Is Balochistan being ignored again?

Published: December 17, 2015
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The writer is a freelance journalist based in Quetta and former staff reporter of The Express Tribune

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Quetta and former staff reporter of The Express Tribune

Much of the talk on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) revolves around the construction of the Gwadar-Kashgar route, touted by government officials and experts as a sort of magic solution for poverty in militancy-stricken Balochistan, and the harbinger of an economic revolution in the region.

The port city of Gwadar is located on the Makran coast of Balochistan, about 72 kilometres off Chabahar in Iran, where India has poured billions of dollars of investment. Other countries, such as Japan, Germany, Italy and South Korea have also showed an interest in making large-scale investments in Chabahar.

Gwadar has been a hotbed of separatist activity in the past. Several of its settlements are known to be strongholds of hardline Baloch nationalists who don’t look kindly upon foreign investment coming into the region. Kashgar, located in the heart of Xinjiang, China’s only Muslim-majority, Turkic-speaking region, is populated largely by ethnic Uighur Muslims and has been home to a separatist movement since the mid-1990s. The huge landmass, about the size of Iran, is now also home to people of other ethnicities, who were moved there to loosen the hold of the Uighurs in the region.

The Balochistan Assembly’s elected representative for Gwadar is not convinced that the people of the port city will reap the benefits of the massive investments that are planned for it. He has expressed concern that even though he is charged with making important decisions regarding the CPEC, he does not feel he has been taken fully on board by those who are making the agreements. He goes so far as to say that it almost seems like there is a plot afoot to convert the local population into a minority in their own area. The newly elected chairman of the Gwadar Municipal Committee has also complained that the opinions of local leaders and of the people of Gwadar have been disregarded in recent CPEC-related decisions. The residents of Gwadar say the township still lacks basic facilities, like access to clean drinking water, and suffers from inadequate educational institutions, poor healthcare, precarious infrastructure and prolonged hours of power outages. Meanwhile, people from across the country are coming in and buying up parcels of land and taking advantage of newly introduced housing schemes that are too expensive for the struggling local fishermen.

This is not the first time that Gwadar has been the subject of much attention and media coverage. The same happened during the Musharraf regime. In the 1970s, Gwadar did not benefit from any development because the prime minister at the time preferred to pour money into building Port Qasim in Karachi. In the 2000s, during the regime of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, there was much hype regarding the development of a deep seaport at Gwadar. However, that resulted in little more than corrupt land deal scams. This time, it is the Chinese government’s turn to be interested. Its $46 billion investment is already double that of what the foreign direct investment in Pakistan has been since 2008 and more than the total US assistance since 2012. Exactly how much money will be invested in Gwadar is the million-dollar question. While the federal government has still not disclosed all details of the CPEC, it does not have a good track record of cooperation with Chinese companies. People have strong reservations and are naturally wary, given past failures, to follow through with social uplift schemes in Balochistan and in other areas of Pakistan where mega projects were planned and huge investments made. Questions have also arisen over the appointment of Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed as parliamentary committee chairman for the CPEC, as there is a strong feeling that this role should have been offered to a Baloch leader who could have been more effective in the smooth implementation of projects as he would have had a greater stake in the well-being of the province.

During a recent visit to Quetta by the Chinese ambassador, a senior Chinese official stated that the leadership of Pakistan expresses little interest in building consensus amongst its people on the CPEC. There are concerns that there might not be any constitutional protection in place for CPEC-related agreements and MoUs inked between China and Pakistan. It is obvious — even to visiting Chinese delegates — that our leaders care very little about the opinions of the indigenous people. A former secretary of finance for Balochistan has said that of the total $46 billion invested, the province stands to gain a mere $66 million.

There is no working group at the provincial level to protect the interests of Balochistan. This means that all decisions are being made without there being input from the local people. Despite countless statements and claims regarding the CPEC and its impact on the economy, it seems that the government of the day does not really care about implementation of projects related to the CPEC as it is highly unlikely that any project that does not enjoy the support of the local people will succeed, and little has been done to build this support. Our leaders waste no time in blaming foreign elements for creating problems and putting hurdles in the way of executing these multi-billion-dollar projects. But it must not be forgotten that foreign elements have no hope of succeeding unless they have support on the ground.

The people of Balochistan are beset by a deep and prevailing sense of deprivation, neglect and hopelessness. There is a very strong feeling among the ordinary folk of the province that the Punjab-centric federal government is only interested in exploiting and utilising the natural resources and the coast of Balochistan, and not in the socioeconomic development of the poverty-stricken province, where people are still forced to travel hundreds of kilometres for decent education and healthcare services.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • sterry
    Dec 17, 2015 - 11:51PM

    I hardly think Baluchistan is being ignored. If anything, the situation there is stabilizing thanks to the work of the military and the civilian government. For a long time, foreign funded agents from across the border have tried to make things miserable but they have been largely defeated. When US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commented that India uses Afghanistan as a base to conduct cross border intrigue in Pakistan, he was only stating the obvious. CPEC ad infrastructure development in Baluchistan will trickle down to benefit locals but I don’t think the Chinese or any investor really cares about engaging locals for jobs over outsiders. They just want qualified and skilled people who will get things up and running effectively. The job is for Pakistani officials to push for the hiring of locals and this already established policy from what the administration says. Preference should be given, including training of locals but my guess is that they already they already he a decided advantage since they live there and know the area. Musharraf may have blundered in the past but the new method of consensus among political parties and the military seems to working well for Pakistan the past two years. Incidentally, my relatives in Baluchistan say the real tension will erupt if only local Pashtuns from Baluchistan are hired over other local groups which may not be as skilled. The local Baluchi leaders have to also impress upon local Baluchi youth that they need to aggressively enter the work force.Recommend

  • Sane Pakistani
    Dec 18, 2015 - 9:50AM

    Please do not forget the Sindh as well, because of the centralist approach of federal government, the indegenious people of Sindh are also going rogue, not only this, but they have been also neglected by their provincial government at the expense of pleasing others in their very own province, if the same policy of victimising and exploiting the locals is continued then I guess it won’t take long the Sindh to becamse another Balochistan. Mind you, if the people of Sindh go rogue this time, the repercussions shall be insurmountable. Therefore the need of hour is to pay heed to the northern, central and tail end areas of Sindh.

    Recommend

  • Najeeb
    Dec 18, 2015 - 12:56PM

    Sterry, what a marvelous views you have, that look more like a shut up call to pashtun and Baloch of Balochistan, telling them what ever you get, just accept that as blessing from Punjab !! After Changing CPEC Route from Balochistan and KPK to punjab, after such a concerning statement of China Ambassador mentioned in the article regarding ignoring local population, and the statistics mentioned in this article accentuate that Balochistan will get less than one percent (1%) of total CPEC Investment similarly KPK is getting 4 Percent of the total Investment, Sindh is also not given any such big share, so where will go the 95 percent Investment !! Punjab ? yet the real reason for all this investment, is Gawadar that is located in Balochistan,and you hardly feel Balochistan is ignored. !! Moreover may be china or any other investor is not interested, but at the same time our punjab led central government is also least bothered that menace of deprivation and ignorance may be decreased by investment, and giving reviving the economical condition of balochistan and kpk, the more backward provinces !! Moreover your relatives thinks that the if the pashtun and baloch of balochistan get the job that will be real tension, keeping in view the Government of pakistan all the jobs announced recently or in past are clearly mention from 17 to 4 scale is quota for punjab(advertised in dawn and other news paper, that u can get on any facebook page of quetta), and for grade one, local population can apply, so the local people who have the qualification for that 17 to 4 scale will look, but no they will ultimately get involved in prevailing unrest in province, and will be manipulated by the so called agencies of other countries, because they are not fit and well trained to do office work , but they are actually more trained to be promoted as militant !! Recommend

  • Ashfaq11
    Dec 18, 2015 - 2:06PM

    I don’t think it’s possible to have consensus on every issue. So should we wait to sign foreign investment until the consensus is achieved. Government is right to deliver aspects of CPEC as fast as possible and using secure and feasible routes before Chinese change their mind or the government changes. Everyone has ideas but when you are in centre the reality is you have some allies and opposition and there’s no concept in India and Pakistan of bipartisan support for the greater good of the nation. Heaven sake the army had to drag the politicians to sign up to military operation and NAP and still half of the religious political parties are against it ( seminaries, unchecked foreign funding etc). Ok to criticise but reality is harder than it seemsRecommend

  • khurram
    Dec 18, 2015 - 3:13PM

    It is good to see young people from voicing their concerns at platforms like these. While they all mention punjab or federal government with ease I have never seen them write an article about simply adding how much money the sardars have received I their area and how much has been spent. If rightly spent then they are great if not then then ask for thatRecommend

  • Akhand Bharat
    Dec 19, 2015 - 7:52AM

    India has poured billions of dollars of investment in chabahar?

    Does the author of this article how many zeros there are in 1 billion?Recommend

  • sanjita
    Dec 19, 2015 - 8:46PM

    @Akhand Bharat: Facts don’t matter to some people in Pakistan. India hasn’t spent billions but millions because it knows that Chabahar cannot operate as a deep water port. Long term prospects for Chabahar are limited because of this limitation. I wonder where the author has the information that so many Western countries are rushing to invest there. Sanctions on Iran have not even been fully lifted and I have yet to see any report of any of the nations mentioned stating investment plans for Chahbahar. Recommend

  • Mohammad Sadiq
    Dec 20, 2015 - 1:29PM

    Dear Akhand Bharat, Sanjita,,, these article carries lots of facts and i see no reason you people criticize unnecessary. You both are not worth replying but this writer is very well educated and have great influence on opinion making in Balochistan. So stay jealous Indians. The anyone can see the message in this article which is wide and clear. You people need to focus on study guys.. Recommend

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