ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

State transformation and democracy in Pakistan under the Belt and Road Initiative


Boni Filippo - The Open University, Politics and International Studies, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom


22 – The present democratic crisis in South Asia: causes, distinctive elements and historical precedents


 In recent years there has been much debate about the impact that Chinese investments through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had on democracy in partner countries. Scholars and policymakers, particularly in West, have characterised China’s economic and political practices as an attempt at undermining democracy globally. Pakistan, with its chequered democratic history and an elevated role in the BRI as host of its “flagship” project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is an ideal case to assess these claims. Through the conceptual lens of “state transformation”, this paper seeks to analyse the structural changes that CPEC has set in motion within Pakistan’s hybrid regime. Drawing on interviews and official documents, the paper argues that state transformation under CPEC was mostly visible across three domains: the establishment of new bureaucracies to cope with the multi-billion dollar projects; the centralisation of decision-making processes; and power shifts in Pakistan’s domestic politics and civil-military relations. The paper concludes with an assessment of what these transformations mean for Pakistan’s democracy and what lessons can be learned from Pakistan about claims that the BRI undermines democracy.