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Civil-military differences may impede CPEC implementation

ISLAMABAD: Plans for operationalising the Special Security Division (SSD) for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have been held up by civil-military wrangling, multiple sources told Dawn.

It is feared that the issue, if not resolved at the earliest, could potentially affect the CPEC timelines.

The military had announced the raising of the SSD soon after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad last year for the groundbreaking of CPEC projects. The division was to provide security to the Chinese personnel working on the CPEC projects throughout the country.

But, a year and a half later there are no agreed terms of reference (ToR) that would govern the working of the SSD.

The government has been sitting on the ToR proposed by the army clearly indicating it is not comfortable with the draft.

The role envisaged by the military for the SSD is to advise, guide and ‘indirectly’ control the civilian law enforcement agencies in issues related to the security of CPEC projects. Besides, the SSD can act as ‘first responders’ in cases of threats to critical projects.

The government’s apprehension is that such “wide-ranging ToR” could expand military’s influence on law enforcement agencies at the cost of civilian administration’s authority.

Delay in approval of the ToR is preventing the commissioning of the first of the SSD wings –SSD-North.

Two wings of the SSD – North and South – are to be set up. As per the planning, the northern wing’s jurisdiction covers the area between Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistan-China border and Rawalpindi, while the remaining stretch will be the southern wing’s responsibility.

Though the army has established the SSD-North, the government is reportedly holding back the executive and financial approval for the SSD-South.

“The government agreed in principle to the establishment of SSD-South, but the formal nod is still awaited,” a source disclosed. “No financial grant for the second wing has been given either,” the source added.

It is estimated that creation of a new wing could take about 12 to 18 months. This implies that even if the approval is given now, the SSD-South will not be functional by the end of 2017, which is the time when CPEC’s early harvest projects would be nearing completion.

Threats to CPEC

Security is a major concern for entire CPEC, which faces threats from both regional and extra-regional players, a military official says.

But security is particularly problematic in the area that has to be secured by the SSD-South. The Frontier Works Organisation, which is engaged with road projects in Balochistan, has already lost 44 men, including 26 soldiers, in the province in security-related incidents.

At present, there are close to 10,000 Chinese personnel working on different projects across the country. Their number is expected to grow as the CPEC projects’ implementation progresses.

Much like the troubled NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority), there are also differences over who would be in charge of the SSD. The government thinks that the SSD has to be under the interior ministry’s command whereas the military has so far kept itself in the lead and intends to maintain that role.

Both civilian and military leaders agree that CPEC is vital for the country’s future, but mutual ‘distrust’ is impeding cooperation between them on this critical venture. The civil-military differences are not limited to CPEC.

While the two have been keeping their divergences on CPEC security under wraps, the differences between them on counter terrorism are more pronounced. The military top brass has been publicly critical of the government’s tardiness in the implementation of the National Action Plan against extremism and terrorism.

The government had earlier denied the military a formal role in the CPEC’s apex governing body. The proposed CPEC board was to have all services chiefs, but the government did not agree to the creation and instead established a steering committee, which had similar composition as the CPEC board, but minus the services chiefs.

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif had in his Defence Day speech emphasised on “timely completion and protection” of CPEC, saying it was Pakistan’s national undertaking.

The Chinese too have been underscoring the importance of security for the project. Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong recently said that both “construction and safety of CPEC” would have to go side by side. “We look forward to creating a safe and sound environment for CPEC along with the Pakistani side,” he had observed.

The government did not respond to the queries sent by Dawn about the delay in approval of ToR and the consent for raising of the SSD-South.

Published in Dawn September 19th, 2016

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