Balochistan and CPEC
According to statistics, the investments to be made in Balochistan under the CPEC are expected to be more than USD 7 billion. A majority of this amount will be invested in various projects in Gwadar, including Gwadar port, Gwadar Airport, Pak-China Friendship Hospital and Gwadar Master Plan. In the last 4 years that the CPEC has been launched, the local population has not enjoyed the benefits of this large investment.
Instead, what they have enjoyed are increased rate of enforced disappearance, increasing violence and increasing economic hardships. In fact, the current Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan admitted what had been speculated in the media earlier, when he said in December 2018 that the provincial government was still ‘blind’ to what exactly exists in the CPEC.
None of the Chinese projects in Balochistan has reached out and engaged the people of the province. Instead, the Chinese, with the support of the Pakistani military, has been operating in isolation, making roads, electricity generating projects, water purification plants, not for the people to use, but for the Chinese and the Pakistani government. It is also learnt that Chinese defence personnel may have been embedded in these projects in Balochistan in the guise of engineers and workers.
The Baloch see the CPEC as an attempt by Pakistan to illegally sell the province’s natural resources to the Chinese. Across the world and in Balochistan, we have seen protests against China’s presence in Balochistan. What many do not know is that in 2019 itself, at least 14 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in Balochistan because of Baloch groups attacking CPEC project sites in the province. The Chinese should, therefore, realize that there is a need to take a re-look at their plans to transplant their ideas on people who do not want them there.
The Chinese have been extremely worried by the terror attack on its consulate in Karachi in November 2018. I believe that they demanded security guarantees from the Pakistani government for Chinese personnel and property. As a result, to ensure the safety of the Chinese, Pakistan has stopped providing visa for Chinese nationals visiting Balochistan. Therefore, except for those who are required to be there for the CPEC projects, no Chinese is being allowed to visit the province.
On the other hand, Pakistan Army has responded to this opposition by the Baloch against the CPEC by picking up human rights activists, student leaders, and journalists. Anyone seen to be speaking against the military establishment or the CPEC either disappears or is roughed up. Have you ever thought why we rarely get to see any major Pakistani news media reporting on Balochistan. This itself says a lot about the lack of basic rights in the province.
Also, there has been an attempt by Pakistan to declare Baloch political activists as terrorists. This is similar to what China has done with Uyghur political activists, including the members of the World Uyghur Organisation, who are listed as terrorists.
Also, if China’s track record in the other Belt and Road projects is any indicator, the CPEC will not only increase Chinese hold in the Pakistani government decision making but strategic property like ports, airports, telecommunication links will be controlled by China in the years to come.