese ambitions as it seeks to expand its influence in the South Asian region, even if it comes at the cost of financially draining the partner nations.
The Centre for Global Development had pointed out that Pakistan is among the eight countries most at risk of falling into debt distress due to China’s BRI projects.
Nations like Pakistan are staring at rising debt-to-GDP ratios beyond 50 percent, with at least 40 percent of external debt owed to China once BRI lending is complete.
Greater involvement of the army will also serve to address China’s security concerns vis-a-vis Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Chinese contractors and engineers working in the Baluchistan and Sindh regions have been kidnapped and killed over the last few years.
Bajwa’s previous position as the former head of the army’s Southern Command, which covers the province of Baluchistan, will allay some of these concerns.
Bajwa was undoubtedly selected out of a belief that he could address security concerns in particular. Beijing is worried about terrorism in Baluchistan, where separatists have stepped up attacks.
The CPEC project, which links China’s western city of Kashgar to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, also passes through the Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. The region is the gateway of the CPEC infrastructure plan.
With the Gilgit-Baltistan coming under its ambit, the Pakistan army’s role is even more crucial as the region has remained disputed for decades but at the same time, it is important for China as well as Pakistan to have control over this area for the construction of CPEC.
Without Gilgit-Baltistan, the Chinese will have limited access to Gwadar.
Activists claim the move was aimed at addressing China’s concern about the region’s disputed status. India has out rightly condemned this move, calling it Pakistan’s bid to camouflage its illegal occupation of the region.