The United States should announce a Marshall Plan for South Asia if it wants to compete with China in projecting its “economic soft power” in the region, according to Pakistan’s young political leader, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
“I think (the) United States and other powers that are now considering cutting and running from Afghanistan, instead of jealously trying to undermine CPEC or the One Belt One Road should come and compete in good old-fashioned capitalism,” Bhutto-Zardari, the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said in an exclusive interview with VOA’s Urdu service. The Marshall Plan was a recovery plan that helped rebuild war-ravaged Europe.
Bhutto-Zardari now leads his mother’s Pakistan People’s Party, which now is one of the most important opposition parties in the country.
CPEC – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is one of the projects under the One Belt, One Road, or OBOR, umbrella that connects China’s Xinjiang province to a deep-sea port in Gwadar, Pakistan.
The project includes Chinese investment and loans upward of $50 billion, and infrastructure and energy projects that the Pakistani government has termed a game changer for the struggling economy.
Some economists, however, have asked questions about transparency and warned of the dangers of falling into a debt trap. Pakistan is already facing a financial crisis and may have to get a bailout package worth billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that the United States would be opposed to any IMF loans that may be used to service Chinese debt. Pakistan has denied any links between CPEC and IMF loans.
Bhutto-Zardari said CPEC was a brainchild of his party, even though the government of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took credit for the project.
Bhutto-Zardari also criticized the current government of Prime Minister Imran Khan for insufficient engagement with Pakistan’s neighbors.
“I don’t believe that they’ve invested or engaged appropriately with Iran. Not this government, not the last government,” he said. “I don’t believe that we’ve had proper engagement with Afghanistan. I don’t believe we’ve had proper engagement with India. And as far as this government is concerned, I believe we could have better engagement with China.”
Answering a question about the recent escalation of India-Pakistan tensions, when a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that India blamed on a Pakistan-based group brought the two countries to the brink of war, Bhutto-Zardari called Pakistan’s response “mature.” He did, however, accuse the Indian government of using the crisis for domestic political mileage before India’s parliamentary elections next month.
“It was a despicable politicization not only of a terrorist attack but potential nuclear war,” he said.
India has long accused Pakistan of harboring groups that carry out attacks on Indian soil. The Indian government also says it has given Pakistan proof of such militants and their activities in the past but that Pakistan has never taken appropriate action. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, recently said India has not provided proof that is acceptable in a Pakistani court.
In a speechto parliament recently, Bhutto-Zardari also criticized what is widely believed to be a policy introduced by Pakistan’s military to try to” mainstream” militant groups.
Bhutto-Zardari said the idea was against the unanimous decision of the country’s parliament that passed an initiative, called the National Action Plan, on how to deal with these groups.
“For us to even consider mainstreaming, there has to be policy input by those who should be making policy. There have to be confidence-building measures. You have to have re-education, de-radicalization, before we talk about re-integration. And of course the very first step should have been de-weaponization – none of which I believe has taken place,” he said.
Ali Furqan contributed to this report.