Pakistan is changing direction on China’s Belt and Road in an apparent bid to assuage Beijing amid rising security risks to its in-country nationals, interests and investments.
Prime Minister Imran Khan announced last week that businessman Khalid Mansoor would be the nation’s new point person for the Beijing-backed US$62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure-building program.
The announcement said Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa will step down as head of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (CPECA), ending the military’s de facto two-year control over a scheme that has been riddled with delays and wobbled by terrorist attacks.
Khan’s statement came after the bomb attack on a bus that killed nine Chinese nationals including engineers working on a CPEC-related hydro-power dam project.
Pakistani officials have since indicated it was the dirty work of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uighur militant group bent on targeting Chinese interests both in Xinjiang and abroad, and other militant groups.
The lethal attack came at an especially delicate, if not strategic, juncture as China tries to lobby Afghanistan’s Taliban into clamping down on terrorist attacks in exchange for infrastructure investments that would link the country with the CPEC further into Central Asia.
In line, Mansoor, a corporate executive who has worked in top positions with a CPEC-related China-Pakistan coal-mining syndicate in Sindh province and who has a history of liaising with Chinese companies and financial institutions, was named as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on CPEC affairs.
Significantly, Bajwa’s removal came just days after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed flew to Beijing to reassure their Chinese hosts that the military would provide full security cover to CPEC and non-CPEC projects.
Ahsan Iqbal, a former federal minister for planning and secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party told Asia Times that Khan’s government undermined the momentum and initiative of line ministries by imposing an unnecessary command structure that ultimately complicated the CPEC’s implementation.
The CPEC is now moving at a snail’s pace due to the Covid-19 pandemic, administrative red tape and a deteriorating security situation, witnessed most recently in July’s bomb attack.
The CPEC’s official website shows that over a dozen energy, communication and road projects have recently missed their completion deadlines.
Five CPEC power projects with a cumulative generation capacity of 3,600 megawatts have not started commercial operation by the prescribed deadlines.
Similarly, a $6.8 billion railway project designed to connect the cities of Peshawar and Karachi has not been finalized due to inordinate delays in the crucial 10th meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC.
The CPEC was first launched in 2015 as a part of Beijing’s ambitious BRI designed to connect China’s strategic northwestern Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port through a network of roads, railways and pipelines in order to transport cargo, oil and gas from the Middle East onward to to Central Asia via Pakistan.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2021.