Security is heightened outside the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan after it came under attack recently.

The taking of life under any circumstances and for whatever reason cannot be condoned but  one could be accused of being simple-minded if the recent ‘terror’ attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi which claimed some four lives is seen as having only security implications. It has security dimensions and more and what is called for is far more than a superficial examination of the event that has triggered concern region-wide.

It is reported that a Balochistan-based militant group is behind the attack and it would be relevant to recollect that this province has been one of the most restive regions in Pakistan over the decades. Likewise, the province has been suffering from endemic poverty and underdevelopment. These factors need to be kept in focus when analysing the causes for the recent bloodshed at the Chinese consulate.

The fact of the matter is that China is being seen as ‘oppressive’ by some disaffected sections in the more deprived regions of Pakistan and as long as this is so, Chinese interests could be said to be at some risk in Pakistan. But given that violence and bloodshed cannot be condoned, the onus is on the Pakistani state to bring the perpetrators of the mentioned act of lawlessness to justice.

However, what should be also clear is that in some regions of Pakistan poverty and other forms of deprivation are continuing to cause disaffection and unrest. Separatist tendencies in Balochistan could be traced, to a degree, to these roots.

Of relevance is a statement issued after the attack on the Karachi consulate by a separatist organization based in the troubled province, named Balochistan Liberation Army, by its head. It reads – ‘We have been seeing the Chinese as an oppressor, along with the Pakistani forces….destroying the future of Balochistan.’ The attack, he said, was ‘aimed at making it clear that China’s military expansion on Baloch soil will not be tolerated.’

In the short and medium terms, Pakistan and all those sections of the world community that stand by the democratic process and the rule of law have no choice but to meet the challenge of extremist militancy by military or law and order means. In this effort Pakistan would also have the support of India, which is on record as having stated after the Karachi attack, ‘There can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism.’ India, too, roundly condemned the attack. Such firm support by India for the implementation of a law and order approach to ‘terror’ should not go unnoticed by Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.

However, at a particular level, the Karachi attack should be seen as a ‘wake-up call’ of sorts. It is quite some time since South Asia has come to be seen as a region of promise with economic heavyweights of the ’emerging’ kind. One of these is Sri Lanka which is said to have made vast strides in the direction of poverty alleviation over the years. So much so, she is a ‘middle income country’ which could now do without much ODI. Indeed, Sri Lanka is an ‘investment hub’ of the region.

An increased Chinese presence in Pakistan is giving rise to fears that they are an “exploitive actor.”
An increased Chinese presence in Pakistan is giving rise to fears that they are an “exploitive actor.”

To be fair by her, it cannot be said that Pakistan has been touted as an ‘economic powerhouse’. She is a country on the mend, from the point of view of democratic development, and is a regional power to contend with, but has been spared the exaggerated praise ’emerging’ South Asian states have been showered with. This accrues to Pakistan’s benefit because she could assess her progress or otherwise realistically.

In this connection, Pakistan and this region would do well to recollect the thoughts of no less a person than former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, whose death anniversary the world commemorates in December each year. In fact, Benazir was herself a victim of terrorism. But she faced squarely the implications of militant violence in her time and came to grips with the convulsive political phenomenon of separatism.

The evidence of the foregoing is in her highly insightful autobiography titled. ‘Daughter of the East’. Here, she states plainly that it was the deprivations and discrimination East Pakistan suffered at the hands of West Pakistan that led to East Pakistan’s separatist movement of the early seventies that eventually resulted in the break-up of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh.

Accordingly, although immediate security concerns growing out of militant or separatist violence need to be dealt with through the exercise of legitimate state coercion or law and order means, the long term answer to such violence is development, correctly conceived and implemented. Equality is the core value that needs to guide development drives. We have just been freshly ‘woken-up’ to this essential requirement in governance.

Unfortunately, the increasing Chinese presence in this region seems to be feeding the unfounded notion among some sections that China is, indeed, some sort of ‘exploitive’ actor. But China cleared the air over this allegation in connection with her major investments in Sri Lanka. To begin with, she is here on the invitation of the Sri Lankan state on the basis of mutually-agreed terms. There is parity of status, for example, in the Hambantota Port deal which will eventually be fully owned by Sri Lanka.

Like in Sri Lanka, China is in Pakistan on the invitation of the State.
Like in Sri Lanka, China is in Pakistan on the invitation of the State.

Likewise, in the case of Pakistan, China is in Pakistan as a major investor on the invitation of the Pakistani state. There is clearly no encroachment on the sovereign rights of host countries by China. The onus is on the host state to accept or reject the overtures of China. The fact is that the host states concerned cannot easily say no to the Chinese terms.

It cannot be emphasized enough that China is primarily bent on worldwide ‘business’. This is a perfectly legitimate activity for which China cannot be faulted. Her ‘Belt and Road’ mega infrastructure development project is aimed at facilitating Chinese ‘business’ although economic links between powerful and weak states could translate into a patron-client bind of sorts, if the host state does not pay heed to the costs of being over-dependent.

However, the recent developments in Pakistan, along with the simmering separatist violence in some of India’s far-flung, poverty-hit states remind us that development concerns at home should not be allowed to be eclipsed by foreign policy preoccupations growing out of the need for external funding and investments. Deprivations at home, if allowed to fester, could bring to nought externally-induced ‘development trajectories’.



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