The One Belt One Road project that China is rolling out across the African continent and the subcontinent as well as the Central Asian states is truly a game changer. It alters the geo-political balance between North and South and for Pakistan has profound long-term implications economically and in terms of foreign policy far into the future. Stitching it all together is not without its difficulties, many of them already foreseen. One of those difficulties is Balochistan which lies in the western arm of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). A low-intensity war has been ongoing between Balochistan nationalist groups and Pakistan for decades, occasionally flaring into intense conflict.
The rule of law in Balochistan is a fragile thing, and its highly-tribalised politics an eternal headache for Islamabad. Put bluntly, Balochistan is a difficult place to help. Vast, thinly populated, resource rich but traction poor and prey to all manner of extremism it needs all the help it can get. In a welcome move and an a rare example of South-South cooperation china and the UNDP Pakistan on Friday, February 2nd signed a $4 million agreement to provide ‘assistance’ over a four-month period for crisis-affected areas of Balochistan and Fata. In real terms this is a drop in the ocean but it is indicative of the depth of Chinese investment in the OBOR project. This is grant aid, not a loan (much of the money going into CPEC is in the form of loans from China and loans have to be paid back).
The beneficiaries of the grant will be the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly SDG1 (poverty) and SDG4 (quality education) and SDG6 (potable water and sanitation), all areas of desperate underinvestment in Balochistan and Fata. The support is short term, the needs and solutions are long term. They make up in small part for the deficits of governance that successive governments have inflicted as well as repairing the lives disrupted by the massive decanting of Fata populations due to counter-terror operations. Whilst we welcome this South-South bridging move by China, sadly it is sticking plaster, not a wound healed.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2018.
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