In Balochistan, immediate needs take precedence over long-term development goals

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Machinery is busy in the construction work of Quetta-Chaman-Kandahar highway at Kojak top in Pakistani border town Chaman, along with Afghanistan border. : Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai

Quetta:  The 46 billion dollar Pakistan-China Economic Corridor promises progress in the long run that Balochistan, Pakistan’s southwestern province, has always struggled for. But for now, it is the short term needs that weigh heavy on the minds of people and politicians in the province.

“Clean drinking water is not available to the people of Gwadar and their lands are being grabbed and allotted to influential people,”  Agha Hassan Baloch, spokesperson for Balochistan National Party Mengal (BNP-M), told News Lens.

Baloch said that the Pak-China Economic Corridor would remain secondary to Baloch needs till the pressing issues facing the local population are solved. ” [Else] the Economic corridor would mean nothing to them.”

Pakistan and China inked the agreement  on the mega  development project during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan in April 2015. The Pak-China Economic Corridor will connect the Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to Xinjiang in northwestern China through a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas.

The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative – also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR), a development strategy that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily in Eurasia . As of 2012, there are 93 independent countries in Eurasia. This includes all 48 countries of Europe (including the island countries of Cyprus, Iceland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom), 17 countries of the Middle East, 27 countries of Asia (including Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Philippines, and Taiwan), and one new country now often associated with Oceania – East Timor. Thus, nearly half of the world’s 196 independent countries are in Eurasia. The region comprises 71 percent of the world population – nearly five billion.

Seen as the largest overseas investment by China, the project will also open trade routes providing China direct access to the resource-rich Middle East and Central Asia. The project is expected to be completed in three years. It is seen as a “strategic game changer” in the region, that will make Pakistan, a close ally of China, richer and stronger as a country that will serve as a entry point for the corridor.

After the deal was signed in April, it sent ripples through the political, economic and social spectrum of Pakistan’s polity. There has been a controversy over Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest province in terms of population and resources, changing the route of the corridor to secure its interests at the cost of small provinces. Some of the most strident criticism came from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces where politicians  seemed concerned over the route and a proposed change therein, leading to multiple All Parties Conferences in Quetta and Islamabad.

Opposition leader and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl Rehman parliamentary leader Maulana Abdul Wassey said they still had reservation over the Pak-China Economic Corridor. “The Federal government did not allocate the budget for corridor in 2015-2016 budget,” said Wassey. “The federal government should deliver on its promise made by the Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharrif in All Parties Conference in Quetta. The federal government has abandoned the old route and is considering the new route.”

According to media reports, a total of 51 agreements were signed in different fields during Xi’s visit to Pakistan, including infrastructure projects, energy generation, agriculture, education, telecommunications and research. Of the 51, 30 agreements were linked to the strategic corridor, regarded as the biggest connectivity project between the two countries after the Karakoram Highway built in 1979.

The proposed corridor will shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by about 12,000 kms. The CPEC will link China’s underdeveloped far-western region to Pakistan’s Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea, based in Balochistan. The province that has long been demanding control over its resources has seen plans related to development of the Gwadar Port as a possible conspiracy on part of the center to take over the strategic port.

“If the federal government is sincere with the local Baloch population, it should transfer the port authority to them and appoint their educated youth on executive posts in the authority,” said Baloch.

He said the local Baloch population was threatened by the influx of non-locals in the province which would reduce them into a minority.

“If measures are taken to secure their position by not including non-locals in voter lists, not issuing local certificates, domiciles and national identity cards to to them [non-locals] from their [Baloch] constituencies, then they [the Baloch] may feel comfortable with the mega development projects,” said Baloch.

JUI’s Wassey said that the economic corridor and Gwadar port development projects were different in nature, adding that the corridor would bring development to the region.

“An era of development will usher in after the corridor’s completion, leading to establishment of factories, development of mega cities like Karachi, Islamabad, changing the Baloch and Pushtun areas into an economic hub which would ultimately lead to change in standards of life for good,” said Wassey.

He said that the reservations of the people of Gwadar should also be addressed before the initiation of the work on the corridor.

Nasrullah Zairey, a Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) associated with Pukhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party said his party still had reservation about the economic corridor.

“The federal government did not allocate funds to the old route which sends a message to the provincial government that the federal government is now considering a new route,” said Zairey.

He said that the prime minister had promised during the All Parties Conference in Quetta that the corridor aimed at development of Balochistan and progress of its people. “The federal government’s such attitude can be seen as anti-Baloch and Pushtun move,”Zairey added.

He said that if the economic corridor is pursued via old route, it would bring about revolutionary changes in the region stretching from Balochistan to Kashgar, providing employment through trade links with Central Asian Republics (CARs). The economic development would lead to improvement of education and health facilities, he added.

Zairey termed the reservations of the people of Gwadar valid, adding that coalition government in Balochistan would take people of Gwadar in confidence about all future development projects.

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