Tuesday May 21, 2024

CPEC: a Baloch perspective

By Sanaullah Baloch
October 04, 2016

During one hundred years of colonial rule in greater India and Balochistan, the British Raj constructed thousands of kilometres of railway lines, roads, bridges, airports, telegraph lines and strategic garrisons.

The logic behind all this massive infrastructure investment was very clear: to maintain colonial rule, maximise exploitation and counter the Russian advance towards the warm waters of Balochistan.

From 1878 to 1922 the British rail network crisscrossed Balochistan’s landscape, creating wonders such as the Khojak Pass, one of the longest tunnels in South Asia. In addition, British engineers built marvellous bridges. But all this didn’t bring any economic miracles to the province.

Simply because all this infrastructure was purpose-built and without an inclusive and participatory process to involve local communities.

The British Raj’s speedy rails and motors helped transport oppression and mobilise killing machines to suppress anti-colonial freedom fighters.

In 1947 Pakistan came into being and the Baloch were promised a good future. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah promised special status to maintain Balochistan’s autonomy and special development plans in return for Balochistan joining Pakistan.

However, immediately after annexation with Pakistan a deliberate policy of under-development of the province started, keeping a resource-rich region dependent on financial handouts. A new breed of rulers from Karachi, Lahore and then Islamabad arrived to replace the white colonisers.

Within five years of independence Balochistan’s top-grade gas was pumped and transmitted to the far end of northern Punjab, leaving the Baloch with just dust and smoke. Jobs and scholarships went to a special class of people and gas-related industries, like fertiliser industries, were established in Punjab.

Since 1948, countless promises have been made but the Baloch have only received death and despair. The result at the end of these 70 years has been over 81 percent poverty, 70 percent illiteracy, and the highest level of malnutrition and infant and maternal mortality in Asia.

As a result, tall but false promises and non-inclusive ‘development’ plans are not attractive any more to the Baloch people who have access now to information.

It’s not difficult to understand that if gas, gold, coal and everything else that the Baloch have contributed over the years could not have helped them then how will a meagre share in the CPEC – $600 million out of $46 billion – bring miracles in the life of the Baloch?

If five thousand kilometres of road and rail network constructed during the British Raj didn’t change Balochistan socio-economic landscape then how will the CPEC manage that? The corridor has only two components – Gwadar Port and the Gwadar airport project – without any major corridor of roads, rail and industrial infrastructure.

How will a strategic deep-sea port and an airport change the life of a poverty-hit population? Dera Bugti, Kharran, Lasbela, Awaran, Lorali, Chaghi, Kolu, Washuk and such other districts in Balochistan are listed in Asia’s poorest regions.

Let’s assume for a while that even if both mega projects, the port and the airport, generate massive revenue through cargo containers and passengers. However, based on current constitutional mechanisms all revenues on ports and airports will be collected by the central government not by the provincial government.

Let’s take another important aspect – security – which has generated 15,000 jobs, by injecting $250 million into the Special Security Division (SSD) project. Instead of localising and creating Baloch stakes in the system by raising a Balochistan-based and represented force recruited from relevant districts, the SSD jobs are already being filled by non-Baloch.

Meanwhile, the Gwadar Security Task Force – similar to the SSD – has been raised. Commanded by a brigadier, its expenses are borne by the government of Balochistan, but without a single employee from the province.

So the early signs of the CPEC are not very encouraging for the people of Balochistan. Compared to Balochistan, the nature of projects in Punjab have a different level of impact on the economy and social development of the province.

Only the 27-km length Orange Line Metro will initially benefit around 250,000 passengers a day which will be increased to 500,000 passengers a day by 2025. The metro line will increase mobility, accessibility, efficiency and productivity. It has already generated 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and a massive boom to central Punjab’s small and medium enterprises.

In addition, the large number of power projects under the CPEC in Punjab will have an immense impact on elevating the socio-economic conditions of targeted areas and population, more importantly central and northern Punjab.

No such project has been initiated in Balochistan. Coal-powered projects designated under the CPEC have already been shelved, apparently due to lack of interest by Chinese companies.

The Baloch need logical answers not warning statements or ill-informed speeches that treat critics of the project as traitors. Those in powerful positions openly issue warnings that concerns shouldn’t be raised over the secretive nature of the CPEC.

The president too recently visited Balochistan and issued a national warning that the Baloch people should talk “carefully” about the CPEC. Instead of such thoughtless statements, the head of state and symbol of the federation should have asked all ministries and the federal government to initiate a national debate and dialogue with the Baloch on CPEC agreements, rules, revenue, benefits and decision-making procedures.

This ambiguous nature of the CPEC has created more alienation than unification. So much fear has been created that none of the mediapersons or researchers living inside Balochistan dare write or talk about the CPEC.

The entire provincial government has no convincing data to prove what the CPEC has for Balochistan.

We need to be honest with ourselves – that China needed Gwadar and in return we got a multibillion dollar infrastructure, metro line, eastern route and motorways and energy projects that will be focused in particular part of Pakistan.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan.