A few months back, some people protested in Karachi against the development of a megacity project initiated by the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. The Zulfiqarabad project is funded by Chinese companies. The protests were led by Sindhi nationalist leaders. It was a small event, but media propagandists blew it up and the protest is being highlighted as a symbol of anti-China sentiments inside Pakistan. However, the reality is entirely different from what is being portrayed in media reports.
The basic thing to understand in this regard is to look into the credibility of the people who are protesting and what their motives are.
Unfortunately, it is all being portrayed wrongly in the media. There are few people who are against Chinese investment in Pakistan, and they don't have a say in decision-making arenas. The number of protesters was no more than 200, while the overall population of Sindh Province is more than 40 million. Hence the protesters were not representing the majority of the population. Had there been any anti-China sentiments, there would have been a bigger crowd.
The second important point to bear in mind is that the reason for the protests was not Chinese investment as such, but the project in which the Chinese are investing.
The Zulfiqarabad project was the main motive, which led the protesters to come to the streets. Nationalist leader Abdul Khaliq Junejo remarked, "President Zardari may be saying that it will be a global project and there will be development, there will be employment, but for whom? It will not be for Sindhis."
However, this was taken out of context. He was expressing his apprehension that in the new city, locals may not be given enough opportunities. From any angle, it is not an expression of anti-China sentiment. However, his apprehensions are a matter of concern for the government, which can give a better response to his worries. Trying to attach an international dimension to the issue is nothing more than creating media sensationalism.
The presence of opposition groups and listening to their views is a necessity in a democratic setup. Pakistan is a democratic country and freedom of expression for citizens is provided in the state constitution. China is carrying out several development projects inside Pakistan, including some mega-projects. China is also Pakistan's largest trade partner. Several roads, overhead bridges, ports, and other infrastructure projects are being carried out in the country with Chinese assistance.
Pakistani people as well as the people of Sindh themselves harbor no anti-China sentiments. On the contrary, they consider China as their best friend. In addition to that, one can see several Chinese people in various cities of Pakistan and none of them would complain about their safety or security. They mingle with ordinary Pakistanis and can be seen walking around in parks, markets, and other public places. For them, Pakistan is like their second home.
In 2011, thousands of people from 14 villages in Gujrat and Maharashtra protested against the construction of seven dams as part of the Par-Tapi-Narmada linking project in India. Should that be seen as a protest by people with anti-India sentiments or were they all unpatriotic traitors? Were the people involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement all traitors, or anti-America? No, certainly not, they were people who simply do not agree with the policies of the government. Similarly, the people protesting in Sindh and Balochistan are basically against the government policies, and not necessarily against China.
The writers have tried to malign a Chinese company's decision to pull out of the Thar coal project. First of all, the project was not given to any company, and the bidding process is still on hold. Second, there exists not even a single insurgent movement in the Thar region of Sindh. There has never been a movement of this kind, let alone one of an anti-Chinese nature.
In conclusion, the hopes of Sindhi nationalists getting any American support need to be analyzed. Sindhi nationalists would never do that, because Sindhis of the country would never support any external interference in Pakistan.
Certainly there are external forces becoming involved in creating disturbances in the country. Pakistani authorities have already provided evidence of the involvement of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and other Indian agencies in creating unrest in Balochistan.
The author is a researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. firstname.lastname@example.org