Pakistan denies Chinese economic corridor projects shifting from Gwadar to Karachi amid worsening security

Pakistan denies Chinese economic corridor projects  shifting from Gwadar to Karachi amid worsening security
A general view of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, an important part of the CPEC project (Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Pakistan denies Chinese economic corridor projects shifting from Gwadar to Karachi amid worsening security

Pakistan denies Chinese economic corridor projects  shifting from Gwadar to Karachi amid worsening security
  • Maritime minister says new $3.5 billion Karachi coastal development project was just an expansion of CPEC framework
  • Spike in attacks by militants in Balochistan has rattled China, which has publicly demanded Pakistan improve security for Chinese workers

KARACHI: A top Pakistani official has said that a proposed $3.5 billion coastal development project in the port city of Karachi is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, denying that the focus of the multibillion-dollar project was being shifted from Gwadar to Karachi.

Gwadar, in the southwestern province of Balochistan, is the crown jewel of China’s more than $60 billion CPEC investment in Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan. The plan was to turn Gwadar into a trans-shipment hub and megaport to be built alongside special economic zones from which export-focused industries would ship goods worldwide. A web of energy pipelines, roads and rail links would connect Gwadar to China’s western regions.

However, growing insecurity and a rise in attacks by militants in Balochistan has rattled China, which has publicly demanded that Pakistan improve security for Chinese workers. Nine Chinese were killed this year in northwest Pakistan in an attack on a bus carrying them to a construction site. In a separate attack, a convoy of Chinese officials was targeted by a suicide bomber in Gwadar.

Thus, the announcement last month by Pakistan and China to include the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone in the CPEC framework unleashed frantic speculation that the corridor project was being moved from the deep-sea port in the volatile Balochistan province.

“CPEC is not moving from Gwadar to Karachi,” Syed Ali Zaidi, the country’s maritime minister, told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “Rather, the corridor project is moving into Karachi in addition to Gwadar and is expanding its framework, which is great for us.”

“It (CPEC) is going to develop a whole new district in Karachi, which is going to be a state-of-the-art district equipped with technology and all modern infrastructure,” he said.

Elaborating on the financing plan for the project, he said that the $3.5 billion Chinese investment was not a loan or a grant, but the project was a partnership between a Chinese state-owned enterprise and the Karachi Port Trust, which owned the land.

“$3.5 billion will be invested to develop infrastructure where the KPT and (the Chinese) investor both will make money,” Zaidi said. “Instead of a loan or a grant, we have decided to do a win-win project, which means that people who are investing will also make some returns.”

The maritime minister said that the project would add four more berths to the targeted coastal area, providing greater depth to Pakistan’s expanding maritime sector and creating space for cruise ships to dock.

“We will build four berths maybe for cruise ships, and if we build for cruise ships there may be some hotels around it and this all has to be backed by real estate development,” he said. “But the real estate development is not the primary objective; the primary objective (is) to fix our marine environment and, on the top of it, build state-of-the-art modern infrastructure.”

A state-of-the-art fishing port would also be built, Zaidi said, along with a world-class fisheries export processing zone.

“A water treatment plant at the mouth of Lyari River would be built to improve marine ecosystem and reduce pollution in the Arabian Sea,” the minister said.

Zaidi said that the coastal development plan would also benefit the poor slum of Machar Colony in the area, mostly inhabited by the Bengali and Burmese communities: “We have decided to make 20,000 to 25,000 apartments in accordance with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to promote low-cost housing to give respectable living (conditions) to our people.”


Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
Updated 28 October 2021

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
  • Border closed by Taliban due to ‘visa issues’: PAJCC chairman

KARACHI, Pakistan: The closure of one of Pakistan’s major border crossings with Afghanistan is costing local businesses up to 150 million Pakistani rupees ($854,000) per day in lost trade, commerce chiefs claimed on Wednesday.

Chaman is the second-largest commercial border point between the two countries and links the Balochistan province of Pakistan with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar.

It is one of the most regular trade routes used for the transportation of goods between the two countries.

The crossing, a vital source of customs revenue for the cash-strapped Taliban government in Afghanistan, has been closed for about three weeks, despite repeated protests by truckers and others stuck waiting at the border.

Muhammad Hashim Khan Achakzai, president of the Chaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “The border has been closed since the first week of this month which is costing us between 100 million and 150 million rupees per day.

FASTFACT

Suspension of cross-border commerce has driven an estimated 50,000 local traders out of business.

“Every day around 10,000 people travel on both sides of the border from Chaman,” he said, adding that some laborers and traders had been waiting more than 20 days for the border to reopen.

As Afghanistan sinks deeper into economic crisis, neighboring countries have been increasingly worried about a mass movement of refugees. Now, the closure of Chaman and interruptions to traffic at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as the suspension of Pakistan Airlines flights from Kabul, have left Afghanistan largely cut off.

Originally closed by Pakistani authorities due to security threats, disputes over issues ranging from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the validity of Afghan travel documents have prevented the reopening of the Chaman crossing, despite severe hardship to truckers and local farmers.

The border was briefly opened on Sunday night and people from both sides were allowed to cross over mainly on medical grounds. However, it was closed again and no movement of goods from either side has been allowed since, according to traders.

Pakistani officials said the issue was on the Afghan side and they expected it to be resolved within the next few days. A spokesperson for the Taliban was unavailable for comment.

Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “They (the Taliban) have some visa issues, that is why they have closed the border. They are saying they will open it in a couple of days.” 

In the meantime, however, at least 50,000 people in Chaman district who are linked to cross-border trade in a population of around 200,000 continue to suffer.

Jalaat Khan Achakzai, a local trader and former president of the CCCI, told Arab News: “The border closure has driven some 50,000 small and medium traders out of business.”

Traders said trucks carrying dry fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items were parked on both sides of the border.

“Around 2,000 trucks carrying loaded and empty containers are waiting. Traders are also incurring losses as they have to pay around $150 container detention charges to the shipping companies,” Achakzai said.

Jamaluddin Achakzai, also a local trader and former president of the CCCI, said: “Talks between local officials and people from Spin Boldak have taken place but without any outcome. It is vital to open the border which is impacting the livelihoods of more than half-a-million people on both sides. The transporters are selling the fuel, petrol, and diesel of their vehicles to survive.”

Some who have crossed the border said the condition of both Pakistani and Afghan transporters was worsening.

Ehtisham Mufti, a senior Pakistani journalist who recently traveled through the area to Kandahar, told Arab News: “The condition of Pakistani and Afghan truckers on the Afghan side is even more painful as they don’t have enough financial resources to survive. Human tragedy can be avoided if immediate measures are taken in time.”


Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
Updated 28 October 2021

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
  • UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war

BANGKOK, Thailand: Midday bombings near a busy government office injured at least nine people in Myanmar’s second biggest city on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest high-profile attack by militants opposed to the country’s military rulers.

Other attacks by foes of the government were also reported on social media and news websites sympathetic to the opposition. Shootings and bombings in Myanmar’s cities and armed clashes in the countryside are daily occurrences, and UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war.

Two explosions rocked an area near the Road Transport Administration Department in Mandalay, damaging at least 14 motorbikes, witnesses said by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted by security forces for speaking to the media.

A member of the Htarni Shae Rescue team said four people were hurt in the initial blast  five more from his and another rescue team when the second explosion took place after they arrived with ambulances. Such rescue teams are usually charity organizations and are common in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Video of the busy location posted online showed two columns of flames and smoke rising into the air as people ran in panic along the adjacent road.

A group calling itself the Special Attacking Force (Upper Burma) said on its Facebook page that it had carried out the bombing. It said it wanted to deprive the military government of revenue to buy bullets. The targeted office collects driving fees and taxes.

The group warned people to stay away from agencies that collect money for the government.

Similar opposition groups are active all over Myanmar, many calling themselves people’s defense forces.

Opposition to military rule has hardened in the months since the army seized power, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was first met by nonviolent demonstrations which were suppressed with deadly force by the army and police. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed about 1,200 civilians, a figure the government says is too high.

Protesters then began using more active self-defense as violence escalated on both sides. The government is now facing an insurgency in the cities, where militants’ actions typically include bombings and targeted killings, and in the countryside, where soldiers battle village militias and the established guerrilla forces of ethnic minorities that have sought greater autonomy for decades.

Wednesday’s attack in Mandalay was in support of a civil disobedience movement that seeks to deprive the state of workers and revenue. Civil servants have been encouraged to stay away from work and customers have been urged not to pay their electricity bills.

The Special Attacking Force said it had issued many warnings to the Road Transport Administration Department and other government offices that support the functioning of the government, called the State Administration Council.


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 27 October 2021

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”


France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
Updated 27 October 2021

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
  • France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain

PARIS: France on Wednesday released a list of sanctions that could come into effect from Nov. 2 if sufficient progress is not made in its post-Brexit fishing row with Britain and said it was working on a second round of sanctions that could affect power supplies to the UK.
France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain and prevent British fishing boats from accessing French ports, if the situation regarding the fishing licenses did not improve, the Maritime and European Affairs Ministries said in a joint statement.


Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
Updated 27 October 2021

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
  • Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies: ‘He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon — all options are on the table at this point’
  • Sheriff Adan Mendoza: ‘We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there’

LOS ANGELES: Criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin, who shot dead a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of his latest movie, have not been ruled out, the local district attorney said Wednesday.
“He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon,” said Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, whose area of responsibility covers the set of “Rust.”
“All options are on the table,” she told a news conference, adding: “No one has been ruled out at this point.”
An investigation into last Thursday’s fatal shooting has recovered 500 rounds of ammunition from the set in New Mexico, Sheriff Adan Mendoza told reporters, adding detectives believe they were a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds.
“We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there,” Mendoza said.