New and more rigorous Sino-Pak relations occurred when the two countries agreed in 2013 to connect the Chinese city of Kashgar with the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The CPEC is a well-thought out and well-crafted concept that is likely to usher in a process of significant and broad-based cooperation between China and Pakistan. CPEC will potentially augment the increasing mutuality of interest based on shared understanding of political, strategic and economic vision of both China and Pakistan. It will construct a new framework of collaboration and interaction for economic engagement and regional cooperation that will have far-reaching geo-economic and political implications not only for China and Pakistan but also for the neighboring regions of West Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. CPEC in fact is a vital part of the greater Chinese concept of “Go West” through “One Road One Belt” strategic and economic designs. Thus, the project is part of China’s grand vision, known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. This vision extends from the Baltic region in Europe to Southeast Asia and from China to Africa. Therefore, it is safe to say that CPEC offers a great strategic advantage to China as it gains physical access to the Indian Ocean and closer proximity to the Middle Eastern oil resources. Other OBOR projects around the world do not offer such advantages to China as CPEC does. Arguably, the CPEC enterprise recognizes the new dynamics of geopolitics by pursuing a more systematic, pragmatic and prudent interaction for socio-economic, energy, trade and commerce development. Besides further consolidating the bilateral relations of Pakistan and China and putting them on firmed commercial and economic basis, CPEC will also provide an opportunity to both the countries to improve their economic and geostrategic interaction with adjoining regions. Both China and Pakistan will expectedly obtain enormous social and economic gains from trade and commerce connectivity through roads, railways and sea-lanes with the neighboring regions, the Middle East and Europe .It will equally contribute to socio-economic development of countries that would potentially become the active part of this arrangement.
Potential of CPEC for Balochistan
Balochistan, undoubtedly, is one of the most important areas of Pakistan in relation to CPEC developments: its geographical location makes it a great trade route, linking the deep-water port of Gwadar with Xinjiang province of China, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics. CPEC is rightly described not only a set of roads and highways, but also a comprehensive package of development projects contributing to all sectors of the economy. The road and rail networks and infrastructure development in the province can contribute to the socioeconomic development in the region in many ways. It can create an enduring economic opportunity for Pakistan and for Balochistan province and has the durable potential to transform the provincial economy and bring it at par with the national economy of the country.
The Government of Pakistan has planned to create nearly 29 industrial parks and 21 mineral processing zones in all four provinces under the CPEC umbrella, out of them 27 are granted the status of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Mineral Processing Zones. Whereas for industrial zones Quetta, Dostan, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Uthal, Hub and Dera Murad Jamali are identified, for the proposed Minerals Economic Processing Zones Khuzdar (chromite, antimony), Chaghi (chromite), Qila Saifullah(antimony, chromite) Saindak (gold, silver), Reko Diq (gold), Kalat (iron ore) Lasbela (manganese), Gwadar (oil refinery), Muslim Bagh (chromite) have occupied the list. The indication of developing such economic zones is the clear manifestation of the fact that the government of Pakistan has envisioned a comprehensive plan to boost the economic potential of all provinces including Balochistan.
The physical and social infrastructure development in Balochistan has remained stagnant since the independence. Currently vast areas of the province are without physical and social infrastructure: roads, electricity, water supply, education, health or any kind of employment opportunities or facilities are nonexistent in greater part of Balochistan.
The government of Balochistan has identified 15 potential Growth Nodes, where industrial, social sector, urban and agriculture/fisheries sectors development can be focused around.
CPEC and Geo-Economic Imperatives of Balochistan
The geographical location of Balochistan placing it in the middle of central and western South Asia, southwestern Asia and the Middle East, would always make it under the effects of regional and global geopolitics. The maritime significance of Balochistan is evident from the fact its coastal belt can provide a shortest and convenient sea access to the landlocked and yet resource-rich CSRs and Afghanistan. As significant in international trade route, transit corridor and rich in oil, gas, metal and maritime resources, Balochistan may provide the centre-stage for regional and global geopolitics and geo-economics.
For Balochistan the economic gain from CPEC may also stem, firstly from the proximity of Gwadar port to the geostrategic shipping point of Strait of Hormuz – from where billions dollar worth of lubricants passes through every day. Gwadar will emerge as a hub of trade and commerce once CPEC and allied communication network are built and fully functional, connecting the port city to the rest of Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and CARs. According to Gwadar Port Master Plan, by 2020 the port can capture 25% of total international trade of Pakistan, 12% for Xinjiang province of China, 40% for Afghanistan and 15% total trade of Pakistan with CARs. The port can potentially contribute billions of rupees revenues to the national exchequer and create hundreds of thousands employment opportunities for the people of Balochistan. Additionally, Balochistan coast is conducive for building shipping industry. It is vital to establish the shipyard and ship breaking industry to get gain maximum benefit from the maritime economics of the region. As discussed, Balochistan is full of all kind of hidden treasures, nonetheless these treasures could not be exploited and utilized for the benefit of people of Balochistan, due to lack of adequate political will and infrastructure deficiencies. Now through CEPC the required infrastructure development can be built that could generate the resources necessary for socioeconomic development of Balochistan.
Having seen all above facts and figure it is concluded hereby that CPEC if exploited properly will have far reaching socioeconomic impact on Balochistan province. CPEC by virtue of being an economic and development corridor can generate employment opportunities, help alleviate poverty, engage youth in entrepreneurial and commercial activities, maintain law and order situation and improve overall social and economic outlook in the province.