China’s OBOR raising unease about Pakistan’s fragile democracy


Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be questioned on Thursday by investigators probing how his family obtained its vast wealth, the first time a sitting Pakistani premier has appeared before any investigative agency, Reuters reports.

Some analysts fear the recurrence of a syndrome described by analyst Aqil Shah, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. His latest book “demonstrates how military coups have followed similar patterns for decades — the army takes power, hands over to its chief, replacing so-called corrupt politicians with some form of legitimacy granted to the new regime.”

China’s ambitious New Silk Road – or One Belt, One Road – project is also raising unease and concerns about Pakistan’s fragile democracy, due to Beijing’s bilateralism, a lack of transparency, and corruption issues related to OBOR.

A recently leaked document is reinforcing the perception within India that China’s proposals “would turn Pakistan into an “economic colony of China” and threaten to create an unholy alliance between its two main strategic rivals.

The draft OBOR plan spelled out not only benefits China would derive from its investment in Pakistan, but the way Pakistan would be turned even more than it already is into a surveillance state in which freedoms of expression and media are manipulated, notes one observer.

Tensions between press freedom and national security came to a head recently when the nation’s most widely read English newspaper, Dawn, published remarks from a closed-door government meeting that offered a glimpse into the increasingly fractious relationship between elected officials and military leadership, writes Kate Musgrave, the Assistant Research and Outreach Officer at the Center for International Media Assistance. As reactions to the “Dawn leaks” case and the subsequent government inquiry have highlighted, however, there is one agenda both civilian and military elite appear to converge on: silencing the media in the name of national security, she notes:

As government leaders ready for elections in the summer of 2018, they feel the need now more than ever to display clear steps toward stability. That, however, is a high bar when faced with both ongoing terrorist activity and simmering disapproval from military leadership. Unwanted close-ups like the Dawn piece, highlighting division within the governing elites (not to mention questionable policies), risk scandal they cannot afford, especially in a nation with a history of military coups. While Pakistan battles enemies from within and without, there is little room for expression beyond the ever-constricting government line. RTWT

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