New Delhi: Syed Mir Jafar Ali Khan Bahadur, the military general who betrayed Siraj ud-Daulah, the last Nawab of Bengal, during the Battle of Plassey (1757), paved the way for the British East India Company’s colonization of India.
China may now have discovered in a Pakistani general its own ‘Mir Jafar’.
Since 2013, when Beijing and Islamabad signed up for the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), many far-sighted Pakistani intellectuals and Members of Parliament apprehended it as yet another East India Company (EIC)-type attempt of China to colonize the country.
Their fears are proving right. Lieutenant-General (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi’s Man Friday is like Mir Jafar, facilitating the CPEC’s implementation at a breakneck speed at the cost of his own nation’s larger interests.
Pakistan recently cleared a bill in Parliament that will virtually give its all-powerful army sweeping control over the CPEC projects while diminishing the role of the civilian government. The Opposition fears that it would create a ‘parallel government’ of China in Pakistan.
In 2019, the Imran government had passed an ordinance to establish the CPEC Authority (CPECA) for the timely execution of its various projects. China was unhappy with the slow pace and wanted Islamabad to involve the Pakistan Army in its execution.
So, Khan appointed his close aide Lt Gen Bajwa as the first chairman of the CPECA for a year. But Bajwa continued in the post even after May 2020 when the ordinance lapsed. Meanwhile, he had also to quit as Khan’s special advisor due to his alleged involvement in a major corruption case.
But the Pakistan Army ensured that Parliament did what China wanted. The government drafted a bill to reinstate the controversial CPECA. In November, a parliamentary committee finally cleared the CPECA Bill 2020 in the National Assembly. The proposed law will be put to a final vote later this month (December).
It will reinstate the CPEC Authority under the overall control of the Pakistani Army, not under the civilian government. It will also allow Lt Gen Bajwa to replace the planning minister as co-chair of a Pakistan-China joint committee and eliminate the role of the planning ministry completely.
Not just that. The bill also proposes to scrap the post of the CPECA’s CEO and replace it with that of a Chief of Staff. The two positions of the Authority’s Executive Directors would also be abolished. And, of course, Lt Gen Bajwa would report directly to the PM, not the planning minister.
These sweeping changes would make the Pakistan Army control all the CPEC projects, grant legal immunity to the CPECA officials, make them unaccountable to Pakistan laws, and put them out of the purview of Pakistani courts, media reported.
That was precisely what the EIC extracted from Mir Jafar.
According to a report by the Center for Global Development, Pakistan is among the eight countries most at risk of falling into debt distress due to China’s Border Road Initiative (BRI) projects, of which the CPEC is a key component.
Vulnerable countries like Pakistan are likely to risk rising debt-to-GDP ratios beyond 50 percent, with at least 40 percent of external debt owed to China once BRI lending is complete.
Only recently, Pakistan entrapped itself by seeking more Chinese financial help to pay off the debt to Saudi Arabia.