Iron Brothers: Assessing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Formal relations between Pakistan and China date back to 1950, when Pakistan became one of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China.

The following report was originally submitted as part of my A-level EPQ and was completed in February 2020. As such, some of the information may be outdated. Regardless, I hope it proves informative for anyone interested in Sino-Pak relations.

The Spatial Layout of CPEC

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, most commonly known as CPEC, is perhaps one of the world’s largest infrastructure overhauls seen in the last decade. It is comprised of 70 projects[1], ranging from coal-fired power plants to fibre optic cables, and is currently worth over $62 billion in Chinese investment[2].

CPEC is the flagship for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global development strategy similar to the US’s Marshall Plan. It marks the beginning of a new venture in Sino-Pak relations which already has a strong military and political base. The aim: to ensure sustained economic growth for both Pakistan and China’s western region of Xinjiang.

However, the question must be asked: Is CPEC good for Pakistan?

By this, I mean, is CPEC good for Pakistan economically and politically? This is an important question considering Pakistan’s history as a client state to foreign powers such as the US and Saudi Arabia. These relationships have plunged Pakistan into over $82.19 billion of external debt, with 29.5% of its population below the poverty line[3].

In addition, Pakistan’s involvement in the US’s War on Terror claimed the lives of over 23,375 Pakistani civilians[4] while leaving the country with several terrorist organisations to deal with. Meanwhile, corrupt Pakistani officials hoard money in overseas bank accounts while the poor suffer from a crippling economy. It is no wonder we should be concerned with the recent developments concerning Pakistan’s newfound love for China.

Will CPEC break or reinforce the status quo?

That being said, CPEC doesn’t just affect Pakistan; it could have implications for the whole world. Pakistan is located in one of the world’s most strategically important locations. The Indus River has always been the crossroads between civilisations and ruled by great powers such as the Achaemenid Empire, Alexander’s Macedonian Empire, the Mongols, the Mughals and, most recently, the British Raj.

Today, Pakistan borders two of the world’s fastest-growing economies: India and China, not to mention the oil-rich Middle East and mineral-rich Afghanistan. With the Strait of Hormuz only 600km from Gwadar port and direct access to the Arabian Sea, Pakistan will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the global economy with the help of CPEC.

What does CPEC mean for the BRI? And what does the BRI mean for the world and its future?

In this essay, I aim to answer these questions as well as highlight the necessary steps I believe Pakistan should take to ensure it can get the most out of CPEC.

CPEC Projects

Are SEZs good for Pakistan?

Location of CPEC SEZs

CPEC is going to see many changes to the Pakistani economy. In particular, under CPEC, Pakistan will introduce new Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These are areas where business and trade laws differ from the rest of the country.

China is helping Pakistan establish a total of 9 SEZs[5], most likely based on the Chinese model, such as Shenzhen in the Guangdong province and Kashgar in Xinjiang. Chinese SEZs are export-oriented and primarily driven by market forces. They give special tax incentives for foreign investment and have greater independence from the central government on international trade activities. Furthermore, Chinese SEZs are listed separately in national planning and retain the authority to pass legislation. This gives SEZs the same power as provincial-level administrations regarding economic policy.

Proponents of CPEC put forward the idea that SEZs will bring about economic growth by liberalising the Pakistani economy via increased exports and foreign direct investment.

 ‘If there is one proposition with which virtually all economists agree, it is that free trade is almost always better than protection.’[6]

This is based on the theory of comparative advantage (a country’s ability to produce goods and services at a lower opportunity cost than its trade partners). In short, by liberalising the Pakistani economy, Pakistan will be better off. This is because it will naturally force Pakistan to specialise in whichever industries it has a comparative advantage in, such as raw cotton. Overall, this would increase Pakistan’s output in those industries, leading to increased exports and economic growth as a result.

Pakistan would then be obligated to increase trade in whichever industries it lacks a comparative advantage in, such as dairy products. This will allow other countries to specialise in whichever industries they have a comparative advantage, meanwhile trading with Pakistan in whichever industry they lack a comparative advantage. In theory, this would increase world output and, by extension, economic growth for all countries.

In China, following the establishment of its first SEZs in 1980 and various economic reforms designed to open up the country to global trade, GDP skyrocketed from $191 billion (1980) to $1.2 trillion (2000) and eventually $13.6 trillion (2018)[7]. China is a textbook case study of how market liberalisation can significantly transform a country’s economic position.

If Pakistan learns from China, there is no reason the country would not also achieve long-term economic growth. Furthermore, the CPEC proposed SEZs are said to have the potential to generate over half a million direct jobs and over a million indirect jobs in Pakistan[8].

However, as seen in the case of the Kingston Free Zone in Jamaica, free trade is not always conducive to the betterment of a country’s citizens. In the 1980s, Jamaican citizens were forced to work in poor conditions on wages as low as $16.30 a week[9] for foreign companies that were not legally required to operate according to government standards.

SEZs worldwide have been responsible for the rampant exploitation of workers and loss of government revenue. Other negative socio-economic impacts include suppressing labour rights, preventing trade unionisation, and poor environmental standards[10]. It is evident that without proper government regulation, the SEZs proposed by CPEC can potentially exacerbate already existing problems concerning Pakistani labour. This, in turn, could have severe social and political implications for Pakistan, which already has the third-largest number of people trapped in modern-day slavery at 3.19 million after China and India[11].

Will CPEC put an end to Pakistan’s energy insecurity?

One major obstacle to Pakistan’s economic success is the country’s poor energy provision. Pakistan currently ranks 115 out of 137 countries for reliable electricity[12], with only 70.8% of the country’s population having access to electricity[13], leaving over 52 million people without access[14].

Private sector investors see the lack of reliable electricity as a potential risk to profit. And rightly so; in 2015 alone, power sector inefficiencies cost the Pakistani economy $18 billion (6.5% of GDP)[15]. Couple this with the associated social implications, such as increased strain on healthcare and lower quality of education, and you have a recipe for disaster.

When you compare this to the rapidly emerging economy of China, where access to electricity is at 100%[16], it is clear to see the importance of a reliable energy supply in developing a strong economy. By introducing energy reforms, Pakistan could save $8.4 billion in business losses and increase total household incomes by at least $4.8 billion annually[17].

Proponents of CPEC claim it will “fulfil the electricity demand and ensure the reliability of electricity supply in Pakistan”[18]. After all, CPEC includes a total of 22 projects dedicated to energy generation and supply, which, when combined, offer a power capacity of 12.4 GW[19]. When this is added to Pakistan’s current installed power capacity of 30 GW[20], there will be more than enough energy to overcome Pakistan’s deficit of 5 GW[21]. Therefore, in theory, CPEC will fulfil Pakistan’s energy demands and leave room for demand to increase, which is crucial for long-term economic growth.

However, the question remains: does it work in practice?

Of the 22 energy projects, only 8 are fully operational[22], leaving a significant energy deficit from a lack of power capacity. Furthermore, transmission inefficiencies frequently lead to blackouts across the country. Pakistan’s transmission capacity sits well below the country’s current installed power capacity at 22 GW[23]. This slow progress meant CPEC did not achieve its 2020 goal of addressing the bottlenecks in the country’s economic and social development[24].

In other words, CPEC has already failed to achieve 100% energy access by its own deadline of 2020. If the country cannot even provide enough electricity for its people, how will it provide enough energy for the second phase of CPEC? Therefore, in practice, CPEC has failed to fulfil its own goals, let alone the electricity demand of Pakistan.

In due course, these projects will be completed. However, if they are to be completed in the same timeframe as CPEC’s second and third-phase projects, there will be dire consequences for the Pakistani economy. Without sufficient energy provision, Pakistan will have to increase energy imports to complete its second and third-phase projects, such as the New Gwadar International Airport, which began construction in October 2019.

This will increase the country’s current account deficit, as seen with the ‘Punjab Speed’ predicament[25]. As a result, the Pakistani rupee will be devalued yet again, and annual growth will continue to slow. Pakistan will then be forced to seek another bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other countries like China.

Even if all the energy projects are completed, they will become obsolete over the long term. Of the 12.4 GW provided by CPEC, 8.2 GW are coal-based[26]. The negative impacts of burning coal are widely documented. For a country with four major cities (Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi) with air quality rankings ranging from unhealthy to hazardous[27], is it wise to invest in coal-fired power plants? While coal is more reliable and efficient, it will not last forever.

Once Pakistan exhausts its domestic supply of Thar coal, it will have to begin importing coal from abroad, most likely from China. Pakistan already depends on Saudi Arabia and Iran for oil and gas, making up 80% of its energy mix[28]. Add China to the mix, and Pakistan will become even more vulnerable to the influence of foreign powers and the fluctuating prices of fossil fuels. This is ultimately counter-productive to achieving sustainable long-term economic growth for Pakistan.

Is CPEC a debt trap?

Pakistan’s debt crisis has significantly impeded the country’s development.

Another major issue afflicting Pakistan’s economy is the ongoing debt crisis. Since the establishment of CPEC, Pakistan’s total external debt has increased from around $60 billion (2013) to over $90 billion (2018)[29]. However, it is important to note CPEC itself did not cause the debt crisis.

As Pakistan accumulates more debt, the country will have to use more money to service debt in the future. Between 2017 and 2018, Pakistan serviced $7.5 billion of debt, of which $2.3 billion was interest[30]. Due to the increasing issue of debt servicing, the current account deficit increased from $18 billion (2017) to $21 billion (2018)[31].

Furthermore, due to the interest of such debt having reached a high level, Pakistan has had to borrow more money to repay its obligations. Despite declaring he would rather die than go to the IMF seeking a bailout, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was forced to turn to the IMF for $6 billion in the face of a weak economy, making it the 12th time Pakistan has had to rely on the IMF[32].

Pakistan is in the midst of a perpetual cycle of debt which must be addressed if the country ever wants sustainable long-term economic growth. Will CPEC exacerbate or relieve the debt crisis?

Proponents of CPEC are often quick to point out the insignificance of Pakistan’s external debt to China, which is currently around $6 billion, less than 6% of Pakistan’s total external debt[33]. In fact, the majority of Pakistan’s external debt is owed to multilateral lenders such as the IMF and the World Bank[34]. However, nobody calls these organisations a ‘debt trap’ despite having plunged many more developing economies into debt than China.

On the contrary, CPEC offers increased trade, allowing the country to repay its debt in the long term. Pakistan is forecasted to collect between $6 billion to $8 billion from CPEC toll taxes and rental fees, with 4% of China’s total trade ($154 billion according to 2015 figures) passing through CPEC[35]. Other lenders do not offer this, making the debt from China less of a burden as CPEC provides the funds to pay it back.

On the other hand, Pakistan is one of 8 countries of particular concern regarding the risk of debt distress[36][37]. Furthermore, China has also been charging Pakistan interest rates as high as 5% compared to the 2% to 2.5% rate given to other BRI countries[38]. Due to the high cost of electricity and transmission losses, Pakistan would also have to pay Chinese companies for electricity Pakistani distribution companies cannot afford, resulting in a currency crisis as Chinese companies move money outside the country.

In addition, an increase in CPEC-related imports combined with decreasing exports, as the Pakistani market is flooded with Chinese products, could push the country further into a currency crisis. Therefore, it is fair to say while CPEC represents an opportunity for Pakistan to end the debt crisis, it also poses a risk of falling even deeper into it.

There is also the concern that if Pakistan cannot repay Chinese loans, China may begin seizing assets as it did with Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka[39]. Thereby compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty and robbing the country of potential revenue. However, the likelihood of this occurring is very slim.

China’s Debt Renegotiations

A study by the US-based Rhodium Group found most of China’s debt renegotiations end with the debt being completely written off[40]. Furthermore, China’s long-standing political and military relationship with Pakistan, which saw the joint development of the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, Al-Khalid tank and Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, makes asset seizure all the more unlikely for Pakistan.

If Pakistan can utilise CPEC and policy reforms to increase exports, there is no reason why the debt crisis cannot be solved in the long term. Therefore, the argument that CPEC is a ‘debt trap’ is not entirely fair. CPEC itself did not cause the debt crisis. CPEC itself will not exacerbate the debt crisis. CPEC itself will not even relieve the debt crisis. To pin all the responsibility on CPEC is neither fair nor well-grounded. It is, in fact, Pakistan’s own economic policy that will determine whether the country remains in debt, not CPEC.

Does CPEC favour Punjab?

Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the country’s politics have been dominated by the Punjab province. Of Pakistan’s 342 seats in the national assembly, 174 seats are reserved for Punjabi politicians, as Punjab makes up the majority of the country’s population. By dominating the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament and contributing to 57% of the country’s GDP[41], Punjab has proven itself to be the most influential province of Pakistan.

This has led to controversies in the past. For example, the proposed Kalabagh Dam has been debated for the last 40 years. The project is advocated by Punjab-based power brokers but has been opposed by politicians from the country’s smaller provinces, such as Sindh, which sees the project as a threat to its water security. Therefore, it is a viable concern CPEC may favour Punjab over the other provinces of Pakistan.

Proponents of CPEC tend to claim all Pakistani provinces will benefit equally. Following the 18th amendment to the country’s constitution in 2010, many powers were devolved at the federal level and given to the provinces[42]. It was seen as a step towards democracy, allowing the smaller provinces greater autonomy from the Punjab-dominated centre.

As a result, when it comes to CPEC projects, parliament only provides oversight and is not responsible for coordination and decision-making[43]. It is down to the provinces to plan and execute projects with China. Therefore, it is argued that the notion of CPEC favouring Punjab is a false narrative. Due to the devolved power, all the provinces are in the same boat regarding CPEC.

On the other hand, given the history of Punjab’s dominance politically, economically, and socially compared to the rest of Pakistan, Punjab remains the most equipped and desirable province to absorb investment from China. This has led to two major controversies concerning CPEC’s lack of transparency and its alleged favouritism towards Punjab. Despite being resolved, these issues have fuelled an overall distrust of Punjab amongst Pakistan’s other provinces.

The first controversy began in 2014, when politicians from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province began claiming the CPEC route had been shifted from KP towards Punjab, thereby excluding the region from Chinese investment[44]. The original route proposed in 2006 passed through the impoverished areas of Balochistan, southern Punjab and central KP, including the provincial capital of Peshawar[45].

Following the rise of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, which grew to threaten most of KP, the route was changed to avoid KP. In response, PTI held a dharna to dislodge the PML-N for electoral fraud with the alleged support of a former Inter-Services Intelligence chief[46]. In 2015, politicians staged a walkout from the Senate[47]. To placate critics, the government proposed CPEC would have three routes (Eastern, Central and Western). By 2017, the issue was resolved[48]. However, the debate may resume should there be another change in government[49].

The second controversy is centred on the Orange Line in Punjab’s capital of Lahore[50]. When CPEC formally launched in 2015, the mass transit rail line stood out as a municipal project amongst largely intercity and interregional connectivity-focused projects. This led to an outcry amongst the smaller provinces of Pakistan.

No Pakistani city outsidPunjab’s’s jurisdiction, except Islamabad, has a mass transit system. Including it as part of CPEC, despite having to be subsidised at $160 million per year to keep fares affordable[51], is a clear example of CPEC’s favouritism towards Punjab. Following the controversy, it was asserted that the Orange Line was not part of CPEC; instead, it was a bilateral agreement between the Punjab government and China planned four years prior.

It was not until December 2016, following document leaks confirming the project had been on the CPEC agenda early on, that the Orange Line was formally added to the Planning Commission of Pakistan’s list of CPEC projects[52]. Following this, additional municipal rail projects were added in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar[53] to appease the smaller provinces.

Will Gwadar Port put an end to Baloch separatism?

Balochistan has proven itself to be a difficult province for the Pakistani leadership to handle. The conflict goes back to 1948, when Kalat, a princely state that used to make up most modern-day Balochistan, acceded to Pakistan. The Khan’s brother opposed the move, and since then, multiple insurgencies have been fought against Pakistan. However, it was not until the latest insurgency following disputes between the Rajiha, a subtribe of the Bugti tribe, and the government over natural gas concessions in 2003 that anything close to a unified Baloch revolt occurred.

By 2013, the insurgency subsided but is still said to be operational in the Awaran region and Makran coast[54]. With CPEC’s flagship Gwadar port located on the Makran coast, Baloch separatism poses a considerable security risk. Will CPEC placate or provoke the Baloch separatists?

Proponents of CPEC put forward the idea that making Gwadar the focal point of the economic corridor will bring about economic growth and social development for the people of Balochistan. Thereby putting an end to Baloch disenfranchisement and, by extension, the broader anti-Pakistan sentiments fuelling Baloch separatism.

Following the 2013 elections, the PML-N had to form a coalition with the Balochistan National Party (BNP). This nationalist party is pro-Pakistan yet wishes to see more autonomy for Balochistan. By maintaining the support of the BNP, the government has been able to move towards more equitable development through CPEC, thereby avoiding an intensified insurgency. Baloch politicians admire China’s ability to rapidly improve its standard of living and see CPEC as a means to uplift the Baloch people if done right[55]. Therefore, Gwadar port is the only solution for the Baloch insurgency.

However, the BNP still echoes the view Balochistan should have control of its resources. This view is shared by Baloch separatists and has been central to the historical struggle in the province.

Balochistan is home to over $1 trillion of natural resources; however, despite being so mineral-rich, the region has the lowest human development index (HDI) in Pakistan[56]. Any income generated by these resources has primarily been used for the social development of Pakistan’s other provinces, mainly Punjab, rather than the betterment of Balochistan from whence they came.

With this in mind, the BNP has called on the federal government to hand control of Gwadar port over to the Balochistan provincial government[57]. Unfortunately, the port remains in the hands of Chinese Overseas Port Holdings Limited[58]. This could spell disaster for Pakistan. With Gwadar now in the hands of China, resources are bound to leave not just Balochistan but Pakistan as a whole. Therefore, little to any income generated will ever reach the Baloch people. Social development will continue to stagnate, and anti-Pakistan sentiment will worsen.

The nature of CPEC’s interregional connectivity dictates resources are bound to leave Balochistan no matter what. Promising no resources leave the province would be impractical and counter-productive. Instead, what can be done is to ensure Balochistan receives a disproportionally high benefit from CPEC projects to help de-escalate the insurgency and improve its low HDI. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Take, for example, the Saindak copper mine project. Only 2% of revenue is awarded to the Balochistan province; meanwhile, the Metallurgical Corporation of China receives 50%, and the Pakistani federal government receives the remaining 48%[59]. In addition, the Balochistan Mineral Resources Development Board, formed in 2015 to oversee exploration and mining licenses, is indirectly controlled by the federal government as seven of the nine members are bureaucrats, with only the final two being elected officials[60].

This almost certainly indicates CPEC has so far continued the status quo. Until more is done to ensure the social development of Balochistan, the insurgency will continue to pose risks to CPEC[61].

Will CPEC improve Pakistan’s foreign relations?

It is almost an unwritten rule that when it comes to Pakistani foreign affairs, one has to mention India and vice versa. The Indo-Pak rivalry is virtually iconic in nature, going back to the establishment of the respective countries as they gained independence from the British, resulting in the largest human migration in history. Over a million people lost their lives, and many more were displaced in what is now known as Partition[62]. Since then, Pakistan and India have fought a total of four wars.

Considering South Asia’s tumultuous history, there is a genuine concern CPEC may exacerbate the strained – if not dysfunctional – relationship between Pakistan and its much larger, economically superior neighbour.

Proponents of CPEC point towards the fact CPEC offers the opportunity to foster an economic partnership between India and Pakistan. It is within Chinese interests that as many countries as possible join the BRI as part of the country’s common destiny vision[63] to bring peace and economic balance to the world[64]. Hence, China invited India to BRI meetings in 2017 and 2019[65].

Similarly, Pakistan also wishes for peace with India. Following the flare-up in Indo-Pak tensions during the 2019 Pulwama Attack, which saw cross-border airstrikes carried out by both sides, Pakistan released a captured fighter pilot as a peace gesture[66]. Furthermore, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his wishes for peace following the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent 2019 Indian elections, a desire reciprocated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi[67].

Unfortunately, India declined both Chinese invitations[68]. This is part of India’s fear of being encircled by the BRI,[69] thereby being shut out from international trade. As a result, India has been reluctant to join BRI negotiations so far, being critical of Chinese activities in the South China Sea and CPEC on the grounds it undermines India’s sovereignty claims over Kashmir[70].

In fact, this fear has driven India to exploit the instability in Balochistan by publicly announcing its support for Baloch separatists in 2016 in an attempt to sabotage CPEC[71]. Since then, the Baloch insurgency has been emboldened, leading to increased attacks on Pakistani military personnel and CPEC labourers[72].

On the 18th of April 2019, Baloch militants blocked the Makran coastal highway and executed 14 members of the Pakistan Armed Forces[73]. This highlights how instead of being used as a tool for peace, CPEC has instead been exploited and used to deepen the Indo-Pak divide.

On the other hand, following India’s brutal lockdown in Kashmir, it was China that brought the issue to the UN Security Council on behalf of Pakistan[74]. This was partly due to the long-standing Sino-Pak relationship but also to protect Chinese interests in Kashmir, namely CPEC. As a result, it could also be argued CPEC, having brought China and Pakistan closer, has proven itself to serve Pakistani interests on the world stage by bringing important issues into the spotlight. Furthermore, the international perception of Pakistan has significantly improved, in no small part due to CPEC, in recent years[75].

 However, at the time of writing, the Kashmir lockdown continues[76], and Indian Muslims are now at risk of losing their status as Indian citizens[77]. These issues will most certainly lead to more stand-offs between India and Pakistan. CPEC may not solve the many Indo-Pak disputes; however, it has given Pakistan the upper hand in international discourse, that being the support of China.

Nonetheless, it is well-known influence goes both ways, and Sino-Pak relations are no exception. By supporting Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir dispute, China has effectively bought Pakistan’s silence on the various human rights violations occurring within Chinese borders. Pakistan has failed to publicly address China’s ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang[78] despite jumping at any chance to call out India. Considering the fact Pakistan was created on the basis of protecting the rights of Muslims and the country’s close ally, Turkey, has denounced China for its treatment of Muslims[79], this hypocrisy will undoubtedly lead to some future political complications.


In conclusion, it is clear to see CPEC does indeed have the potential to revolutionise Pakistan. Not just economically but socially and politically as well. However, as highlighted, more needs to be done by Pakistan to ensure it can capitalise on this opportunity. Pakistan must ensure it does not fall into the many pitfalls of large investment packages, such as CPEC, which many other developing countries often fall into. It is also important to remember CPEC will not change the status quo on its own and needs the necessary policy changes to be truly effective. As such, I have decided to summarise the key steps I believe need to be taken to ensure CPEC yields the greatest rewards with minimal losses.

First, as recommended by Arif Rafiq, Pakistan needs to create a formalised CPEC authority[80] that oversees all investments from China. This should be led by the Prime Minister with equal representation from all provinces. This will ensure CPEC projects are distributed evenly and improve interagency coordination. As a result, this will build a sustainable consensus in favour of CPEC.

Second, I would suggest the government introduce their own version of China’s Leading Small Groups (LSGs)[81] to supplement the CPEC authority. Every project should have its own LSG that focuses on community dialogue to ensure local residents are kept in the loop and their needs are addressed. This will significantly improve the public’s approval of CPEC.

Third, Pakistan needs to scale back on CPEC projects until the energy crisis is addressed. I propose Pakistan put all non-energy projects on hold and introduce more projects focused on increasing transmission efficiency. Once the energy projects are completed and the energy crisis ends, Pakistan should begin work on other CPEC projects. This will help avoid another ‘Punjab Speed incident[82].

Fourth, I would recommend CPEC place more emphasis on renewable energy. In doing so, Pakistan can ensure a sustainable energy supply which will help foster long-term economic growth. Introducing solar panels on a local scale will be especially effective in rural communities. In fact, Balochistan has a solar power potential of over 2,200 kWh/m² per year[83], making it the ideal location for concentrated solar power plants.

Fifth, CPEC should invest in more welfare projects on the local level, especially in Balochistan. This will help ensure the correct social development measures are being taken to improve education and healthcare provision throughout Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan’s HDI will increase along with household incomes. Thereby, CPEC will be able to alleviate poverty and contribute to the betterment of Pakistani citizens.

Sixth, I believe Pakistan must review its economic policy to increase government revenue and protect workers’ rights, especially in SEZs. By doing so, Pakistan will end the debt crisis and ensure Pakistani citizens are not exploited by foreign companies. More importantly, it will provide the government with the necessary funds to continue social development throughout Pakistan.

Lastly, Pakistan must ensure peace with its neighbours so CPEC can continue unhindered. To do this, Pakistan must invite its neighbours to the negotiation table and discuss how Pakistan can facilitate trade between South Asia and the wider world. One example would be connecting Afghanistan to CPEC[84] via an Afghanistan-Pakistan economic corridor. Thereby giving Pakistan access to Afghanistan’s natural resources and giving Afghanistan access to the Arabian Sea.

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[30] ibid

[31] ibid

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[34] Masood, Y. (2019). China economic corridor is debt reliever for Pakistan. The Telegraph. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].

[35] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[36] Kugelman, M. (2019). Great Potential, Many Pitfalls: Understanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.180-186.

[37] Rolland, N. (2019). Beijing’s Response to the Belt and Road Initiative’s “Pushback”: A Story of Assessment and Adaptation. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.216-235.

[38] Hurley, J., Morris, S. and Portelance, G. (2018). CGD Policy Paper 121March 2018Examining the Debt Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative from a Policy Perspective. [online] Center for Global Development, p.19. Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].

[39] Kugelman, M. (2019). Great Potential, Many Pitfalls: Understanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.180-186.

[40] Kratz, A., Feng, A. and Wright, L. (2019). New Data on the “Debt Trap” Question. [online] Rhodium Group. Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].

[41] Dawn (2020). Economics and extremism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2020].

[42] Hussain, Z. (2019). Debating the 18th Amendment. Dawn. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[43] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[44] ibid

[45] Bengali, K., Baloch, I., Khan, B., Tareen, M., Hafeez, M. and Yousuf, S. (2015). China-Pakistan Economic Corridor?: The Route Controversy. [online] Government of Balochistan. Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[46] The News (2015). Nawaz had ‘solid information’ about former ISI chief’s role in Dharna. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[47] Wasim, A. (2015). Livid over corridor route, senators walk out of Senate twice. Dawn. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[48] Times Of Islamabad (2017). KP has no reservations on Western route of CPEC: Pervaiz Khattak. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[49] Schwemlein, J. (2019). Flawed by Design: The Challenge of Flawed Democracies to China’s Rise. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.249-259.

[50] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[51] Dawn (2016). Orange Line to gobble up Punjab’s budget, says Pervaiz. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2020].

[52] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[53] Ministry of Planning and Development, Pk. (2019). CPEC | China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Official Website. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Dec. 2019].

[54] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[55] ibid

[56] Baloch, I. (2015). Balochistan: Rich In Natural Resources And Poor In Living Conditions. The Balochistan Point. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jan. 2020].

[57] Dawn (2015). Mengal asks govt to hand over Gwadar port to Balochistan. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jan. 2020].

[58] South China Morning Post (n.d.). Pakistan hands management of strategic Gwadar port to China. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jan. 2020].

[59] Muhammad, P. (2014). Saindak Copper-Gold Project: Govt moves to transfer ownership to Balochistan. The Express Tribune. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jan. 2020].

[60] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[61] Marshall, T. (2015). Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics. 2nd ed. London: Elliott and Thompson Limited, pp.36-61 and pp.188-212.

[62] White-Spunner, B. (2018). Partition. Simon & Schuster LTD.

[63] Wang, Y. and Liu, X. (2019). Is the Belt and Road Initiative a Chinese Geo-Political Strategy?. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.260-267.

[64] Yu, S. (2019). The Belt and Road Initiative: Modernity, Geopolitics and the Developing Global Order. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.187-201.

[65] Khemani, R. (2019). India rejects China’s invitation to Belt and Road Initiative meet for the second time. TFIPOST. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[66] BBC News (2019). Kashmir: captured Indian pilot, freed by Pakistan – BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[67] Mackenzie, J. (2019). Pakistan says wants peace with India, Modi responds after victory speech. Reuters. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[68] Khemani, R. (2019). India rejects China’s invitation to Belt and Road Initiative meet for the second time. TFIPOST. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[69] Roy, N. (2019). China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – Is it the Road to the Future?. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.268-282.

[70] Pandit, R. (2018). India expresses strong opposition to China Pakistan Economic Corridor, says challenges Indian sovereignty. The Economic Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[71] Thakuria, N. (2019). India Pushes a Breakaway Balochistan. Asia Sentinel. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[72] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[73] Aamir, A. (2019). How Baloch Separatists Are Trying to Derail China’s Investments in Pakistan. World Politics Review. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[74] UN News (2019). UN Security Council discusses Kashmir, China urges India and Pakistan to ease tensions. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[75] Mehmood, K. and Ahmad, Z. (2019). How Pakistan’s foreign policy pendulum swung in 2019. The Express Tribune. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[76] Al-Jazeera (2019). Kashmir under lockdown: All the latest updates. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[77] Chotiner, I. (2019). India’s Citizenship Emergency. The New Yorker. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[78] Dhume, S. (2019). Pakistan Gives a Pass to China’s Oppression of Muslims. The Wall Street Journal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[79] Al-Jazeera (2019). Secret papers reveal workings of China’s Xinjiang detention camps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[80] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[81] Rolland, N. (2019). Beijing’s Response to the Belt and Road Initiative’s “Pushback”: A Story of Assessment and Adaptation. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.216-235.

[82] Rafiq, A. (2019). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: The Lure of Easy Financing and the Perils of Poor Planning. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.236-248.

[83] British Business Energy. (2016). World Solar PV Energy Potential Maps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

[84] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary: A Review

Book #23 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.

It’s no surprise to anyone that’s been following this blog that I’m a pretty big history buff and a self-taught one at that. I haven’t formally studied history at GCSEs or A-Levels, so most of my knowledge comes from books and the internet (shout out Kings and Generals on YouTube). That being said, history is just that: a story. A narrative. The prevailing narrative of world history in the West goes a little something like this:

  1. The Birth of Civilisation: Egypt and Mesopotamia
  2. The Classical Age: Greece and Rome
  3. The Dark Ages: Rise of Christianity
  4. The Rebirth: Renaissance and Reformation
  5. The Enlightenment: Exploration and Science
  6. The Revolutions: Democratic, Industrial, Technological
  7. Rise of Nation-States: Struggle for Empire
  8. The World Wars
  9. The Cold War
  10. The Triumph of Democratic Capitalism

But what about other parts of the world? How do they view world history? That’s where Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary comes in. Ansary attempts to retell world history from the Muslim perspective. A counter-narrative to the Western view of history that goes something like this:

  1. Ancient Times: Mesopotamia and Persia
  2. Birth of Islam
  3. The Khalifate: Quest for Universal Unity
  4. Fragmentation: Age of the Sultanates
  5. Catastrophe: Crusaders and Mongols
  6. Rebirth: The Three Empires Era
  7. Permeation of East by West
  8. The Reform Movements
  9. Triumph of the Secular Modernists
  10. The Islamist Reaction

Ansary does away with the diagnosis that the world’s current political turmoil results from a “clash of civilisations”; instead, he argues that it is a “clash of narratives”. Both the Western and Islamic world have gone through different experiences to get to where they are today. It is a failure to recognise these different experiences that have led to poor policy-making. Furthermore, the “clash of civilisations” diagnosis implies that Western and Islamic civilisation have mutually exclusive attributes. Secularism, democracy and science are not just attributes of Western civilisation. In fact, Ansary highlights how many things we consider to be Western achievements and ideas were actually predated in Islamic culture by centuries.

My favourite part of Destiny Disrupted would have to be chapters 2 to 4 detailing the early rise of Islam and the lives of Prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun. Ansary presents the facts, but he also explains the lessons that can be derived from them. After all, history isn’t just about the past; it is also about what we can learn for the future. For this reason, Ansary refers to this early period of Islam as a kind of theological drama. A drama that Muslims and non-Muslims alike can learn from. Ultimately, the story of the Rashidun (and subsequent Muslim leaders ever since) is a story about people trying to work out the best way to run civilisation in accordance with the Islamic social project. They may not always get it right – more often getting it completely wrong – but that is the ultimate destiny and goal of the Ummah as a socio-political body.

Many religions say to their followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can escape it.” Islam said to its followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can change it.”

Of course, as with any book that claims to be a complete retelling of history, one must remain cautious not to take its claim at face value. *Cough* Our Island Story *cough*. And this is where I must put forth some criticism. For a book that claims to be A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Ansary has left out large swaths of the Muslim world from his narrative. Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth, is only briefly mentioned once in the entire book.

Furthermore, pretty much the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa is left out of Ansary’s narrative. Perhaps the greatest crime of his work was the complete omission of the Mali Empire of Western Africa, a contemporary of the three empires he mentions during the rebirth period (Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals). I would argue, therefore, that Ansary’s work starts off as history of the world through Islamic eyes in its early chapters. But then ultimately morphs into a history of the world through Arab, Persian and Turkish eyes with some fair amount of time dedicated to South and Central Asia.

Despite its limitations, I would say that Ansary succeeded in presenting a counter-narrative to global history that proves very enlightening. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn more about early Islamic history and the Middle World (what we usually call the Middle East) from a non-Western perspective.

Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact – 1923

Postal stamps of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Chittaranjan Das.

Following the end of Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, communal tensions worsened in the Subcontinent. The introduction of religious sentiments into the political sphere did irreparable damage to the fragile relationship between Muslims and Hindus. For a more detailed and contemporary breakdown of the worsening relationship between India’s sister communities, I recommend one reads The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940[1] by Dr B. R. Ambedkar.

The reality on the ground inevitably drew a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim leadership. Cooperation between the AIML and INC was a mere shadow of its former self. Within Congress itself, Muslim representation was at an all-time low of 3.6% in 1923[2]. The unprecedented era of Hindu-Muslim unity was taking its final breath. However, there were still some that weren’t willing to give up on the failed dream just yet.

Many attempts had been made at achieving Hindu-Muslim unity throughout India’s history. Before the British Raj, Emperor Akbar attempted to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity by creating a new religion Din-i Ilahi[3], a syncretism of Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jain and Buddhist beliefs. Similarly, many Indian saints of both Islamic and Hindu tradition advocated for greater cooperation between the two religious communities, one notable example being Kabir Das[4].

However, all these attempts failed to bring about any meaningful and sustained unity between Hindus and Muslims and largely lived and died with their progenitors. It wasn’t until the advent of the 20th century and India’s modern political awakening that anything close to true Hindu-Muslim unity occurred.

The first example of Hindus and Muslims bridging the political gap can be seen with the implementation of separate electorates under the Minto-Morley Reforms. The Congress Moderates, led by Gokhale, supported the League’s demands for separate Muslim representation despite opposition from those that saw separate electorates as an unnecessary provision, such as Jinnah.

The next and most successful example was the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which precipitated the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity during the latter half of the First World War. During this period, the Indian political elite became a unified force under the Indian Home Rule Movement, leading to the August declaration of 1917 and the subsequent Chelmsford-Montagu Reforms.

This period of unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity was brought to an end by mass agitation under the Non-cooperation Movement, which saw Gandhi’s political legitimisation of the Muslim Ulama. During this period, Jinnah went into self-imposed political exile after cutting ties with the INC, and all other political parties save for the AIML.

The majority of Indian opinion was in favour of Gandhi and the Khilafats. To oppose them would be to oppose the will of the Indian people, and so all Jinnah could do was stand by and watch as all the work he did in bringing about an understanding between Hindus and Muslims was undone. As far as India was concerned, mass agitation was the way forward regardless of how much damage it did to Hindu-Muslim unity.

Following this, multiple attempts were made at snatching back what was lost. In this essay, we will look at the first of those attempts.

In March 1923, during their annual session in Lucknow, the AIML passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a national pact ensuring unity between India’s various communities. This went a step further than the Lucknow Pact as it aimed to include a lot more parties than just Congress and the League. In September that year, during their special session in Delhi, the INC resolved to appoint a committee to help prepare a draft for the national pact. In December, the committee’s report was presented to Congress at the INC’s session in Kakinada.

The draft of the Indian National Pact[5] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. It shall be the firm and unalterable object of the Indian National Pact’s signatories to secure complete Swaraj for India.
  2. The form of government under Swaraj shall be democratic and of the federal type; however, its exact nature will be determined by a national convention.
  3. Hindustani is to be India’s lingua franca written in both the Nastaliq and Devanagari scripts.
  4. Full religious liberty is to be afforded to all of India’s communities as part of their constitutional right.
  5. To prevent any religious community from being given undue preference, no government or public funds will be devoted to any religious institution or purpose.
  6. Once Swaraj has been achieved, it will be the duty of every Indian to defend it against all attack, external or internal.
  7. Minority communities shall have separate representation in the legislatures, both central and provincial.
  8. No cow slaughter to take place except on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, out of respect for India’s Hindu community.
  9. No music is to be played in front of places of worship at such times that may be fixed by local boards.
  10. If two or more religious processions occur on the same day, they shall follow different routes as determined by local boards.
  11. Provincial and local boards will be appointed as arbiters to prevent any conflicts that may arise during religious processions.
  12. India should participate in forming a Federation of Eastern Countries for mutual help in commerce and emancipation from European powers with a view to support oriental culture and foster friendly relations.

The committee’s report was signed by Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, founder of Jamia Millia Islamia University and staunch supporter of the Khilafat Movement, and Lala Lajpat Rai, founder of Punjab National Bank and die-hard nationalist. Lala Lajpat Rai was part of the Lal Bal Pal triumvirate alongside Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. The three men had led the opposition against the Bengal Partition of 1905. Those who have read the previous essays may recall that Tilak had founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum.

In regards to separate representation for minority communities, both Dr Ansari and Lala Lajpat Rai held opposing views. Dr Ansari wanted separate representation to be extended to municipalities and local boards. In contrast, Lala Lajpat Rai believed that a time limit should be imposed on separate representation, after which it should be scrapped entirely.

Lala Lajpat Rai further posited that separate representation should be in proportion to the numerical strength of each community with special provisions made for small minorities such as Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. To this, Dr Ansari suggested that larger minorities such as Sikhs and Christians may be given special representation in the provincial legislatures but only very small minorities such as Parsis may be given special representation in the central legislature. Regardless, the electorates will be joint in all cases, and there is to be no distinction based on caste, creed or colour in public services or educational institutions.

In addition to the resolutions already a part of the Indian National Pact, Dr Ansari also wanted the following clause added: No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it. This very same clause was part of the Lucknow Pact several years prior. Unfortunately, it never made its way into the Indian National Pact, perhaps indicating that relations would never return to what they once were. At least on the national level.

Alongside the Indian National Pact, a second cross-community pact was in development by the Bengal Provincial Congress under the leadership of Chittaranjan Das, founder of the Swaraj Party, with the involvement of Bengal’s Muslim representatives. It, too, was presented to Congress at the Kakinada session.

The draft of the Bengal Pact[6] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. Representation in the Bengal Legislative Council is to be determined in proportion to population with separate electorates subject to necessary adjustments.
  2. Representation in local bodies is to be in the proportion of 60% for the majority community and 40% for the minority community, with the inclusion of separate electorates to be determined at a later date.
  3. 55% of government posts should be reserved for Muslims.
  4. No resolution or an enactment concerning a religious community can be passed without the consent of 75% of the elected members from said community.
  5. No music is to be played in procession before a Masjid.
  6. No interference is to be made in sacrificial cow slaughter for religious reasons.
  7. No legislation is to be passed concerning cow slaughter in the Bengal Legislative Council.
  8. Cow slaughter is to be carried out in such a way as not to offend Hindu religious sentiments.
  9. Annual representative committees, of which half are Muslim and half Hindu, are to be formed in every sub-division to arbitrate any disputes between the two communities.

One interesting thing to note here is the resolutions in both pacts concerning music outside places of worship, cow slaughter, and religious processions. In the Lucknow Pact, no such resolutions were included. Instead, its resolutions were largely concerning representation rather than actual religious sensibilities. This shows just how much the legitimisation of religious rhetoric had impacted Indian politics. The mere fact that these issues had to be discussed by the political leadership rather than solved by Hindus and Muslims on the ground indicates just how much the communal question had infiltrated Indian politics and how pressing the conflict between the two communities was.

It should be added that there is no religious requirement in Islam to slaughter a cow. In the case of Eid al-Adha, goats and sheep serve just as well, and most Indian Muslims opted for this to avoid unnecessary troubles. At the INC’s Kakinada session, one of the Muslim members boasted that he had reduced the amount of cow slaughter in Aligarh on the occasion of Eid al-Adha from 500 cows to just two[7]. Furthermore, in Hyderabad, a princely state consisting of a majority Hindu population ruled by Muslims, the Nizam had outlawed cow-slaughter on Eid al-Adha entirely. The current draft of the Indian National Pact contradicted that ruling.

Both the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact were subject to debate at the December session of Congress. A debate that lasted approximately four hours over the course of which many Congress members had their input. It was then decided that a vote would be taken regarding whether each pact should continue being pursued. The overwhelming majority voted in favour of a second report of the Indian National Pact to be presented no later than the 31st March 1924. Unfortunately, no second report ever arrived.

Despite insistence from C. R. Das that the Bengal Pact was still subject to change on account of it being a draft proposal, the Bengal Pact was rejected with 678 votes against 458[8]. The main reason given was that the Bengal Pact was specific to the situation in Bengal, and if other provinces adopted them, it would lead to more frictions between Hindus and Muslims. In contrast, the Indian National Pact was abstract without any hard figures so that it could be implemented in the provinces with respect to each specific situation. In addition, the Bengal Pact directly contradicted the Indian National Pact’s stance on cow slaughter opting to prevent its ban rather than facilitate it.

Other Congress members asked why Muslims should have to enter into an agreement with Hindus before standing under the banner of freedom when other communities didn’t need such concessions. Not only that, but what was wrong with the Lucknow Pact that a new pact needed to be drafted anyway. These were the attitudes of an Indian National Congress that refused to open its eyes to the current state of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Furthermore, regardless of one’s views regarding the relationship between Muslims and Hindus, opting to delete a draft proposal before it was even completed sent the message that the largely Hindu INC refused to even consider the needs and apprehensions of Muslims. For Muslim India, this sent a clear picture of what Indian Independence would look like. A union dominated by Hindu opinion without adequate protection to the Muslim minority. A Hindu Raj.

All in all, the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact proved to be yet another failed attempt at Hindu-Muslim unity. It was safe to say that things were no longer as simple as back in the days of the Lucknow Pact. For Jinnah, a man who tried his absolute hardest to bring about a fragile understanding between Hindus and Muslims, this must have been a hard pill to swallow.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Ambedkar, B. R., 1941. The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 May 2021].

[2] Brown, J., 1985. Modern India: The Origins Of An Asian Democracy. Oxford University Press.

[3] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Dīn-i Ilāhī | Indian religion. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Kabir | Indian mystic and poet. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[5] Mitra, H. N., 1923. Indian Annual Register, 1923. Vol. II. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 May 2021]. p.105-108

[6] Ibid. p.127-128

[7] Ibid. p.125

[8] Ibid. p.127

Eid Mubarak!

Eid Mubarak. May Allah shower blessings upon you and your family. Ameen.

Today marks the end of Ramadan, but it also marks one week since Israeli forces illegally entered the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. Since then, the Western-backed colonial state of Israel has placed Masjid al-Aqsa (the third holiest site in Islamic tradition) under siege, launched missiles into the Gaza strip, and continued the sadistic process of ethnic cleansing it began in 1948.

At this point in the 73-year-old conflict, there is no longer room for sitting on the fence. You’re either on the side of a fascist state armed with one of the world’s most powerful militaries or that of a native population that has been subject to the same brutal treatment enacted upon the Jewish people of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the world’s governments have chosen to remain largely silent on the genocide currently taking place in one of the world’s holiest lands.

As Muslims across the world wake up today to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, Palestinians will be waking up to mourn the loss of their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, cousins, aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and colleagues. So far, at the time of writing, a total of 17 children have been killed by the Israeli “Defence” Force. None of these children asked to be born into this conflict. None of these children were combatants. The only crime they committed, at least according to the Zionist apartheid State of Israel, was their mere existence.

For many of us, today will not be the happy Eid of years past but rather a solemn one. While we greet friends and relatives with smiles and break bread with our brothers and sisters, our hearts will be torn as we remember those that do not have this privilege. In many ways, this Ramadan has been a test for all of us but none quite like that for the people of Palestine.

However, it is important to remember that no matter how grim things may seem right now, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Xinjiang, Myanmar or elsewhere, there is always hope. Indeed to lose all hope is to lose your belief in Allah. As for those who have lost their lives, let us remember that they are not really lost at all.

وَلَا تَحۡسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ أَمۡوَٰتَۢاۚ بَلۡ أَحۡيَآءٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ يُرۡزَقُونَ

And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision,

The Qur’an [3:169]

Midnights In London, Part 4

The Visit

With one last burst of courage, Captain Robertson swiftly slipped into the room, pistol raised, to find a figure by the window dressed in black as thick as the midnight sky. He was ready to open fire, but something made him hesitate. Unsure of whether it was his keen intuition or if he’d just been out of practice, the Captain decided to go with his gut instinct and held off from pulling the trigger. After the confusing day he just had, he wasn’t sure if he could trust his head anymore.
And oh boy, was he glad he did, for the figure dressed in black was none other than the Eighth Duke of Argyll with his bright orange hair being the only splash of colour to his otherwise rather dull attire.
“Bloody hell! Put the gun down!” hissed the Duke.
Captain Robertson realised he still had his gun levelled with the Duke’s chest and quickly returned it to its holster, “My apologies, Mr Secretary. I’m rather on edge today.”
“Indeed. I’ve read the reports. It seems that our friend, Mr Dame, hasn’t been entirely honest with us, doesn’t it?”
Captain Robertson didn’t answer but didn’t object either. It was somewhat true. He’d been running around with Mr Daim for nearly a month now, and everything he knew about him was dwarfed by what he didn’t.
“We believe it’s time you were filled in on what’s been going on, Captain,” continued the Duke, “and by we, I mean the Prime Minister, the Viceroy and I, but first, why don’t you recount the events of the past few weeks. And please, don’t leave out any details, no matter how absurd they may seem.”

While the Captain conversed with the Secretary of State for India, Mr Daim was downstairs in his hotel room preparing the vial containing Spring-Heeled Jack’s residual aura. He started by removing the vial from the coat that Captain Robertson had lent him. Unlike his companion, Mr Daim could see the aura swirling about inside, a light pinkish-red vapour like the petals of a rose found in the gardens of Damascus. He gave it a quick but gentle flick of the finger. Satisfied with the way the pinkish-red vapour dissipated then coalesced, Mr Daim moved onto the second stage of this well-practised procedure.
Grabbing his battered old briefcase from the opposite side of the room, he unbuckled the clip and rummaged around inside. There, nestled between Hafez and Ghalib, was an old compass, so old it could be no younger than five centuries, so old it was engraved with symbols whose meaning was remembered only by those who engraved it. Mr Daim carefully removed the crystalline glass cover protecting the glinting metal needle beneath, the only part of the device that hadn’t succumb to rust. It was really time Mr Daim got his hands on a new one, but this particular compass had been given to him by a dear friend. Or was it a lover? Truth be told, it was so long ago he couldn’t remember the exact status of the relationship, but he could still feel the remnants of the affinity he had for this long lost person and so opted to hold on to it. At least until it stopped functioning or fate forced him to part with it.
The final part of the well-practised procedure was the one that required the most concentration. Mr Daim placed the compass in the centre of the oak desk beneath the mirror opposite his bed. He looked into the eyes of his reflection, then down to the sprangled inky hairs of his unkempt beard and decided that he’d commit himself to a grooming session before bed, but first, he had to focus his mind and free it from the distractions of the material existence.
Firmly gripping the glass vial, Mr Daim began chanting in a language unknown to the Children of Adam. Continuing the incantations, he tightened his grip shattering the vial into a thousand tiny pieces. The pinkish-red vapour tried to escape but was trapped by the prison that was Mr Daim’s clenched fist. Any small fragments that tried to escape through his fingers were forced back in by the rhythm and tempo of his incessant chant.
The vapour suddenly expanded, engulfing the entirety of Mr Daim’s fist, the pinkish-red now a deep burning purple, but this didn’t interrupt the sweet melody of his tongue. With the vapour reaching a fever pitch, Mr Daim hurled it into the compass, firmly sealing it shut with the crystalline cover. With nowhere left to go, the aura began aggressively swirling around inside the compass like the wheels of the steam engines back in India before being sucked directly into the compass needle itself. It was only once all the vapour was consumed, the needle a glistening violet, that Mr Daim ceased his incessant chanting. He tapped the crystalline glass cover twice, and the needle began spinning rapidly before grinding to a complete halt; however, this time, it wasn’t facing the magnetic north but rather in the direction of his quarry: Spring-Heeled Jack. Convinced everything was in working order, Mr Daim removed a bar of shaving soap and razor from his battered old briefcase and went about his long-overdue grooming session.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Captain Robertson’s jumbled thoughts were finally ordered into something a little more coherent. The mental fogginess that had been plaguing him since he left Lahore for London had faded away, leaving him with a crystal-clear picture of everything that had happened since he met the mysterious Mr Daim. Anything he couldn’t rationalise was packed away in a box labelled “lunacy” and shelved in the recesses of his mind. He was just glad to finally have someone to talk to. Someone who’d actually listen to him and give him straightforward answers. A welcome break from the ambiguity of Mr Daim.
As it turns out, the Eighth Duke of Argyll and his associates, the Prime Minister and the Viceroy, had been keeping tabs on Mr Daim for over a year now. Rumours of an individual possessing extraordinary abilities had been circulating around Lahore for weeks in the monsoon of eighteen sixty-nine. Of course, these sorts of rumours were commonplace in India. Still, they had to be investigated nonetheless should the individual in question utilise the superstition surrounding them to rile up the discontents. After the events of the Mutiny, Lord Mayo, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, wasn’t taking any chances.
He immediately put Mr Daim under temporary surveillance, as was routine protocol, until it could be determined the size of the threat he posed to the British Raj. Expecting Mr Daim to be deemed a none-threat, it came as quite a surprise when reports started piling in about a disturbance in one of the city’s outlying villages…

The Exorcism

The monsoon had arrived late this year but arrived it did, and to the people of Mallianwala, it was most welcome. Harpreet was worried. Local merchants had been speaking of an approaching drought making its way up from the south. Drought meant food would become unaffordable and unaffordable food meant Harpreet and her family would go hungry. But luckily, by the grace of Waheguru, the approaching drought was halted by the cascading rains that blessed the boundless Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India. No, Harpreet was worried for an entirely different reason.
Aamir, the older brother of Harpreet’s best friend Zainab, was seriously ill. The whole of Mallianwala could hear his panicked wailing at unseemly hours of the night. The first time it happened, Harpreet had mistaken the pain-stricken cries for the local Muezzin. Now it had been a week since, and the poor boy was still unwell. According to Zainab, he had even become uncontrollably violent, forcing her father to make the difficult decision to confine Aamir to his room.
Harpreet had never talked with Aamir at great length. Like most of Mallianwala’s Muslim population, Aamir and his father worked for Harpreet’s father. The daughter of a Sikh landowner conversing with the son of a Muslim peasant would be the scandal of the decade, but that didn’t stop Harpreet from catching a glimpse of the muscular boy with black wavy hair whenever she could. In the real world, a Muslim would never marry a Sikh. However, the real world didn’t apply to Harpreet’s fantasies.
And so, when Zainab told Harpreet about her brother’s condition, it was Harpreet herself who pleaded on Zainab’s behalf, asking her father to see what he could do for the boy. As always, Harpreet’s father gave in to the demands of his princess. That very evening, Harpreet’s father called a village meeting. Women weren’t allowed to attend these meetings but seeing as it was being held in her family’s courtyard, Harpreet eavesdropped from her bedroom. The local Mullah had concluded that Aamir was possessed by a jinni, evidenced by the scars that ran down his cheek after being scratched for reciting his holy book. The men decided that the best course of action would be for Aamir’s father to travel to the city in search of an exorcist. Harpreet’s father generously agreed to accompany him and cover the costs of the journey. They set out the following morning and returned by nightfall.
It wasn’t every day that something this eventful occurred, and nearly the entire village had gathered to witness the exorcism. Harpreet could even spot a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd. Intrigued spectators from some of the neighbouring villages, perhaps. Children watched from the rooftops while men and women crowded around the wall demarking the boundary between the private domain of Zainab’s family and the public domain of Mallianwala. Fortunately, with the help of Zainab, Harpreet was able to sneak in and get the best view in the house: a small window located in the far corner of Aamir’s room.
Harpreet watched Aamir lying face down on his charpai as his father, her father, and the Mullah entered the room along with a fourth man she didn’t recognise. Harpreet deduced that he was the Exorcist her father went to fetch. Aamir let out a long inhuman groan that almost sounded like the whimper of a wounded wolf. Aamir’s mother, who was standing by the door, tried rushing into the room to tend to her only son but was subsequently shooed away by her husband.
The Mullah began reciting verses from his holy book which started to rouse the sleeping Aamir. The four men surrounded the charpai, ready for anything that might happen. Suddenly, Aamir’s back arched upwards, and his head slowly turned towards the newcomer. Harpreet gasped. Aamir’s eyes were no longer the beautiful bright hazel she was used to but instead a deep crimson red like the blood of a slaughtered animal. His pupils were absent, making it impossible to tell what it was he was looking at. For all she knew, he could be staring directly at her. Or rather, it was staring directly at her. This was no longer the muscular boy with the black wavy hair but something else entirely – a demon.
The Demon began to slowly uncurl itself and rise up, like a puppet being lifted by its head, its limbs hanging limp in the candle-lit room until it was levitating two inches above the charpai staring down at the four men. Sweat trickled down the side of Harpreet’s face. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Fear forced her eyelids open and froze her to the spot.
The Demon started talking in a language Harpreet had never heard Aamir speak before. A language nobody had spoken before. Except for the Exorcist, for he not only understood what the Demon was saying but was speaking back to it in the same strange language. Harpreet had visited the city often, but she’d never heard a language with a melody quite like this. Everyone was startled yet entirely engrossed in the conversation they couldn’t understand. Even the Mullah’s attention was stolen away from his recitation as he remained fixated on the creature that stood before him.
The Exorcist and the Demon that was not quite Aamir went back and forth like this for several minutes. All was silent save for the whispers travelling through the gathering crowd, the gentle whistling of the wind passing through the trees, a clap of thunder in the far distance and the pitter-patter of the monsoon rain slapping against the ground. The Exorcist let out a sigh of disappointment, the kind of sigh one let out when their hand is forced. With a nod, each father grabbed one of the Demon’s arms, dragging him off the charpai and onto his knees before the Exorcist. The Demon let out a blood-curdling laugh that reverberated loudly into the midnight sky, blowing out the candles, bathing everything in the moon’s glow.
The Exorcist folded up his sleeve, concentration etched into the wrinkles of his face as he forced his hand down the Demon’s throat as it began to violently choke. To Harpreet’s amazement, the Exorcist was almost elbow-deep, something that should have been impossible unless he was able to shrink his own arm on demand. She was either dreaming, or her eyes were deceiving her. The thing began trying to shake free, struggling against Harpreet’s father’s tight inescapable grip, but it proved futile.
The Exorcist began to pull his arm back out, dragging something along with it. Now that it was removed from Aamir’s body, the Demon looked like a dark cloud, and it let out a deafening shriek as it attempted to resist the Exorcist’s grip. Meanwhile, Aamir fell unconscious at the foot of the charpai, his father by his side. The Exorcist walked towards the window, the same one Harpreet and Zainab were crouched behind, the shrieking cloud in hand. As he got closer, Harpreet could finally make out what looked like a face with the sharp teeth and pointed ears of a cat. Once the Exorcist reached the window, he launched the dark cloud up towards the sky, Harpreet and Zainab ducking to avoid the ungodly monstrosity. As the shrieking faded away into the distance, so too did the fear and tension of the past week. The ordeal was finally over.

“And you’re sure this is all true?” asked Captain Robertson.
“It was witnessed by one of our own. The same officer that was assigned to keep an eye on our friend, in fact. An Englishman, so I’m certain we can trust his rational judgement. If it was an Indian, I’d be sceptical too,” verified the Duke.
“I see… so what of Spring-Heeled Jack?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. Gladstone says whatever he is, it must have something to do with Mr Dame, hence why he ordered the Viceroy to bring him here.”
“So, where do I fit in in all this?”
“You’re the most important part, Captain. We need you to gain as much information as you can about our friend, Mr Dame, and see if there is indeed a link between him and Spring-Heeled Jack. In essence, your orders are to spy on him. I didn’t tell you this before because I wanted to see, for myself, if the reports were true. Today’s events proved that.”
It was all made clear now. Captain Robertson wasn’t just being brought home to be put on guard duty but was instead being made part of something far greater. But did he really have it in him to be a spy? And could he really betray his friend’s trust?
“Is that clear, Captain?”
“Yes, Mr Secretary.”

To be continued…

This is part of a larger series called Midnights In London

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson: A Review

Book #18 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.

If you’d been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I’m big on comic books. If you’d been paying attention, then you’d also know that one of my favourite characters is Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms Marvel, created by G. Willow Wilson. This is what led me to my most recent read: Alif the Unseen.

The novel is set in a fictional city, aptly named “the City”, somewhere along the Persian Gulf. A heavily stratified society ruled by an elite Arab aristocracy with large immigrant populations from all over the world (think Dubai or Riyadh). It is amongst the cultural amalgamation of Baqara District where imported labour from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the lesser Arab states live side by side that we find our protagonist: Alif.

Alif is a computer hacker; his services available to the highest bidder, whether they be the Islamists, the Communists, or the Feminists. As long as they’re against the regime, it doesn’t matter to him. Together, Alif and his computer hacking friends do everything they can to get back at the censors. A quasi-digital revolution, you could say. Unfortunately, this kind of life doesn’t come without its risks, and the infamous Hand (man? computer program? both?) is always on the prowl for anyone that dares defy the state authorities.

Everything was going to plan for Alif until the day his illicit girlfriend, Intisar, decides to break up with him after being betrothed to a member of the royal family. Crushed, Alif chooses to do what he does best, creating a computer program designed to recognise an individual by decoding their behavioural writing patterns. All so he can block Intisar from ever reaching him again (a bit excessive if you ask me). Of course, this kind of program could have disastrous consequences for Alif and the revolutionaries should it end up in the hands of the state. Which it does.

Now on the run from state authorities with his neighbour Dina, Alif comes across a mysterious book called the Alf Yeom (the Djinn’s equivalent of The One Thousand and One Nights). This opens up a new world to Alif as he straddles the line between the world of man and Djinn in his race to put a stop to the Hand. A fugitive on the run, Alif is about to be at the centre of events that will shock the City to its very core.

Willow G. Wilson creates a vibrant world filled with everything you could ask for in an action-adventure novel: Romance, Revolution, Magic, Technology, and, my personal favourite, Djinn. Not only that but Wilson also talks extensively about Islamic theology and highlights issues that are prevalent in the Muslim community with nuance and complexity in a way that doesn’t detract from the story.

Take, for example, the character referred to as “the convert”, an American woman that reverted to Islam and works at Al-Basheera University located in the Old Quarter. An American revert herself, Wilson details a few of the struggles that new members of the Muslim community face from their coreligionists through the convert’s interactions with Alif, Dina and the rest of the uniquely interesting characters that make up her novel. My favourite character being Vikram the Vampire, Alif’s Djinn protector, with his quick wit and constant banter about the fragility of beni adam.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a story that blends the seen with the unseen. Whenever I think of modern Islamic literature and fiction, this is what will come to mind. Many philosophical quandaries are proposed throughout this work, from the Qur’an and its relationship with quantum computing to the all-important question of whether it’s haram to consume virtual pork in a video game.