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April 24, 2015

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A Friday rundown of Pakistan’s top policy headlines on JI’s radar this week

Safeguarding the PCEC

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to Islamabad this weekbrought economic deals worth $46 billion in much needed infrastructure, energy and trade investments to Pakistan, despite significant security challenges on ground. While no political party favours outsourcing the Pak-China Economic Corridor’s (PCEC)security to private groups, DG ISPR Asim Bajwa explained and clarified the military’s intention in a tweet about raising a special security contingent for the protection of Chinese workers and engineers along the length of the corridor, that will comprise of nine Army battalions and six wings of the Civil Armed Forces (CAFs).It is reported this that this special division will be patterned on the Frontier Corps.

Over the past few months, China has withdrawn support for six energy projects in Balochistan, citing insufficient technical infrastructure, which some have read as an indicator of Beijing’sconcern for the safety of its workers abroad. Security for the PCEC’s mega-network of pipelines, highways and railway lines will require 24-hour patrolling and surveillance, as China and Pakistan interconnect Gwadar port to the western Chinese city of Kashgar, 3,000 kilometers away, part of which lies in militancy-hit districts in Pakistan’s north.

Terrorism against Chinese professionals in Pakistan dates back to 2004, when a car bomb in Gwadar killed three engineers. More recently, the Chinese government has been criticized at home for not doing enough to protect its workers in conflict zones, following Boko Haram’s abduction of 10 Chinese workers in Cameroon last year.

Chinese Investment and Energy Governance

The $46 billion investment plan signed under a number of agreements and MoUs during President Xi Jinping’s long-awaited visit this week has been well-received, but has triggered national debate on public capacity to undertake and manage the envisaged projects. Significantly, a large chunk of the investment is meant to plug Pakistan’s gaping energy deficit. Up to $15.5 billion worth of coal, wind, solar and hydro power projects are expected come up over the medium term, adding 10,400 megawatts of energy to the national grid.

The energy sector in Pakistan remains mired in governance malaise that renders it unable to absorb the quantum of project financing coming from China. Recent LNG imports from Qatar, for example, underscored the government’s inability to draw a clear policy framework before undertaking such projects. Similarly, independent power production has inadequately addressed energy needs, in spite of a reasonable incentive structure. Chinese companies are known to have backed away earlier from energy projects in Pakistan, owing to public sector incapacity and other challenges.

Strengthening Pakistan economically may well suit Beijing’s strategic interest, but Chinese companiesare hardly driven by the same impulse.Chinese investment offers a historic opportunity to rescue Pakistan from its enduring energy crisis, but whether Pakistan can make good on that opportunity depends on crucial reform in the energy sector.

Cybercrime Bill Controversy

The Standing Committee on Information Technology’s approval of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill has been met with widespread condemnation by digital and human rights activists as well as civil society. In a strongly worded joint statement issued by Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, Digital Rights Foundation and other organizations, the Bill was described as a “blank cheque for abuse”, which compromises the freedom of expression and makes egregious breaches of privacy.

Sections 15 and 18 of the Bill – which deal with the unauthorized issuance of SIM cards and defamation – have been labelled superfluous by activists who claim there is existing legislation to deal with such matters. Section 34 is criticized for allowing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) unchecked control over web content, to safeguard religion, national security, public order and public morality. A lack of judicial or other independent oversight in the PEC’s frame means that issues of transparency and accountability are inevitable.

While opinion leaders have for long recommended a bill to curb cyber-crime, harassment and hate speech; the proposed bill’s multiple deficits have led many to demand its recall.

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Prisoners practice arts at an in-house facility at the Karachi Central Jail.

Image Courtesy: Ahmer Qureshi

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Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousufzai and Oscar-winning film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy were listed as ‘Women of Impact’ by the New York Times this week. The list also includes US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, among others.

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