China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) weaknesses continue to grow, having wheezed since its announcement in April 2015 as a showpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The recent alliance between Baloch and Sindhi separatist groups against Chinese interests, increasing security threats from the so-called ‘three evils’ in Pakistan, terrorism, religious extremism, and ethnic separatism, may further hinder CPEC. If CPEC is to ever take root, Pakistan must fence in the “three evils” by good governance.
As a perpetrator and survivor of the first evil, terrorism, Pakistan has long suffered. The United Nations Financial Action Task Force’s decision last month to keep Pakistan on the grey list for failing, amid repeated warnings, to dismantle terrorist financial infrastructure is reflective of the contradictory approach of Islamabad to countering terrorism.
The blasphemy law of Pakistan remains a crucial challenge in securing religious freedom for the religious minorities of the country and in countering the second evil, extremism. These laws have been used to persecute minority religions and disproportionately blame them. There was no unwavering commitment to decide to implement significant curriculum changes to more than 30,000 madrassas as part of a strategy to eradicate radical networks.
The decades-long rebellion for an independent Balochistan by ethnic Balochs represents the third evil, separatism. Pakistan’s largest and most vulnerable province holds the key to CPEC’s success or failure, with abysmal quality of life indicators, prolonged neglect, repression, and abuse of its capital. The seaport of Gwadar, a deep-water access point to the Arabian Sea which is crucial to China, is home to Balochistan. As the oppressed Balochs fear population migration and environmental degradation as corollaries to CPEC, peace in the province remains elusive. The Baloch insurgency is sustained by growing resentment among local citizens, who claim that CPEC’s economic benefits will flow exclusively to the state.
China-‘Three Pakistan’s Evils’ partnership has allowed Pakistan to escalate its major campaigns of intimidation and enforced disappearance of dissenters. The hawkish view of rebels in Islamabad widely converges with the fears of China about the ‘three evil’ powers to quash the region’s ethnic-based struggles.
CPEC appears to be the very few chances to move the country towards growth and modernization as the international community becomes skeptical about lending more support to Pakistan. A good place to start will be to get rid of the ‘three evils’ with a good approach to governance, rising extremism, and to contain separatist movements.