The port city of Gwadar will boast Pakistan’s biggest airport, car factories and a stream of five-star resort hotels along the coastline as a result of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, many locals remain skeptic over the benefits of the $46 billion Chinese investment.
Pakistan hopes the corridor will turn the country into a vital land route for the world’s second-biggest economy, but many wonder whether trucking goods over one of the world’s highest mountain ranges will ever be cheaper than existing sea routes. They believe China is more interested in Gwadar as a potential naval base near the oil supplies of the Gulf.
Govt sees 2016 as take-off year for CPEC
The project is also viewed with skepticism by the fishing community, who fear moving to new harbours 40km away.
“This is all being done for China, not the people,” said one such fisherman, Elahi Bakhsh, who views plans to turn Gwadar into China’s deepwater access point to the Arabian Sea with caution.
As a result of the project, he, along with many others, stress on the chronic underdevelopment and lack of health and education services in the city as a result of the project.
“The whole area has been captured by the government with local people pushed aside,” he said.
In a district judged as food insecure by the UN in 2009, the project will bring in 2 million more people into the city that already has a population of 80,000 over the span of just two years. Around 20,000 of these are likely to be Chinese residents, according to an official at the Gwadar Development Authority.
Making sense of the CPEC controversy
“The corridor passes through what is currently the heart of the insurgency,” says Kaiser Bengali, an economic adviser to Balochistan’s chief minister. He said the notion that the two special brigades formed by the army will be enough to protect road traffic is “laughable”.
Chinese visitors say they remain worried about security despite the elaborate efforts to keep them safe.
“For the locals it’s like being a prisoner in your own town,” said Shamshad Ahmed a retired service man who has been coming to the town for years as part of his work at the Pearl Continental, Gwadar’s only five-star hotel that recently reopened after being mothballed for years.
“Of course they are not happy about their freedom being taken away,” he added.
Officials believe that CPEC will lead to job creation and weaken support for insurgents, many locals believe that the Baloch, with their tiny share of the national population, are entitled to only 6% of government jobs and are rarely qualified for the best ones.
“The suspicion is that all the Baloch will get from CPEC is the right to repair punctures on Chinese tires,” said Bengali, the economic adviser.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif struck a conciliatory tone in December at a ceremony to inaugurate a section of CPEC. He said Balochistan must have “the first right over all resources which have been explored in the province”.
CPEC for Punjab or Pakistan: Myth and reality
However, he also announced upgrading an existing highway running along the sparsely populated desert coast that would allow Chinese trucks to head east towards Karachi before going northwards on secure roads in other provinces, bypassing much of troublesome Balochistan entirely.
This article originally appeared on The Guardian.