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January 9, 2016

Another Kalabagh?


January 9, 2016

Increasing concerns over the mysterious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are making both the public and political parties nervous about the secretive nature of the $46 billion ‘deal’ that hands over a strategic jewel like Gwadar to China without talking into consideration concerns of the main stakeholder, Balochistan.

Provinces like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa see the CPEC as a Punjab-negotiated, Punjab-controlled and Punjab-centric development project that offers very little long term development to these two historically marginalised provinces.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Kalabagh dam scheme was similarly projected and promoted as a national project; not a single ‘national’ benefit – to the rest of the country – was highlighted even then.

The Kalabagh dam was mainly opposed by Sindh and KP because of fear of large-scale displacement and flooding threats to Nowshera city, and the desertification of Sindh. Balochistan also joined the bandwagon to support its historical allies against the civil-military establishment’s policies, which have always benefited central Punjab at the cost of the marginalised ‘federating units’ and their oppressed people.

The Kalabagh dam project was also opposed due to the major trust deficit between Punjab and the smaller provinces on issues that included the way the federation is ‘governed’ and controlled.

Today, Balochistan and KP are leading the charge against the shadowy CPEC and other plans that completely bypasses these two provinces, apart from using Balochistan’s federally controlled Gwadar Port and federally guarded roads.

The visionless provincial regime in Balochistan, run by Islamabad and intimidated and controlled by the establishment, is intentionally ignoring the long-term interests of its people.

Some very logical concerns that are leading the CPEC down the Kalabagh route include transparency issues, the major contributors and beneficiaries of the project, route controversy, security arrangements – including establishment of a special security division – and the long-term revenue distribution mechanisms. There is no blueprint and framework that encompasses all these issues and guarantees to the marginalised provinces that the CPEC is game-changer for them as well, instead of being just another exploitative and oppressive tool to appease an ally and garner more benefit for one dominant province.

Transparency: To date, the government has failed to satisfy critics on the issue of transparency of such a massive project. Not a single provincial government has received the CPEC framework and its detailed agreement to discuss the proposed project. The CPEC agreement is so secretive that the State Bank governor and the chief ministers of KP and Balochistan have also mentioned the lack of transparency. If the CPEC is an economic deal with national benefits than why do the provinces not have even a single piece of paper that underlines the long- and short-term benefits and arrangements made with the Chinese government and China’s companies?

More importantly, Balochistan’s political parties are concerned about the project’s strategic, economic and security arrangements. Such projects have in the past increased the oppression and isolation of the Baloch rather than providing them socio-economic development and integration. Some examples: the Sui Gas project, Saindak, Ormara Naval base, the Hub industrial project etc.

National contribution: There is no doubt that without Balochistan and the Baloch coast, including the Gwadar Port, the CPEC will not be able to be a success.

Historically Balochistan and KP have contributed to the country immensely due to their geopolitical location. But the billions of dollars from the US and other allies have just gone into the socio-economic and military development of central Punjab. The two marginalised provinces bore the brunt for years, virtually becoming extensions of war-torn Afghanistan with a massive influx of refugees and increasing Talibanisation.

In the CPEC project Balochistan is the major contributor in terms of land, port, extractives and connectivity. Balochistan will also bear the brunt of the potential environmental damage due to the inevitable disrespect on the part of the project handlers for the environment and marine life. We saw this in the Saindak copper-gold project where the foreign company working there was allowed excessive mining.

In a nutshell, Balochistan’s contribution to the CPEC is massive compared to what Balochistan is set to benefit from the project.

National benefits: According to data from the Planning and Development Commission, Punjab will have the largest and more strategic economic share of the CPEC. Apparently, the project is set to completely change Punjab’s economic landscape, generate huge employment, stimulate industrial growth, increase provincial revenue generation and long-term sustainable development. All this compared to Balochistan, where $920 million will be spent on upgrading the Gwadar Port and the international airport, both federally controlled projects. These projects provide no socio-economic development, industrialisation and employment generation for the Baloch population.

All ‘early-harvest projects’ have been planned in Punjab and Sindh. Out of $28.6 billion early-harvest projects, Punjab has the lion’s share of $13 billion, Sindh $4.6 billion, KP $1.8 billion, Islamabad $1.5 billion, Gilgit-Baltistan $920 million and Balochistan $920 million.

Only one 720MW hydropower project in Islamabad is a thousand times more beneficial for Islamabad and Punjab than the Gwadar Port which will be a separate enclave limited for the Chinese with special rules and regulations – guarded by a ‘Special Security Division’ and special marine battalion. This seems to have been done to keep all the ‘uncivilised’ Baloch away from the ‘civilised’ Chinese and Pakistani business elite.

Not a single early-harvest project is proposed or planned for Balochistan such as power-generation projects, hydel projects or small scale industrial zones along CPEC route which 50 percent passes through blood-socked Balochistan.

Route controversy: More recently, to fool the smaller provinces and divert logical discussion in and around the CPEC deal, the Nawaz-led Islamabad’s establishment inaugurated a small ADB-funded National High Way upgradation project near Zhob, Balochistan.

Despite all government promises, it is evident from the 2014-15 Public Sector Development Programme that the eastern route, which passes through central Punjab, is Islamabad’s priority. It is also evident from the $28 billion early-harvest projects’ location that the eastern route is the final route for the CPEC. Close to $13 billion energy and infrastructure projects are centred on the eastern route, and focused on central Punjab.

If major energy and infrastructure related projects are located in Punjab and a few in Sindh, simple changes in the CPEC route or adding KP to the route will not benefit the KP and Balochistan economic landscape. Only having a CPEC road or route won’t benefit Balochistan and KP.

Furthermore, Balochistan will receive no benefit from the revenue and wealth-sharing that will be generated by the CPEC and its allied projects. Under the current policies and revenue-sharing mechanism all revenues – road tolls, royalty on pipelines, sea port revenue, airport taxes and other major taxes and earnings – will become part of a consolidated fund and distributed mainly on an unfair population basis.

The Balochistan, Sindh and KP leadership must not fall for all these fancy promises. Pakistan is a federation and all its provinces must have clear, transparent access to the CPEC framework which must be shared with the masses.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan.

Email: [email protected]

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