Balochistan under the shadow of CPEC

Will the country’s poorest province benefit from the development in its own backyard? 

Balochistan is very rich in resources, but it is very poor in literacy, infrastructure, development, job opportunities and so forth. Balochistan’s single-carriageway roads have caused an abundance of accidents resulting in the loss of numerous lives over the years, particularly on the route connecting Karach, Quetta and Zhob. When one intends to make a journey in Balochistan, no one knows if he or she will return back home safely or not due to the poor road communication of the region.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is deemed to be the biggest project of Pakistan with China, which has been given a practical shape in Balochistan’s port city, Gwadar. The project is of $62 billion, which aims at the infrastructural, economic and educational developments to other provinces of Pakistan in general, and Balochistan in particular. But things are the opposite; the Orange Line has been activated in Punjab’s Lahore, whereas the main highways of Balochistan are till date single-carriageway.

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Coming towards education, a bill was passed in Balochistan Assembly for Gwadar University back in 2017, but its construction has yet not begun in the CPEC city. The politicians are fighting with one another (maybe because of rivalries over bagging the funds) whereas the locals of Gwadar are still traveling to neighboring city Turbat and the capital city Quetta for admissions. Sadly, not all of them secure admissions in Quetta and hence turn back to Turbat University where they rarely find the disciplines they are interested IN, due to the shortage of departments in the university.

On the other hand, Gwadar Stadium has attracted international figures who have shown desire to play in the stadium. However, the locals of Gwadar are restricted to playing on their own soil as government officials and other people from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi visit the stadium and take selfies. As a result, the local cricketers have boycotted playing cricket in the stadium and turned to the football ground where they have made a pitch in the middle of the ground.

As May 28 is labelled as a ‘black day’ from the Baloch perspective, CPEC can end up labelled a ‘black project’ in Baloch eyes if things do not change in the best interests of the Baloch land and population.

One wonders if this is the development Balochistan needed. On one side, the government is attempting to take out the locals from the port city in order to bring strangers in the city and make them permanent residents of Gwadar, and on the other, they are promoting a fence for the city in the name of security threat for the locals.

When we talk of infrastructure, Balochistan has longed for dual-carriageway roads but it could gain no serious attention from the authorities. The main route connecting the main cities of Sindh and Balochistan [Karachi and Quetta] is a very busy road, which is yet single-carriage. According to reports, annually 6000 to 8000 people lose their lives due to road accidents on the given Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) highway.

When we talk of job opportunities, we mostly find the locals making their own with their cars by going to Iran and supplying petrol and diesel. Sadly, the Law Enforcement Agencies are interfering in the businesses which have come in the region for fixing security issues. The border drivers have always been free to travel to Iran and supply petrol and diesel any time they wished. However, the agencies have fixed dates for them to travel. for the people of Panjgur and Turbat (Makkuran) areas in particular.

In a recent encounter with a Zamyad driver, he told me that his turn comes after every 12 days which is so long. “It is only for the people of Panjgur (and Turbat). A chi is also fixed on our cars which tells them our locations and we are not allowed to turn to the Iran border from other routes.” He goes on, “And here we have to wait for our time which takes very long.”

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He was concerned about his children’s expenses because before he turned to the border almost every week, but now he is restricted to one trip every two weeks. “The problem is that with only two trips per month, we do not get much income because custom officers, levies, police, and FC take their charges from us after which very little money gets saved for us when we go back to home.” he said in utter grievances.

One cannot find a check-post empty, but the law enforcement agencies have lined up all the border cars and are taking bribes– that too very much. Besides all this, they have caged the locals under their self-made schedule. “They have reminded us that we are slaves in our own soil,” he finished.

This region has always contributed to the state, but failed to grab much attention in return. On 28 May 1998, Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in Raskoh (Chaghi) where the local population, since then, has been badly infected with multiple diseases such as disabilities, cancer, etc. Back then, some promises were made by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, who, in return for the nuclear tests, vowed infrastructural, educational and health developments of Balochistan but nothing practical took place. Still, the illnesses spread by the blasts have made Yaum-i-Takbeer a ‘Black Day’ in Balochistan.

Back in his third tenure, in 2016, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked for the same developments in return for CPEC. Once again it was ‘no’ to Balochistan. If CPEC is meant to make more economic zones in the region, why aren’t they initiated? In fact, if economic activities are scheduled in the Baloch belts, there are almost no chance of promotion of Baloch people, but only of citizens from the other provinces and from China.

As May 28 is labelled as a ‘black day’ from the Baloch perspective, CPEC can end up labelled a ‘black project’ in Baloch eyes if things do not change in the best interests of the Baloch land and population.

Ali Jan Maqsood
The writer is a freelance columnist

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