Thursday December 02, 2021

Balochistan and the corridor

June 04, 2016

Ever since the development of Gwadar into a deep-sea port through the joint efforts of Pakistan and China – and more so since the port became a pivotal tool for the implementation of the CPEC – Baloch nationalists have been expressing serious reservations about the entire effort.

The gist of their apprehensions  is that this undertaking will change the demographic features of Balochistan, particularly of Gawadar, and that most of the beneficiaries of the mega-venture would be people from outside the province who will be making investments in different projects. They also fear that the jobs created will be grabbed by outsiders. There is also some kind of scepticism about Chinese workers and engineers engaged in the implementation of the projects at Gwadar.

Last week, chief of the Balochistan National Party and former CM of Balochistan Akhtar Mengal reportedly said that “A new conspiracy has been hatched to loot [the] masses in the name of [the] economic corridor. We do not accept any agreement, including the CPEC, until the Baloch nation is given full rights. We are not against anyone but... legislation needs to be enacted to stop turning the Baloch nation into a minority”.

Mengal and other nationalist leaders’ remarks unfortunately represent a fallacious view about the development of the Gwadar Port, the CPEC and its likely beneficiaries.

Perhaps a cursory glance into the history of Gwadar would be pertinent to understand the issue in its true perspective. Gwadar lies at the confluence of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz and was purchased from Oman by Pakistan in September 1958. It was integrated into the province of Balochistan on July 1, 1977. Originally it was a fishing village with a very small population.

With the help of China, Pakistan developed Gwadar into a deep-sea port at a cost of $248 million. The port has great strategic and commercial importance. In 2013, port operations were officially handed over to China. Under the agreement China would spend $750 million to develop it further into a full-scale commercial port. The Gwadar Port was officially opened on 20 March 2007. It was preceded by a master plan for the development of Gwadar city with land zoning and internal infrastructure networks. That included fast-track construction of roads, other infrastructure, public buildings and industrial parks at the east end of the city. These developments have led to a rapid increase in the population, with people from rural Balochistan migrating to the city as well as the arrival of people working on development ventures.

After the launch of the CPEC in April 2015, Gwadar has assumed pivotal importance in the implementation of that mega economic undertaking. Under the CPEC a new international airport will be developed at Gwadar and the port city will also be linked to Kashghar in China through a network of roads, rail links and other infrastructure required to achieve the objective of the CPEC. Gwadar is also poised to become one of the most vibrant economic entities in the South Asia region serving the economic interests of Pakistan, China and the Central Asian countries.

On the basis of what has so far transpired regarding development of the Gwadar Port, construction of an international airport and infrastructure to be built in the form of roads and industrial zones along the western and other routes, Balochistan will be the biggest beneficiary of the CPEC. The corridor is expected to generate economic activity of colossal proportions in the province. Gwadar and its local population will also witness a positive transformation in their lives as the Chinese are also working on a number of projects in the education and health sectors in addition to development of water resources and a housing scheme to cater to the housing needs of the growing population of the city.

A fundamental and most crucial fact conveniently overlooked by the Baloch nationalists about the presence of ‘outsiders’ and the Chinese working on implementation of the development projects is that no skilled labour, engineers and experts in the developmental activities and relevant technologies are available locally. To accomplish and implement the development projects, it is imperative to avail the services of people from outside Balochistan who possess the necessary expertise and the money to invest in those projects.

As far as Chinese engineers and other personnel associated with the implementation of the CPEC and projects at Gwadar are concerned, most of them will be returning to China after the completing their tasks. The introduction of new technologies and expertise will accrue infinite economic benefits to the port city on a perennial basis. Ultimately the jobs will be taken over by the local population after they have acquired the necessary skills and qualifications for the relevant jobs.

The governments of Pakistan and China are also working on training projects for the local population. Until such time that the required skilled labour force becomes available locally, the jobs will inevitably be occupied by the experts from outside. The facilities that are being created at Gwadar and throughout the province will remain there for eternity and no outsider is going take them away.

It is encouraging to note that the views expressed by Akhtar Mengal and some other Baloch nationalists are not shared by the majority of Baloch leaders, including nationalist leaders who view the development of the Gwadar Port and the implementation of the CPEC as an opportunity to change the fate of the people of the province; this is why they are cooperating with the government to ensure the implementation of the CPEC without any hiccups.

The reality is that the governments of Pakistan and China have exhibited a great sense of urgency and commitment to make this joint venture a success. Much of the road network on the western route has been completed by the FWO and the entire strip of the western route in Balochistan is likely to be completed by the end of the year. The priority given to Balochistan, particularly Gwadar, is irrefutable proof of the sincerity of the government about lifting the economic profile of Balochistan. China has greatly contributed to our economic development and enhancement of defence capability to ward off security threats to our country. The partnership between China and Pakistan in the shape of the CPEC promises a win-win situation for both the countries as well as the entire region.

Baloch leaders need to look at the CPEC initiative realistically. The backwardness of Balochistan owes as much to criminal neglect by successive governments as to the resistance put up by Baloch sardars and nawabs to development initiatives in their areas. It is now time for them to start being part of the change that is coming because they cannot block the tide of time. And this tide is for the betterment of the people of Pakistan – more so for the people of Balochistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor.