China’s unholy tango with Pakistan’s MILBUS
China and Pakistan inaugurated its ambitious CPEC project under the auspices of its Silk Road Initiative’ with much fanfare in 2013. The project was touted as game changer for the region. It was expected to boost the tottering Pakistani economy by ushering new business opportunities and create jobs for the local youths. Nine years down the line with a mammoth $62 billion poured into the project, the promised economic prosperity and jobs for the locals are nowhere to be seen.
On the job front, things are not as bleak as it seems, Chinese companies executing the project brought their own manpower for the job, however there are certainly few spinoffs where Pakistanis got employment. Dhabas have certainly cropped up along the corridor to feed the Chinese workforce employed in the project. The only catch being that given the Chinese appetite for pork, some enterprising Pakistanis have chosen for now to overlook the religious dictates and make the Haram food available for their Chinese customers. Another business that have prospered is the marriage industry; there are reports of young girls being married off to the Chinese nationals for handsome mehr (money or gifts paid by groom to the bride), much higher than the market rates. It is difficult to criticise parents of these girls as they are indeed in need of money and Chinese, at least some of them, can provide better life to their girls than the local unemployed Pakistani youths.
As far as legitimate business are concerned, most of them are controlled by the Pakistani Military. The Pakistani Military Industrial Complex has for sure raised a few eyebrows, even within the Pakistan civil society, who are otherwise browbeaten to not criticise their military establishments on any account. These critics inevitably run the risk of being called out as anti-national and Indian RAW agent. However, evidences in this case are too rich to be camouflaged under patriotic purdah that Pakistani military establishment so efficiently employs to cover many of its nefarious and self-serving endeavours.
Noted Pakistani activist Ayesha Siddiqa in her book “Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy” published in 2007, sheds some light into the highly impervious Pakistani Military Industrial Complex. In fact, she felt it necessary to coin an appropriate term – “Milbus” (military business) after realising that it’s “a completely independent genre of capital.” Another Pakistani journalist, Ghulam Hussain Shabrani, recently published an exhaustive account of ‘Pakistan Armies Business Empire’ in an article. The organisations listed in the article are matter of public record and hence cannot be argued away as away as motivated or hoax.
Having stated the obvious, what really should rankle the Chinese, who are invested so heavily into the CPEC project and are continuing to pour in more and more precious resources into this insatiable sinkhole, is Ms Ayesha Siddiqa’s definition of the infamous Pakistani ‘Milbus’. She defined it as “military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, but is neither recorded nor part of the defense budget,” the keyword here being personal benefit. Businesses’ are generally run with an objective of generating profit from its operations. The profits in turn allow businesses’ to sustain and grow in its own right. The Pakistani Milbus, however, does not run on this principle. The Military officers and bureaucrats who are in-charge of these businesses come with fixed tenures after which they either retire or are posted out. In either case, these Military elites are more interested in lining up their pockets in the short time available to them. In short, personal profit takes precedence over business bottom lines. Riddled with such high level of corruption, most of these business are inefficient and loss making ventures, designed to operate only as special purpose vehicles to divert the Chinese CPEC investment into pockets of select Pakistani military elites.
Well, can the Chinese really do anything about it? After all, the CCP under Xi Jinping was purportedly able to purge corruption within its organisations and the PLA some years back. It is, however, impossible in case of Pakistan. Pakistan military is too devious a beast to be tamed by standard communist tactics. If Chinese ever dare to raise a finger, much less interfere in the affairs of Pakistan Military, it would be the end of the great bonhomie between the two nations. Imran Khan, or whoever puppet is put in his pace, will all of the sudden start to see the atrocities on Muslims in the Xinjiang province. The Infidel pork eating Chinese working in Pakistan will overnight turn into legitimate targets for the Jihadist network that Pakistani Army has so carefully cultivated. Chinese business in Pakistan will suffer terrorist attacks and radical Islamic activism forcing them to shut and move out.
Many Pakistan and China observers have perhaps prematurely concluded that Pakistan has become a vassal state and colony of China. The relation between China and Pakistan, however, increasingly appears to be of a host and a parasite. Pakistan Military elite will suck as much wealth and resource from the Chinese as they are willing to give. Chinese in this regard are in the same quagmire that the USA was stuck for decades. For now, China has enough money to satiate the beast and Pakistan will not slaughter its milching cow till it runs dry.