‘CPEC: could it be a strategic game-changer for the region?’


University of London’s Senate House was the setting for The Democracy Forum’s January 20 2016 seminar, at which speakers addressed the central question: ‘Could the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor be a strategic game-changer for the region?’

TDF Chairman Sir Peter Luff presided over the event, and on the panel were Professor Lawrence Saez from SOAS; Dr Adnan Naseemullah and Dr Samir Puri, both from the Dept of War Studies, King’s College, London; Georgetown University’s Dr C Christine Fair; and Dr Jan Knoerich of the Lau China Institute.

Among the angles considered by the speakers was the viability of CPEC, its potential benefits and drawbacks for regional players, and its prospects for domestic development and political order in Pakistan, as well as China’s role as both a strategic competitor in the East and a partner in security in South Asia. They also addressed the role of Baloch separatists in the CPEC issue, the repercussions of Pakistan’s strategic objectives of using terrorism as a tool of foreign policy, and the security and counter-terrorism dimensions of expanding Sino-Pakistan relations.

The discussion provoked lively Q&A sessions, with questions ranging from whether CPEC would it serve as an impetus for more FDI, China’s role in Afghan efforts at Taliban reconciliation, and the link between economic corridors and conflict resolution, to the need for Pakistan’s marginalised Baloch and Pashtun populations to support the project, the issue of India’s sovereignty over the whole of Kashmir, and America’s future role in the region.

The event was well attended by journalists, students, government staff and diplomats from embassies including India, Myanmar, Afghanistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Several of the speakers and the Vice Chair of TDF were interviewed by the official Chinese news agency, Xing Hua and, along with invited guests, later attended a dinner at the Washington Hotel. This was followed by further interviews on Loveena Tandon’s Chai Chat programme for Adj Tak TV and News Week.


Seminar IISS

In October 2015, TDF was invited to attend and participate in a seminar held by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, at which Bangladeshi economist Professor Abul Barkat discussed his country’s parallel fundamentalist economy and urged the international community to support Bangladesh in countering religious extremism.

Professor Barkat, a political economist at Dhaka University, discussed the fatal attacks on bloggers who espouse secularist ideals, as well as other targeted killings which have rendered Bangladesh a target for Islamist radicals who roam the streets, freely preaching their doctrine of violence. Yet the word ‘jihad’, which the Islamists keep invoking from pulpits of mosques, political and madrasa platforms, does not occur even once the Quran, said the professor.

Barkat named and blamed Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which he called ‘the headquarters’ of a triangular set-up forever plotting the overthrow of the constitutionally established government of the country. The other two pillars of this structure, according to him, are the 123 radical groups and 231 NGOs funded nationally and from abroad. The three wings of this radical power bloc act as a loose conglomerate and constitute a ‘state within a state’ and ‘government within a government’.

He also spoke about the fundamentalist parallel economy, the finances of which come from enterprises owned and run by religious forces, and considered the striking growth rate of this fundamentalist economy – 9 to 10.5 per cent – as compared to the national GDP growth of 6 to 7 per cent. The cumulative profit of this economy over the last four decades is estimated to top $6.5 billion, supporting 500,000 full-time cadres, capturing strategic posts and votes, and even allegedly running armed training camps.

The professor also discussed the role of Jamaat-e-Islami, who opposed Bangladesh’s independence, the assassination of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman, the change to the national constitution from a secular polity to making Islam the state religion under General Zia-ur Rahman, and the alternating governance of the General’s widow Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Mujib’s daughter Begum Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the current prime minister, which continues to divide the country.

Asked about any chance of peace or compromise between the two Begums, Professor Barkat’s blunt response was ‘No.’ His considered opinion is that Bangladesh will have to find some other route to peace and progress: an ominous prognosis for a country racked by instability.

Seminar: ‘How committed is the West to rooting out the sources of terrorism?’

A large and varied audience attended The Democracy Forum’s summer seminar, hosted in collaboration with The Quilliam Foundation at the Edwardian I, St James’ Court in London on Tuesday July 21 2015. They had gathered to discuss the ever prevalent issue of radicalisation, and in particular to address the question ‘How committed is the West to rooting out the sources of terrorism?’

The event, sponsored by Lord Diljit Rana, was chaired by Dr William Crawley from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, and on the panel were Carlotta Gall, New York Times correspondent and author of The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014; Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, civilian military scientist and Charles Wallace Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford; Nikita Malik, Researcher at The Quilliam Foundation; Zahid Hussain, former Times correspondent and author of the highly acclaimed books Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam and The scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan; and Dr Usama Hasan, Senior Researcher at The Quilliam Foundation.

Calling for greater openness from governments when it comes to fighting terrorism, Carlotta Gall looked at what had gone wrong in the West’s fight against terror in Afghanistan. She said they were confronting ‘the wrong enemy’, which was not the Afghans but the Pakistani military and intelligence services, which have long been supporting and funding the Taliban, allowing them sanctuary.

For Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, radicalism is ‘a battle no one is fighting’, and while IS is the ‘fashionable’ topic for discussion, Pakistan is getting ever fewer funds to research other extremist groups. Among other issues, she looked at levels of violent extremism in South Asia and what was being done to counter it.

Nikita Malik of The Quilliam Foundation focussed on the role of policy-makers within South Asia’s intricate security situation, and on what drives the younger generation of potential jihadists there, while Zahid Hussain looked at regional security in the subcontinent and Pakistan’s battle against Islamic militancy, and Quilliam’s Dr Usama Husan stressed the need to reclaim Islam from Islamic State, offering an introduction to theological counter-narratives to IS and other forms of Islamist extremism.

Among the audience members were Dr James Chiriyankandath, Senior Research Fellow at London University’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies; Ian Drury, Home Affairs Correspondent at the Daily Mail; the Guardian’s Damien Gayle; Katherine Horrocks from the Home Office; Koichi Onodera, a visiting fellow at RUSI; Tariq York, a Policy Advisor at the Cabinet Office; and Ainhoa Paredes, UK correspondent from Telecinco (MEDIASET SPAIN), the most watched TV channel in Spain.