Pakistan army muscles in on Belt and Road project

Pakistan army muscles in on Belt and Road project

Military pushing for law to sideline government in $62bn programme

Pakistan’s powerful military and civilian parliament are wrestling for control of China’s $62bn Belt and Road Initiative in the country.

Supporters of the army, which maintains close ties with Beijing, have exploited dysfunction in prime minister Imran Khan’s government to push legislation that would give it greater control over China’s infrastructure programme.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority bill proposes carving out a new position to be held by a military officer to “accelerate the pace” of construction.

Under the proposed law, the government would cede further ground to the military, which took over control of CPEC last year through a presidential ordinance that bypassed parliament.

It would also give the CPEC Authority — whose strategic decision-making committee is co-chaired by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Beijing’s top planning agency — greater financial autonomy from Islamabad.

“It’s basically building a new institution that is parallel to the government. We are in a phase of hybrid martial law,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, who studies Pakistan’s military.

“The military is taking decisions without any accountability,” she said. “It has become very dangerous. It’s a matter of long-term commitment of national resources.”

The development highlights the growing influence of the Pakistan military after Mr Khan struggled to mount a swift response to the coronavirus pandemic and rescue the faltering economy.