Opposition’s outcry over the alleged change in Pak-China corridor route

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Quetta: Political parties and civil society activists in Khyber Pasktunkhwa and Balochistan are protesting against the alleged change in plan for the “economic corridor” route between Pakistan and China, believing it is a conspiracy against them .

The 2000 kilometer road and train link between the port city of Gawadar in Balochistan, Pakistan, and the western city of Kashghar in China – dubbed as the “economic corridor” – will be developed by the Chinese under a $46 billion project, promising prosperity for the region in terms of infrastructure development and employment.

According to the Moody’s Investor Services, a leading global credit rating agency, the project is ‘credit positive’ for Pakistan – adding to the credit ratings of Pakistan because the economic growth generated from the corridor will bolster government’s finances.

The project that has yet to begin has been marred by controversies though. The opposition leaders have been protesting the alleged change in the route of the corridor – originally proposed to pass through the less developed provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.  The criticism comes from the politicians and civil society in the provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, expressing concerns that the corridor would be connected through the province of Punjab. Several demonstrations, seminars and public gatherings have taken place to denounce the change the alleged change in the route.

“The route and connecting roads are different, ” said Asfandyar Wali Khan, Chairman Awami National Party while addressing an All Parties Conference on the Pak-China economic corridor in Islamabad. “They [the government] talks about the connecting roads to KP, FATA and Balochistan when actually the route [Pak-China economic corridor] does not go through this region. The federal government sees only Punjab as Pakistan, not the rest of the deprived areas and masses. We want a brotherly federation, one that treats all equally.”

He said: “The change of the route from Pashtun and Baloch belts will be considered another big controversy like Kalabagh dam.”

On the other hand the party in power, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is pushed to explain the project on different occasions.

“There are two phases of infrastructural development under the Pak-China economic Corridor – the first phase will link the existing motorway from Lahore to Peshawar with a motorway from Lahore to Karachi, linking south and north through a series of motorways,” said Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Reform  Ahsan Iqbal while addressing at the seminar on potentials and prospects of Gawadar in Islamabad.

He told the seminar, “The second phase of the corridor, envisaging road connectivity of Gwadar with Balochistan and KPK, will be started as the pace of development and traffic increases…. The Karakoram Highway is  being upgraded up to Hawelian with Chinese assistance and N-85, which was neglected for long, will also be completed within three years linking Ratodero with Gwadar. This will be the shortest road connecting Gwadar to the rest of Pakistan and attracting investment to Gwadar Port.”

“The Gwadar Kashghar route was originally planned to go through Bisima, Khuzdar, Kalat and Quetta onto to Zhob, DI Khan, Hassan Abdal and onwards to Kashghar but it has been changed to Bisima, Ratodero and towards Punjab which means by passing the Baloch and Pashtun areas,” Senator Abdul Rauf Khan, Member of Senate Standing Committee on Defense told News Lens Pakistan.

He said economic development and prosperity in the Pakhtun and Baloch regions of Khyber Pashtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan would decrease militancy to a negligible level. “Because of oppression, a sense of deprivation prevails among the Pakhtun and Baloch people. The change in route means taking every economic opportunity to Punjab and neglecting the rest of the nationalities,” said Rauf Khan.

A spokesperson for the Balochistan Republican Party Sher Mohammad Bugti told News Lens that his party’s stance toward forceful and illegal occupation of Balochistan was clear. “The occupying state has no right to conduct any agreements with any state regarding Baloch land and if it would, then the Balochistan Republican Party will stand at every possible forum to condemn it.”

He said the agreements between Pakistan, China and Iran on projects related to the Baloch land had no importance in the eyes of the Baloch people until it included their will. “The Baloch people might be weak but they would stand at every possible forum to protest.”

“It is clear that  Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and his team has decided to change the route”, said Said Alam Mehsud, Chairman of Ulasi Tehreek [Peoples Movement]. “If not,why is Mr Ahsan Iqbal talking about the Dera Ghazi Khan, Rathodero, Khuzdar and Gwadar route”.

Mehsud said the Gwadar Kashghar route going through Hasan Abdal, Fatehjang, Daudkhel of Mianwali, Dera Ismail Khan, Zhob, Quetta and Gawadar would change the fortunes of the people of FATA, Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Motorways, fast track railway, fiber optic line, oil and gas pipeline, free trade and industrial zone are components of the corridor that will usher in prosperity. “Minerals like chromium, zinc, copper, gold, marble, iron etc. that found in abundance along this route would be utilized. Their demand will change the economic fortunes of this area. These areas will not only get connected through motorway and railway, they will also get connected to China, Afghanistan and the central Asian countries.”

Sana Ijaz of the National Youth Organization said if the route goes through the Pakhtun and Baloch areas, it would “surely bring employment and small business and small industry.”

“Our areas are hit by terrorism and deprivation,” said Ijaz, a social activist. “If we compare the militancy rate between Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the later has faced negligible militant attacks -one of the reasons is economic development of the province.”

She said Pakistan should be considered a united federation and the deprived Pakhtun and Baloch people should be given the opportunity to overcome the sense of deprivation. “China should pass the route through its natural pathway [Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA] if it wants to succeed in its plans to have a successful economic corridor,” said Ijaz.

“95% of the truck-drivers roaming through Pakistan and Middle East are the people of these areas [Fata, Balochistan, Khyber Pashtunkhwa], ” she said. “If this route is realized, these people will work here and earn more through lesser effort.”

Mehsud said the Pakhtun and Baloch areas did not have industry and technical know-how. “When industrial and free trade zones get established here, these [Pakhtun and Baloch] people will get jobs, start businesses, get new skills and techniques –  they will become technical, get managerial skills and finally start big corporations as other people did in case of East China, America and Canada corridors,” he said.

“Realistically speaking, Pakistan is Punjab, and Punjab is Pakistan,” said Mehsud. “Take the example of services sector, railways, motorways, national highways, airports, irrigation, control of electricity etc. Punjab is an empire and the rest are oppressed states and colonies. An oppressor always have the same attitude towards its colonies. That’s why East Pakistan became Bangladesh.”

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