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Pakistan’s internal challenges and CPEC

Raja Omer Shabbir

Pakistan’s economy is all set to take off with the successful trial run of the CPEC, but for this flight to blossom in full, we need to unhinge it from the myriad challenges that plague our internal affairs. On the political front, we are becoming increasingly polarised. Our capacity to reach a consensus on different issues is restricted by our party affiliation, regardless of the merits of the case. Because of this strict interpretation we have a government which has been tethering along since 2013. The present setup has seen little respite on one pretext or the other. Earlier it was on account of electoral rigging; now it is the Panama leaks. Consequently, this government has been in survival mode ever since its formation. It is not that the questions asked of the PML-N led government have been unmerited; it is just that the veneer of rigging and accountability seem to camouflage more elaborate hopes. The ongoing case of the Panama leaks has become a game of one-upmanship, which is sometimes played out on the roads, sometimes behind closed doors and now on the media and the court premises. This has kept the government distracted and also given it an alibi to present before those who scrutinise their performance. The present lull is perhaps only till the Supreme Court reaches its final verdict. Political bickering has also dented our efforts on the diplomatic front. The decision by the PTI to boycott the Turkish President’s address to a joint session of the parliament is inexplicable. Turkey is one of the few countries with whom we have a cordial relationship right now. A narrative read out by a Prime Minister whose political opponents are hell bent upon making him controversial even in front of an international audience will have no takers, no matter who he meets, what he presents or how eloquent he sounds behind the dice. The CPEC is also being unnecessarily politicised and a permanent picture of discontentment is being painted. It seems that everyone wants an equal share of the project regardless of whether it is merited or otherwise. The perception of Pakistan as a ‘rentier state’ is pretty strong in some influential diplomatic circles. This trade corridor is one project which promises to shift the balance in our favour by materialising the promise of Pakistan’s strategic location, which has been a pipedream ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Even if there are some outstanding issues with the implementation of the project, other avenues for compensating the aggrieved parties must be sought instead of jeopardising the entire project, as well as our ‘sense of togetherness’ or national integration. The CPEC is a network of roads, rail links, dams, ports, airports and economic zones, passing through the Western, Central and Eastern parts of Pakistan. This means that this entire infrastructure will be spread throughout Pakistan rendering it susceptible to terror attacks. The recent rise in terror attacks in Balochistan confirms the concerted effort of local and foreign elements to destabilise the province. Even though these efforts will not stop the CPEC from moving forward, it is a cause for serious concern for the long-term viability of the project. Operation Zarb-e-Azab has considerably constricted the physical space enjoyed by terror groups in our tribal areas, however, much needs to be done in other parts of Pakistan. The time for the need-based exigency in differentiating between militants is nearing its end. The perception of civil-military differences on matters of national security also becomes a challenge when magnified needlessly on the media. It encourages those elements who are willing spoilers in the political realm. Veiled references to the third umpire, lockdowns, and sit-ins are petty attempts to capitalise upon and magnify such assertions. These strategies when adopted by spoilers also have a regional context because external players like India aptly exploit the resulting instability by furthering their subversive activities inside Pakistan. The ceasefire violations across the Line of Control, the claim of surgical strikes inside Pakistan, and now even sea violations are more overt efforts to up the ante.
Just a few months ago, Narendra Modi was emboldened enough to claim interference in Balochistan openly.

Pakistan is a victim of terrorism despite our own historical culpabilities regarding this matter. We have been the centre stage of proxy wars be it between the United States and the USSR or Iran and Saudi Arabia. Even during the ongoing war on terror, we have lost over the US $118 billion and more than 50,000 lives, yet the world refuses to listen to us. Have we not suffered enough or do we have pretty little to offer the world right now? There will be many takers for peace, stability, political and national consensus, and economic prosperity but none for what we are offering today.

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