WASHINGTON: With souring relationship with Washington and growing business and strategic ties with Beijing, Pakistan is leading nothing more than a colony of China, said Dr Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official.
Pakistan joined hands with neighbouring China since after America’s growing relationship with India, a democratic nation having the world’s second-largest population.
Rubin believes that Pakistani leaders see in China strategic depth, an ally able to deter Indian retaliation across the line-of-control, and a partner unlikely to criticise Pakistani corruption, its poor treatment of religious minorities and its internal human rights record.
For China, Pakistan can be a major market, provide land links into West Asia, and a strategic port at Gwadar.
In his article published by the National Interest, Rubin said, “Pakistanis will soon realise — if they have not already — what a devil’s bargain their country has made. In China, Pakistan has tied itself to a country that is responsible for the incarceration in concentration camps of one million Muslims solely on the basis of their religion and it has partnered with a country that thinks nothing about killing Pakistanis and humiliating Pakistan.”
Now, it is also increasingly clear that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) may be becoming a major road for transmission into Pakistan and, more broadly, South Asia.
“While Pakistan has struggled with moderate succeed in stamping out hotspots where the coronavirus has erupted, communities living along the corridor in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan are fearful that Chinese trade and traffic along the corridor as well as its expedition of internal Pakistani commerce across regions, could enable the epidemic to spread like a wildfire. It may be this pressure which is leading Prime Minister Imran Khan to lift Pakistan’s lockdown prematurely,” said the article.
Rubin said that the full danger of spread along the CPEC may not yet be apparent. Weather blocks corridor passes during winter, but as spring thaws the ice and snow, commerce usually explodes.
Many Chinese workers had also returned home for the Chinese New Year, which coincided with necessary winter-related construction delay. But several hundred Chinese workers have now returned to Pakistan to work on the project, bringing the total numbers of Chinese workers on different CPEC projects to between 10,000 and 15,000.
“There is no indication that China has set up any testing and quarantine sites for CPEC workers in Pakistan,” he said.
Dr Rubin added, “Gilgit-Baltistan may be the canary in the coal mine as locals suffer for the sake of Pakistan’s China partnership. It is one of Pakistan’s harder-hit regions. It has only one testing centre and can test only fifteen people daily. While there are reportedly nine ventilators in the region, local doctors estimate they need at least two hundred of them. Pakistani officials have long neglected the region, even while working to strip away its right to self-rule.”
Pakistani authorities in Islamabad may accept Chinese assurances in order not to hurt Pakistan’s bottom line and insult Beijing, never mind that it was Chinese lies and obfuscation that enabled the epidemic to spread so far in the first place.
“It has been easy for Pakistani nationalists to use anti-Americanism and grievances real or imagined in order to shirk responsibility for their own actions and cynically drive a wedge between Islamabad and Washington. China has simultaneously courted Pakistan as Islamabad looked for new partners. Pakistanis may soon recognise, however, that China seeks not a partner, but a colonial vassal, the deaths of whose citizens it sees as wholly irrelevant,” said the former Pentagon official.