Dec 11, 2018

Washington D.C. Conference on Environmental Consequences and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

On Tuesday, 11 December 2018, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the World Sindhi Congress (WSC) hosted a conference entitled “The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Assessing the Environmental Consequences of CPEC” at The University Club of Washington D.C. Among those speaking was: Mr Michael Kugelman, Mr Mushtaq Rajpar, Mr Munawar “Sufi” Laghari, and Mr Farhan Kaghzi. The conference facilitated open dialogue for those from various perspectives—the legality (or lack thereof) of the expansion of CPEC throughout indigenous land and communities to the geopolitics of Pakistan, China and the USA to the environmental consequences that are inevitably going to surface due to the mega project.

Mr Fernando Burges, Programme Manager at UNPO, and Ms Madeline Vander Velde, Project Assistant at UNPO, welcomed all to the event and introduced the context of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with relation to its impact on indigenous communities.

Mr Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia/Asia Programs at the Wilson Center, highlighted the position of the United States with regard to infrastructural development in Pakistan and the CPEC mega project as a whole. As an ally of Pakistan, the United States is very encouraging of Pakistan’s pursuance of development projects, however the likelihood of ever endorsing CPEC is quite low, given that China is a world competitor. Although there are not many comments (negative nor positive) that have come from U.S. government, the current administration has previously raised concerns regarding the Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Mr Kugelman explained the importance, from the American perspective, of continuing to further build on the Indo-Pacific strategy including India and BRI in the future. The energy security and economic situation of Pakistan are of great interest to the United States, but due to the strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China, the CPEC mega project is not seen as something sustainable or something that the administration is likely ever to support.

Mr Mushtaq Rajpar, journalist for The News International, followed by introducing the Pakistani perspective of the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, explaining that the project had been years in the making and was of great importance to strategic stability in the country. Pakistan, a strong ally of the United States, needed to ensure its economic and political stability in the region in order to make is less exclusively dependent on the U.S. Despite the fact that CPEC has the potential to contribute quite a bit to communities throughout Pakistan, on more than one level, expectation and reality have not met. For one, the administration and elite of Pakistan have been all but transparent--”the people of Pakistan have been kept in the dark” Mr Rajpar stated. He continued, noting that although CPEC has been talked up as a project that will bring economic stability, wealth and development to all of the people of the country, that many--especially the indigenous communities of Pakistan (Sindhi and Baloch) and the disputed territories of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan--(1) do not and will not taste the fruitful bearings of the project, and (2) are often subject to violations of their resource-rich regions and human rights.

Mr Munawar “Sufi” Laghari, Executive Director of Sindhi Foundation, raised the recent criticism of the Balochistan government on CPEC which indicated that the benefits of two major projects of CPEC--the construction of the Gwadar port and the Hubco coal-based power plant--did not directly affect the people of Balochistan. Mr Sufi Laghari agreed with Mr Kugelman about the United State’s position on the project, adding that the “U.S. [was] asleep regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”. He insisted the importance of the need for the U.S. and the European Union to counter Chinese “dollar diplomacy”, by pointing to the increase in China’s presence in various developing countries throughout the world. Laghari further denounced the current and continued development of CPEC due to the connection it has to Pakistan’s ruling greedy elite and military, and the indifference that is shown towards the environment and security of the country as a whole. The most affected part of Pakistan is its indigenous peoples, which is reflected in lacking infrastructure and disregard to human rights. Mr Laghari used Balochistan--where there have been more than 700 disappearances in 2018 alone--as an example of this.

Mr Farhan Kaghzi, Information Secretary of the World Sindhi Congress, thanked Mr Kugelman, Mr Rajpar and Mr Laghari for the topics on which they spoke, and focused on the topics of fiscal debt, energy and the environment. He highlighted Pakistan being the third-most affected country by climate change and indicated solar energy as an untapped potential and clean source for national energy security. Mr Kaghzi ended his speech, reiterating that benefits from CPEC are likely only to reach the rich and will inevitably also lead to the internal displacement especially of Pakistan’s indigenous communities.

After all speakers presented their respective opinions, the floor was opened for a number of questions before ending on the note of the need to continue discussion on the topic of environmental degradation of CPEC, the lag between projection versus reality of communal benefits of the mega project, and indigenous rights.