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China concerned about Pakistan’s corruption affecting CPEC

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attends a ceremony to inaugurate the M9 motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad, near Hyderabad Pakistan February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Brussels [Belgium]: China is concerned about the impact of Pakistan’s rampant corruption on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), according to a leading European expert on South Asian affairs.

Dr. Siegfried O. Wolf, a senior researcher at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University and Director of Research at South Asia Democratic Forum, a Brussels-based think tank, told ANI in an exclusive interview that endemic corruption in the civilian and the military establishment in Pakistan and the flourishing culture of impunity for criminal activities in that country if not stopped, would severely affect the smooth and effective functioning of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.

Dr. Wolf said, “One has to be aware that if the country would have more transparency and accountability in political decision-making and their respective implementation in general, and an effective system of taxation and the habit of paying electricity bills (just to mention two concrete examples) in particular, the country would not be in such desperate need for foreign capital (from China). If these basic challenges are not addressed, many CPEC projects, especially in the energy sector, will be not sustainable, and will add to the external debts in an unprecedented manner.”

When asked whether the multi-billion dollar CPEC would be impacted should the Nawaz Sharif government fall, Dr. Wolf said such a scenario would ensure greater military control over the CPEC.

He said, “Most likely, an ousting of (the) Prime Minister Sharif’s government will have no severe impact on the continuation of CPEC implementation. However, it will definitely determine another setback in Pakistan unhealthy civil-military relations and a strengthening of military influence over CPEC.”

He further stated that since the launch of the CPEC, “the army has been able to increase tremendously its formal role within the country’s political-administrative institutions at the expense of civilians.”

He referred to the establishment of so-called apex committees at the federal and provincial levels, which combined with a lack of parliamentarian oversight by the national and provincial assemblies, has seriously hampered decision-making power of the government.

“In other words, the most important decisions related to CPEC are made by this military-bureaucratic hybrid; enhancing civil-military interaction to improve the security situation in general and to counter terrorism in particular,” Dr. Wolf told ANI.

“While the initial (and official) function of the apex committees relates to institutionalizing (and legitimizing) the process of decision-making via consultation between democratically elected authorities and the military, it is obvious that the supreme authority on most crucial issues lies with the army,” Dr. Wolf added.

“Apex committees are not just dealing with security issues; rather they function as core institutions dealing with the implementation of all kinds of CPEC-related projects. In sum, the apex committees essentially merge the military formally with the civilian government, it enhances their role in administrative management and strengthens the soldiers’ position in all decision-making areas relating to CPEC and beyond. This phenomenon got further enhanced by the establishment of military courts, which provided the soldiers with additional judicial power,” he said.

He said that one can argue, that the whole ‘Panama Papers case’, especially the composition of the JIT which included top brass from the security sector, “is just another case how the military has been able to strengthen its formal role in the country’s institutions.”

He believes that even if the Sharif government is forced to step down and political disturbances might surface, the CPEC implementation process will go on.

“However, what one should expect is a continuation of the army’s efforts to increase its formal role in CPEC decision-making bodies, for example through the formation of a new overall ‘CPEC authority’. Such a body would most likely operate as a consultative forum on the pattern of apex committees to centralize all corridor-related measures; one of the few attempts which got successfully blocked by PM Sharif until now,” Dr. Wolf said.

He concludes by saying that, “the resignation of Sharif as a consequence of the JIT report would be not only a crucial signal against corruption, but also create the path for a greater political role by the army.

“The argument made that the “Panama Papers issue” is a conspiracy against CPEC is a severe misreading of the political dynamics and decision-making powers regarding this development initiative.” (ANI)