Report: Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan Quietly Slowing Down China’s Belt and Road

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan makes a brief statement to reporters before a meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the U.S. Capitol July 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. In remarks before the meeting, Khan said that U.S.-Pakistan relations need to be reset. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key component of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has struggled to pick up steam under Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Nikkei Asian Review reported this week.

On Monday, the news outlet noted:

China is making overtures to the tribal and political leaders of Balochistan, a province in western Pakistan, in a bid to promote progress on infrastructure projects for its Belt and Road Initiative in the region, which has slowed significantly since a new government took power in Islamabad in August 2018.

The incumbent government of Pakistan has substantially slowed progress on CPEC projects in the country, with the delegation from Balochistan not having the necessary influence to bring about a change in Islamabad’s stance.

Since the inception of CPEC, Balochistan-based militants and separatists, namely members of the U.S.-designated terrorist group known as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), have been the primary source of attacks on Beijing interests, including on a Chinese consulate.

Some of the attacks have been deadly.

Nikkei notes:

With little sign of direct economic benefits for the people of impoverished Balochistan from CPEC, it is mostly local insurgent groups that have been behind a spate of attacks on Chinese interests since the corridor’s inception.

CPEC is expected to run through Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province. Balochistan is part of an ancient region that covers almost half of Pakistan, parts of Afghanistan, and Iran. The region is also home to some jihadi groups, including al-Qaeda and its rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Balochis claim oppression at the hands of Pakistan. Many of them are engaged in a simmering separatist insurgency opposed to Beijing’s investments on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan has long accused its regional rival India of using the BLA as a terrorist proxy. Islamabad claims the separatist group receives military aid through New Delhi envoys in neighboring Afghanistan, an accusation that India denies.

Both Pakistan and China consider India to be their rival.

Cash-strapped Pakistan may soon default on BRI loans often collateralized with natural resources and other strategic assets.

CPEC comes with a price tag of more than $60 billion.

The U.S. has warned Islamabad against using a loan from the American taxpayer-funded International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pay off China for the billions it has invested in the name of BRI.

Soon after Khan took office last year, Islamabad reportedly slashed the budget for a massive CPEC railway project by $2 billion. The decision came amid concerns over Pakistan’s debts to Beijing.

In July 2018, the Wall Street Journal determined that CPEC is fueling Pakistan’s financial woes.

The BRI aims to use a network of land and maritime infrastructure as well as digital projects to connect China to Africa, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere through Central and South Asia. Some BRI recipients, particularly in Africa, have complained about China potentially seizing some of its assets for defaulting on their loans.

China seized a port in Sri Lanka after the country failed to pay a BRI-linked loan.

The U.S. considers BRI a threat. American officials believe Beijing is using the project to expand China’s influence across the world and mask its military ambitions. U.S. officials have warned that Beijing is using BRI to undermine borrowing countries’ sovereignty by burying them in unsustainable loans.

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