The year is 2050. Pakistan is lined with motorways and railroads. Highways begin at the head of the country in Khunjerab and reach all the way to its tail in Gwadar. Every major power hub of the country has a power plant dedicated to it. Industrial parks are found at the outskirts of major cities. The cities have changed too. City skylines are lined with huge malls and skyscrapers housing multinational corporations. City markets are filled in excess with all kinds of services. The country is replete with economic activity. Pakistan, with its plethora of infrastructural facilities, has become what people, mostly politicians, had envisioned in their wildest dreams. And let us not forget the crown jewel. The icing on the cake. The cherry on top. Gwadar. Gwadar’s cityscape is no different than that of Shanghai or Dubai. Gwadar port exudes an aura of a thriving machine, at the epicentre of a massive manufacturing system. Many perceive it as having surpassed Dubai in terms of economic value. Its deep water port seemingly has more traffic than Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore. Pakistan is thought by many to have become a regional economic superpower. All is well. But is it?All is not well. The reality behind this façade of economic development and political stability in the country is quite different. What lies behind this is quite bitter as opposed to the superficial image of economic prosperity portrayed by our skyscraper filled skylines. It is a truth that many do not want to speak of or write about. People who do intend to disseminate information about the actual politico-economic reality of the country face opposition from the general narrative prevalent among the economists within the country and those outside it. Reports by international ranking agencies rank Pakistan as one of the largest economies in the region. Such reports are used by the government, for political purposes, to suppress the truth and portray the country as a regional economic superpower. The majority of people have swallowed this narrative and the propaganda spread by the government to augment it. Many Pakistanis like to refer to the country as the Fifth Asian Tiger now. Anyone who says otherwise is seen as a foreign agent and a traitor, which does not come as a major surprise, as the art of terming people who speak the truth as traitors is a century old now. Many a times, journalists who talk about this issue are arrested on false charges. With blatant opposition from both the government and the blinded masses, and the fact that people are content with the false reality they are in, the unnerving truth remains buried deep down.What is this truth that the government is trying to mask? What is this dark secret that the government has managed to hide, but which is whispered quietly among people who dare? What is this truth that the government has coated over with its lies to blind the country? It is the fact that we were deceived. We were misled by our leaders. We were fooled. Fooled by a dear friend of ours. This friend had always portrayed itself to have our best interests at heart. This friend, with whom we thought we had a friendship higher than the highest mountains, deeper than the deepest oceans, and sweeter than the sweetest honey, fooled us. This friend gave us a medicine that he claimed was the panacea for all our ills. But through that medicine, he enslaved us and it is a kind of slavery whose shackles of domination cannot be thrown off easily. The dear friend was China. And the medicine was CPEC.A few decades back, our country was in a perilous state. We were deemed an economic failure by many. Our industries were falling apart. Unemployment was rife. Power shortage had become the bane of our existence. The solution to all our problems was given to us by our dear friend. China promised to build an economic corridor through our country. The economic corridor would include highways, pipelines, power plants, industrial parks, and a road connecting Pakistan’s north to its south. We wholeheartedly accepted the idea of CPEC, like a sick person desperately seeking a medicine. Due to our poor, economically miserable state, coupled with our obsession with infrastructure and our misguided perception that roads and buildings signify development, we fully swallowed this idea. And hence began our downward spiral into slavedom. Again.We were drilled with the notion that the realization of CPEC would transform us into a self-sustaining entity able to stand on its own legs. We were not aware that this very same CPEC would break our legs. That it would bend us before someone who was doling out gifts wrapped in their concealed desire for economic imperialism. We were told that China would give us loans to finance a large number of infrastructural, energy and industrial projects. It is beyond me what went through the minds of economists and statesmen at the time that they were unable to understand that this was a project financed by a huge amount of loans. I cannot possibly comprehend that with Pakistan’s public debt of $180 billion at the time the project was in its initial stages, why did we agree to burden ourselves with $50 billion in addition. Why did we not understand that the loans we were taking for these projects amounted to a value that even our total public debt should not have been?All that the enlightened economists at the time could say to critics was that they did not understand development. That they did not understand how debt worked. That these are ‘soft’ loans. That their interest rate is minimal compared to the prevailing interest rate. No one however realized that a ‘soft loan’ is a loan nonetheless, that even if interest was totally waived off, the amount of the loan in itself was humungous. But sadly we were convinced that these projects would generate foreign investment that would boost our economies. And that the revenue generated from these economic activities would pay back everything. Build-operate-transfer had become the slogan of economists at that time. Their narrative was that the Chinese would build all the projects, operate them, and transfer projects back as their debt is paid. Well, decades have passed. The Chinese did build those projects. They did operate these projects. But they never transferred a majority of those projects to us. It was simply because we haven’t been able to pay back that debt. Now, most of these projects are owned by the Chinese companies. Industries, power plants, even all these highways are operated by the Chinese. Recently, some lawmaker made an allegation that the transport tax we were promised years back is collected by Chinese companies that operate these highways. Pakistani entities do have a share in the companies that operate or work on CPEC, but these are minor shares. Our status is just like that of a parasite feeding on a large organism. We are in this situation because we could not generate the revenue to pay back the gigantic amount of debt incurred to finance these projects. How could we? We never owned the projects. What we owned was our minimal share as compared to that of our debt-financiers. Pakistani entities owned a stake in CPEC ventures that generated revenues which were as meagre as the share that they had in those ventures. So, we never had a way to generate enough revenue in order to pay back the loans. And our inability to pay back that debt has prevented us from actually reaping the benefits of CPEC.Although CPEC brought in a lot of investment in the form of foreign investors like MNCs, but as is the case with every developing country with capitalist corporate entities present in it, the revenue generated is flown out of the country. What CPEC managed to do was provide a fertile ground to these foreign entities and a route for China to send its goods abroad. And the vast presence of Chinese goods and companies in Pakistan has been detrimental to the local industry. Pakistan is not only a passageway for the Chinese, but also a dumping ground for their low quality goods. The Chinese economic presence has suffocated us. The whole corridor, from the roads to the plants to the port is technically like a tentacle that rings through Pakistan’s land right to its tail. A tentacle of the octopus that is the Chinese economic imperialism. An arm that they dug through Pakistan to solidify their economic hegemony in the region and in the wider world. This economic supremacy of the Chinese has also transformed the political setup in Pakistan. The vast economic influence in turn calls for political influence at a similar scale. People have started feeling that Chinese influence is seeping into our political circles. Many of the decisions made by our politicians seem to uphold Chinese interests. Taxes being waived off for Chinese companies and traffic, Chinese companies not being scrutinized and regulated are a few examples of the Chinese having a free reign in our country as our politicians look the other way.Another way in which our slavery has manifested itself in the economic arena is the Chinese domination in the job arena. CPEC projects caused an influx of Chinese people into the country. Resultantly, majority of these ventures are operated by the Chinese. All the higher officials of these companies are Chinese. The lower jobs are reserved for our graduates. It’s like how Pakistanis were treated in Dubai. Now Pakistanis get a similar treatment in their own country.CPEC has also given the Chinese politicians and officials a reason to feel that we owe them. After all, they ‘transformed’ our country into a hustling bustling hub of gigantic malls and wide highways. And this is why they feel entitled to a higher status than the common citizens of Pakistan. Interactions between Chinese officials and Pakistani people in public exhibit an aura of condescension and patronisation on part of the Chinese officials. Recently, a Chinese diplomat misbehaved with a law enforcement official and beat him up. The story goes that his guards also fired at the official. But strangely, the matter was brushed under the carpet by the government. No action was taken against the diplomat. Times are eerily reminiscent of the era when Americans used to manhandle our citizens. Maybe someday we will witness a Chinese Raymond Davis.How naïve were we? How did we not realize that this would happen? Maybe we were ignorantly optimistic. Maybe we were swept away by the promises of the ruling government of the time. Our gullible selves were implanted with the notion that CPEC would benefit Pakistan and not the entity that financed those projects, built those projects, and now operated those projects. We were under the naive impression that CPEC would not only benefit the Chinese corporations that will operate their businesses here, but the wealth generated by those businesses would be shared among the common man like langar at a shrine on Thursday. Our deluded selves, which were greatly attracted to infrastructural ventures and were constrained by the inability to understand the importance of self-sustainability, wholeheartedly accepted this project.We were seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was a ploy by the Chinese to economically enslave us as part of their campaign of economic imperialism. Two hundred years back, we were enslaved by the British through the East India Company. But that enslavement was aided by military conquests. Our knees were brutally and explicitly broken. Following our independence from the British, we were enslaved by the Americans. The Americans gave us enemies and made us fight their wars. Because of our innate desire to not ever become a self-sustaining entity, and the fact that we would get military aid in return for fighting their wars, we happily became their mercenaries. However, this time it was different. The British and the Americans were open bullies, forcefully making us do what they asked, but China was different. Our dear friend China had always portrayed itself to have our best interests at heart. Our enslavement at the hands of our dearest friend was subtle and discreet. When we had fallen down, and were weak and hopeless, this friend gave us a pat on the head and told us that everything would be okay. That he had a panacea for all our miseries. This friend, who was in reality a demon at the crossroads, gave us a medicine in the form of CPEC and told us that it would help us get up.And here we are now. Years later. Still down. Still a slave. With our begging bowl in front of a new master. I don’t know what the future holds for us, whether we will ever be economically independent. What I know is that when China is done with us, it would dispose us off and go on to prey upon a new victim. But for now, we are their slaves. So all we can say is; Hail to the new master.