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Western media will hardly report great strides of Chinese success in development, grass root transformation and poverty alleviation of its once most underdeveloped region--Xinjiang.
China has done marvels over the last decades by reducing poverty lifting over 100 million people out of misery. The governance has delivered in terms of creating an enabling environment through special focus on infrastructure development, energy self-sufficiency, and human development. And it matters for Pakistan.
For Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, the Chinese success in poverty alleviation and improving under developed areas is a role model. Being the poorest of Pakistan’s provinces, Balochistan’s poverty level, according to UNDP estimates, is around 70%. As Islamabad is prioritising fundamental pillars of the economic take off--investment in infrastructure, energy and human development, a development-led governance model should be adopted in smaller provinces like Balochistan.
Therefore, any comparison of governance model of Balochistan with that of Xinjiang region, (an area almost the size of Pakistan), is irresistible to draw on lessons from Chinese experience. Since China has done wonders in its poorest of region--Xinjiang, Its governance model, methods and strategies are for all to copy, particularly for Balochistan’s uplift.
Beijing has worked out a very creative solution to investment and poverty alleviation in Xinjiang; a common sense strategy has been adopted: Xinjiang has been linked with other cities and towns to invest in the development of the Chinese region. It means one-on-one pairing assistance programme whereby 19 Chinese provinces and municipalities must allocate a certain proportion of their budget to assist Xinjiang every year (e.g., the pairings include Guangdong with Kashgar [Xinjiang], Beijing with Hotan [Xinjiang] etc).
By contract, Balochistan has been the story of neglect, missed opportunity and forgotten land left to fend for itself, or left at the mercy of its exploitative provincial elite by successive federal governments. Whereas China has focused on urban development and connectivity of Xinjiang region: it has in place a massive road and rail networks in this part of the world.
On the other hand, the road network and connectivity projects in Balochistan are only just being put together. The graft and spoils l by the public/private sector is so huge that the province has seen massive scandals of corruption and misappropriation at all levels; namely, from award of contracts to its implementation and completion processes. The annual PSDP in Balochistan is mostly allocated to construction of same roads just to create opportunities of bribes for MPAs to raise funds for elections and “please” voters without any regard for long term planning and quality of work. Lack of accountability means all resources allocated in future will also end up wasted. In contrast, Chinese accountability in Xinjiang is so strict that any evidence of corruption leads to capital punishment.
Since China has successfully controlled corruption in Xinjiang, it has also succeeded in raising the standards of road and connectivity infrastructure. Pakistan can learn and apply lessons in Balochistan if effective utilisation of resources is to be ensured.
The political systems of the two regions also have some explanation to underscore the disparity. Chinese political system lays emphasis on the development needs of collective nature priorities vs individual focused preferences of the system in resources allocation and utilisation of land. Conversely, messy, decentralised, and dysfunctional political system called democracy in Balochistan--marred by corruption, and exploitation--coupled with its rent seeking judicial system and archaic bureaucracy, is inherently prone to delaying projects and blocking development work for years and even decades. At a micro level, where China has adopted a new methodology in poverty alleviation is as follows: In 2017, China’s other 19 provinces and cites invested around 7.5 billion yuan (US $1.1 billion) in poverty busting projects and launched 545 poverty relief projects in Xinjiang; in addition to “improving impoverished people's housing conditions, developing education, and boosting healthcare and sanitation quality,” according to the data of poverty alleviation and development office. President X’s government intends to lift around 30 million more out of poverty by 2020. Of the total 3.84 billion Yuan (US$ 0.5 billion) 70 % plus spending will be made in Xinjiang region. The private has also been encouraged to invest to ameliorate the situation there.
The above example can be copied by other provinces and cities of Pakistan to help Balochistan: the federal government can pair Lahore with Quetta or Peshawar with Awaran, for example, allocating a certain amount of money for poverty alleviation programmes in these areas on a yearly basis.
Unlike Xinjiang which is cotton producing region and hence made home to cotton based industries thereby providing more than half a million jobs, Balochistan can be a hub of special economic zones treated with tax holidays, subsidies on energy, free duty on imports thereby providing jobs to Balochistan’s youth. Starts-ups can be provided with loans and other assistance in return for job creation, particularly for women labour force.
Positively discriminating in favour of Balochistan’s unemployed youth in Qatar’s 100,000 labour force requirement would have substantially reduced unemployment levels but, alas, the Federal government’s lack of vision, the control of DMG bureaucracy on decision making and implementation, and incompetence of the provincial government will ensure this opportunity does pass by Balochistan’s unemployed youth, and deprives the province of potential remittances. One can only appeal to the good sense of Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to intervene on behalf of Balochistan’s youth in providing a share in Qatar’s labour recruitment drive spearheaded by the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF).
Another field where Pakistan can learn from the Chinese experience in Xinjiang is tourism promotion. Tourism could be lucrative for Balochistan as it boasts best places to attract tourists from world over. China has particularly focused on this sector in Xinjiang: according to one statistic, more than 100 million tourists spent around 182 billion yuan (US$ 26 billion) last year in the region, boosting per capita income massively.
Similarly, sale of agricultural produce and dry fruits through online marketing is another way government can help the people of Balochistan. Again, referring to Xinjiang’s experience, since 2016, more than one million cadres/workers from governments at different levels (from across China and in Xinjiang) have been encouraged to connect with the local people, to visit them regularly and find out what they really need. They are even helping them in selling dry dates online i.e., normally it would take four months to sell dates by street vendors; however, same dates take only two weeks through online advert, to be sold out.
Here the federal government can lead in encouraging government employees/volunteers to connect with the ordinary poverty-stricken people in Balochistan through the world wide web by incentivising such communication and guidance. A special poverty alleviation task force can coordinate these efforts.
Since sickness contributes to poverty and lower living standards, Beijing has particularly invested in the health sector of Xinjiang. China’s strategy is in line with the findings of a study of the World Bank saying, “Investment in basic health units and social safety programmes are key factors in poverty alleviation.” Balochistan government can easily copy the Chinese model.
Additionally, China has provided air ambulances to rural areas where patients can be shifted to main health centres in no time. Being a hilly region, Balochistan constituting almost 45 percent of Pakistan’s land mass, needs at least 10 air ambulances. Again other provinces and federal government can come to the rescue. Even various donor countries’ assistance can be sought. Xinjiang has witnessed remarkable progress in security. Once famous for radicalisation, extremism and misery, the region has not seen a single incident of terrorism in almost three years.
All negative propaganda of the western media on so-called human rights violations simply ignore the achievements of Beijing in development, poverty alleviation and improved security situation in Xinjiang. Unlike western value system and definition of human rights, China has its own interpretation of HRs which may not be agreed upon by inconsistent western nations whose governments justify killing terrorists with drones and missiles but object when China rehabilitates them back into society.
Balochistan/Pakistan can study, and learn from, the de-radicalisation and mainstreaming strategies of Chinese government in Xinjiang, so the people of Balochistan feel more secure and see the pace of economic development accelerated. It is for the federal and Balochistan governments to engage Chinese government with a clear objective to emulate Xinjiang model in Balochistan. Luckily, the Chinese government, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad and the dynamic Chinese Ambassador, Yao Jing, have special consideration for the province to help out with its development needs.
The people of Balochistan are indeed grateful for Chinese public and private sector investment being poured into the province, as they believe Balochistan has once in a lifetime opportunity to dream of shared economic destiny with Chinese counterparts through CPEC.
At present, the Balochistan government’s governance model is not stepping up to exploit this opportunity fully with its structural issues. The government is facing a deficit of human resource, talent, development communication and challenges of political stability and corruption--anathema to any real focus on long term development of the province and poverty alleviation.
However, the real question remains if Balochistan and Federal government have the will to turn the province into an anchor of growth, investment and stability through the help of Chinese friends and their leadership while drawing on Beijing’s unique development experience in Xinjiang region?
Erstwhile Fata, GB, parts of AJK and South Punjab can exclusively be linked by twining with much prosperous districts of Pakistan. So we will have local stakeholders playing their role for poverty alleviation without waiting for top-down politically tinged bureaucratic decision making and development priority. It does not need a genius to copycat a functioning anti-poverty model right in front of eyes in Xinjiang.
--Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan.