The borderland is not just a straight-line, but a way of life for the borderlanders—a space to adapt, reject and negotiate with the interests of two sovereign nations.
On 8 October 2016, my friend and I reached Chhit Bangla (also known as Chhit– Tiloi), which used to be a fragmented territory of Bangladesh that fell in India. This place currently overlaps Char Balabhut which falls under Tufangaj, a sub division of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. Bits of the land are further fragmented at places by Dhubri district of Assam. The Char (meaning a sandbar or river island) is separated from the mainland by the ‘International waters’. Across the waters, in Chhit– Bangla we met a woman, introduced as Kaushinmoi Bewa, the sole inhabitant of the region, who lived there with her daughter.
The Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung organized two public lectures in Kolkata as a part of their ongoing research programme – ‘Social Mapping of Logistics, Infrastructure and India’s Look East Policy’. The public lectures were delivered by S Akbar Zaidi, an eminent economist from Pakistan currently teaching in Columbia Universiy and Kanak Mani Dixit, an eminent journalist from Nepal. The title of Zaidi’s lecture was ‘Has China taken over Pakistan’, while Dixit’s title was ‘Nepal: Gateway into and out of South Asia’. The recent assertion of China in the geopolitics through multiple initiative such as ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) made the event timely and significant.
S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit with Ranabir Samaddar and Paula Banerjee
Zaidi’s lecture revolved around the multiple levels of opinions, hope and apprehensions over the CPEC in Pakistan and how Pakistan figured in the grand plans of China’s endeavour of connectivity, particularly land to sea access. CPEC has been the most talked about issue in Pakistan in recent times, particularly over the last 2 years. It has been envisaged as an initiative which would bring enormous benefits for Pakistan through Chinese investments in logistics, infrastructure, defense, biotechnology, agricultural products etc. The rhetoric used for the CPEC collaboration and the reception of the Chinese president Xi Jinping during his visit to Pakistan indicate the level of enthusiasm about CPEC in Pakistan. Zaidi apprehended that through CPEC, Pakistan is following the tradition of pandering to foreign support and endorsements like it did earlier with the USA and Saudi Arabia. Zaidi pointed out that China and Pakistan have had a cordial relation in the post 1947 period as Pakistan was the first Islamic country to recognize the People’s Republic of China, the Indo-China war of 1962 further closed the ties between the two nations. A major symbolic gesture was practiced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, finance minister of Pakistan who made the Mao jacket popular in Pakistan. Pakistan has been the third largest buyer of arms from China and received support from China during its Nuclear Programmes. CPEC is supposed to bring in investments worth $46 billion. However the other details of the CPEC are yet to be divulged in public. A leaked document of CPEC published by a reporter in a leading English daily in Pakistan has given the impression that CPEC would involve Chinese hand in almost every sector of Pakistan and would bring the major cities under surveillance and monitoring system. Disseminating Chinese culture through the intellectual community is a major agenda under CPEC. Zaidi cites the figure that around 10,000 Pakistani students are studying in China which is more than the number of Pakistanis studying in the USA. The benefits which are being doled out to Chinese business firms are not being extended to the Pakistan business class, this has led to the fear in Pakistan that the CPEC can well turn out be another East India Company in the making. Continue reading “Public Lectures by S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit: A Report”