The new-found Pakistan-China friendship faces multiple pressing challenges; some stem from the geopolitical contest in the region, and others from an array of socio-political factors in both countries.
The Indian, Japanese and US displeasure over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), manifest in greater synchronization of thought and action, are meanwhile pretty evident. This alliance, clearly at variance with China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR), took a formal shape after President Donald Trump’s new South/West Asia strategy. One would assume that the core of decision-makers in Beijing/Islamabad and Rawalpindi are taking care of this.
Non-political challenges, equally important, flow from domestic socio-economic factors and necessitate urgent coordinated Pak-China efforts. Poor rule of law, porous governance, and exploitation of such weaknesses by criminals are some of those challenges that both countries face.
Two cases in point merit a mention here; recent conviction of two Chinese nationals for skimming ATMs in Karachi, and the murder of two Chinese preachers, who were abducted from Quetta and later executed late last year.
These cases demonstrate a new trend ie willful abuse of the conditions that CPEC has generated across Pakistan. A number of Chinese have landed in Pakistan under one pretext or the other, mostly in the name of business ventures. While the majority is legitimate officials and workers associated with various projects, a number of them in effect are out for making quick bucks through defrauding potential local business partners or by indulging in financial frauds such as the skimming of ATMs. Generally, they would impersonate as business executives.
Markets are also awash with speculations that several Chinese are on a shopping spree — trying to acquire real estate and commercial properties and deploying sophisticated techniques — as highlighted in several China-Hong Kong-origin video warnings on how to avoid being waylaid by criminal predators.
The phenomenon is nothing new to Chinese officials. A grand campaign against the gang crime launched officially by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently also testifies to it. On February 5, four top organs of China’s legal enforcement system — the Supreme People’s Court Supreme, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Justice — issued a joint announcement saying they will “strictly crack down on evil forces’ illegal acts according to law.” In line with the CCP’s notification, the announcement used equally grim wording to urge all criminal elements to turn themselves in before March 1, otherwise, they will be “punished severely according to law.”
Organized crime in Pakistan, often in collusion with lower rang police and bureaucracy, is also a reality that officials in big cities such as Lahore and Karachi are wrestling with.
Common people or businessmen are eager to take a slice off the CPEC related businesses either underway or in the pipeline.
This rush for money-minting and the criminals’ propensity to extract monetary advantaged out of it in unscrupulous ways represents a huge hazard for both governments. It, therefore, warrants deployment of critical institutional and social checks on potential abuse of goodwill or violation of laws.
While the Chinese Communist Party has taken important stakeholders including media and lawyers on board to counter gang crime — an important element of President Xi’s agenda against crime and graft -, Pakistan has yet to initiate such a grand initiative. Given the current political polarization and the deficient focus on social crime, the situation is likely to get worse as the CPEC footprint expands through more Chinese businesses.
Pakistani political parties probably need to agree on a new social contract around Pak-China friendship. Guided by the grand political consensus on relations with China, this contract should envisage remedies for problems that are arising out of the business and investment activity. If left unattended, any illegal activity by Pakistanis or Chinese — extortion, fraud, financial crime — will only reinforce the detractors’ narrative on CPEC and might cause unnecessary frictions. Better nip the evil right now through preemptive measures instead of repenting later to the detriment of the thus far excellent relationship. Prompt punitive actions for crimes that could cast shadows on CPEC could be helpful in deterring fraud. Pakistanis need to pull up socks and assume greater responsibility instead of burdening their Chinese friends.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs, and also heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. Can be reached at Imtiaz@crss.pk
This article was first published in the Daily Times, Pakistan. Click here to go to the original.