Wednesday May 25, 2022

Will CPEC alter Balochistan?

February 22, 2018

No study can tell us the economic value of the natural gas that has been produced in Dera Bugti since the 1950s and fuelled the rest of Pakistan’s economy.

We can say with certainty that our country would not have attained sufficiently high growth rates without Balochistan’s natural gas. However, the possession and discovery of natural gas hasn’t change the fate of Dera Bugti, let alone Balochistan.

Will CPEC change the socioeconomic structure of a traditional society like Balochistan? This is a question that must be examined. Will there be a repeat of what happened after natural gas was excavated in Dera Bugti? Will the rest of the country reap the benefits while Balochistan plunges into darkness and thousands of people are displaced? Will a natural resource become a curse instead of a blessing for the people of the province?

There are several examples of a similar nature where locals have been pushed to the margins and their plight is only highlighted at seminars. Many parts of the country have seen development projects without the active participation of locals. We must not forget that 180,000 people were displaced when the Mangla and Tarbela dams were constructed. For years, the displaced population has been demanding compensation for the losses that it has incurred.

When Port Qasim and Pakistan Steel Mills were being constructed in Karachi’s Malir district, Sindhi and Baloch villagers were given assurances that they would gain employment and countless opportunities to grow once the projects were up and running. But four decades have passed and the residents of these villages remain as deprived and backward as they were before. The expanding economic opportunities have brought more settlers from outside to their traditional villages and the original residents have not been given any jobs. Today, no one talks about these residents. Massive development has marginalised them and suppressed their voices too.

Attaullah Mengal, the founder of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), was quite right when he said that “if 10 percent of the population of a big city like Karachi moves to Gwadar, [the people of] Baloch[istan] will be [left] without [an] identity and…[a] right [over] their land”.

The Gwadar Port was started during Musharraf’s regime. Although many years have passed since it was established, little has changed for the residents of Gwadar. The condition of schools, hospitals as well as sanitation and sewage facilities in the city remains the same.

Balochistan’s sense of deprivation has not been addressed. Instead, it has been reinforced by successive government policies. Incremental changes have failed to bring the province at par with the rest of the country. Are there any social development indicators – such as health statistics; literacy rates (for men and women); maternal and child health; life expectancy; and access to clean drinking water – that bring the province at par with the rest of the country?

Why aren’t federal packages producing results in Balochistan? Can we expect the PML-N government to issue a report about the projects initiated by the centre with a federal development budget that stands at Rs500 billion? How much of these funds has been utilised in Balochistan? And what impact has these development schemes created?

Balochistan is a classic example of the regional imbalance and inequality within Pakistan. The centre’s domination over the politics of the province is a reality that has been reinforced every now and then. The recent shake-up in the government has only turned the people’s worst fears into reality: that in addition to their natural resources being exploited, they also have little control over politics and the government in their province.

It is encouraging to note that of the 2,500 workers employed by the Gwadar Port Authority, around 2,000 are locals while the rest are Chinese workers. According to reports, around 5,000 workers are currently undergoing training at the Pak-China Technical and Vocational Training Institute in Gwadar. They will be completing their training by mid-2018. These are positive signs that will help build local stakes and ensure security and inclusion.

So far, an electricity shortfall of between five megawatts to 10 megawatts in the province remains unresolved. An acute water shortage of more than four million gallons per day as against a demand of six million gallons continues to pose a challenge for the district, provincial and federal governments. How can a 300 MW coal-fired power plant work in a city where the water shortage is more than 60 percent? A series of tests have revealed that groundwater in Gwadar is not fit for human consumption and most citizens meet their water needs through water tankers.

China recently signed a $4 million agreement of assistance with UNDP Pakistan to work in Fata and Balochistan. It reportedly plans to give a grant of $1 billion for the next 12 years to Pakistan’s social sector. This is not such a large amount given the levels of underdevelopment in Balochistan.

Many years ago, the US provided assistance to meet the water, sanitation and health needs in Jacobabad. It spent over $40 million and established a world-class diagnostic centre at a large hospital in collaboration with the Sindh government. Hillary Clinton, the then US secretary of state, announced these development packages for Jacobabad because Nato used the PAF Shahbaz Airbase near Jacobabad during the initial years of the Afghan war in the post-9/11 period.

With the $2 billion that China will invest for port and business development in Gwadar, we should expect the country to share the fruits of prosperity. Although China is not generally known as a charitable country, it must invest in the social uplift of the region in keeping with its strategic security and economic interests. China should at least help the authorities address the water and energy crisis in Gwadar without much delay.

CPEC must do economic justice to the people Balochistan, particularly those who live along the Makran Coast. If the coast is used to serve the needs of other people, it would be a grave source of betrayal to those who have historically lived in the region.

India’s involvement in the Chabahar Port adds a layer of complexity in the regional geopolitical games. If the idea of socioeconomic inclusive development is not given serious thought, CPEC will result in discontent among locals and produce regional tensions. This will make the project a source of instability rather than a means to prosperity.


Twitter: @MushRajpar