In 2019, the Imran Khan government adopted an ordinance to establish the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (CPECA) for the timely execution of high-ticket CPEC projects. It has been widely speculated that the CPECA was set up to thank China, which had expressed dismay at the slow progress on the CPEC front and wanted the military to get directly involved. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close aide, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa (retired), became the first chairman of the authority.
Since its inception, the ECSC has faced a question from Pakistani parliamentarians, as it undermines the role of civilian government and functions as a “parallel authority”.
But things got worse when the ordinance expired in May of this year.
According to Pakistani media reports, Bajwa continued to chair the CPEC long after May, despite the fact that he has no legal sanctions for doing so. This raised eyebrows in the country, with several opposition leaders questioning the legal status and functioning of the authority after the ordinance expired. Concerns have been raised especially since Bajwa was embroiled in a major corruption scandal earlier this year and had to step down as special adviser to Prime Minister Khan.
In recent months, the Pakistani government has been working on a bill aimed at restoring the controversial CPEC Authority. In November, a parliamentary committee finally approved the draft law of the CPEC 2020 Authority in the National Assembly. The proposed law will be put to a final vote in the second week of December.
But the devil is in the details.
The bill will not only pave the way for the official return of the CPEC Authority, but will give the Pakistani military much greater control over the CPEC. According to a report on Nikkei Asia, the proposed law will allow Bajwa to replace the planning minister as co-chair of a Pakistan-China joint committee and eliminate the role of the planning ministry as an administrative division and authority.
“A new post of chief of staff is also proposed in the bill and it is proposed to eliminate the position of CEO. Currently, the CEO is a senior officer in the bureaucracy. It is proposed to abolish the two functions of executive directors,” it was said in the report.
Most importantly, Bajwa will report directly to Prime Minister Imran Khan instead of the planning ministry. Observers believe that this would give the military a wide influence on key projects, as Khan is considered close to the army and critics often call him “elected prime minister” or “puppet leader”.
The report said the law seeks to grant legal immunity to CPECA officials, which will make them unable to be held accountable for the tens of billions of dollars spent on projects and put them outside the jurisdiction of Pakistani courts.
The law further provides that the President of the CPEC shall have the power to order an investigation against any official who refuses to cooperate with the Agency.
What does China contain?
Military control over the CPEC project benefits China in several ways, according to various experts.
Sources in Pakistan’s planning ministry told the Asia Times that China wants this Pakistani army be directly involved in the CPEC – part of its ambitious belt and road initiative – to accelerate the pace of projects.
Ensuring a healthy pace for BIS projects in Pakistan is crucial for Chinese ambitions, as it seeks to expand its influence in the South Asian region, even if it involves the financial drainage of partner countries.
A report by the Center for Global Development pointed out that Pakistan is among the eight countries most at risk of falling into difficulty due to China’s BIS projects.
The report said that nations such as Pakistan are looking to increase debt / GDP rates above 50%, with at least 40% of China’s external debt due to the completion of BIS loans.
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Moreover, greater military involvement will also serve to address China’s security concerns against Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Several Chinese entrepreneurs and engineers working in the Balochistan and Sindh regions have been abducted and killed in recent years. Thus, Bajwa’s previous position as former head of the army’s southern command, which covers Balochistan province, will alleviate some of these concerns.
“Bajwa was undoubtedly selected on the grounds that it could address security concerns in particular. Beijing is concerned about terrorism in Balochistan, where separatists have intensified attacks on Chinese targets in recent years,” commentator Arif Rafiq wrote in a statement. article on foreign policy. .
The CPEC project, which connects the western Chinese city of Kashgar with the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, also passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, occupied by Pakistan. The region is the gateway to the CPEC infrastructure plan.
“With Gilgit-Baltistan coming under its control, the role of the Pakistani military is all the more crucial as the region has been challenged for decades, but at the same time, it is important that China, as well as Pakistan, have control over this area. building the CPEC, “an analyst told the IANS news agency on condition of anonymity.
Without Gilgit-Baltistan, the Chinese will have limited access to Gwadar.
According to media reports, Pakistan has decided to raise Gilgit Baltistan in a full-fledged province under pressure from the Chinese government. Activists say the measure was aimed at addressing China’s concerns about the region’s contested status. India has strongly condemned the move, calling it Pakistan’s demand to camouflage its illegal occupation of the region.