CPEC: A ray of hope for Balochistan development
Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, is a junction point of South Asia, Central Asia and a gateway to the Middle East.
The abundance of natural resources enhances its importance as a centre of gravity for regional powers including Afghanistan, China and Iran. It is the largest province of Pakistan, composes 42% of the total land area, but the population density is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water.
The economy of the province is largely based upon the production of natural gas, coal and minerals. The province’s natural resources significantly help meet the energy needs of Pakistan as a whole.
Over the years, the deprivation of the people of Balochistan has caused several uprisings against the federal government due to its natural resources. It is still the least developed region of the country.
Efforts have been made by different governments to address the grievances of the Baloch people through various development projects.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative launched in 2015.
Various analysts viewed it as a game-changer because of its connectivity plan and regional markets from China to South Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
CPEC aims at promoting economic development and inter-regional connectivity which are partially achieved with both infrastructural, industrial and socio-economic development projects, especially in Balochistan.
Its strategic location increases its importance not only in Pakistan but also across the globe. Therefore, the CPEC project has the potential to open new avenues of socio-economic development and employment opportunities for the masses of Balochistan.
It has been assessed that the project will contribute to the development of the whole province and address various economic and social problems of Baluchistan.
Gwadar would also soon be transformed into an economic hub after the completion of several projects under the CPEC.
Balochistan in general and Gwadar in particular, is the linchpin of CPEC. It is being successfully implemented in Balochistan. The Gwadar port and Balochistan are at the nerve centre of this corridor.
Some States assume that in Gwadar port China’s strategic design is to strengthen its maritime power in the Indian Ocean, both in terms of commercial and naval, thus adding to Beijing’s “string of pearls” including in Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Seychelles; under BRI, this string of ports will extend across the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Africa and the Mediterranean.
In the same vein, the completion of projects under the CPEC is going to change the socio-economic landscape of Balochistan and it will be at par with other developed areas in Pakistan.
However, various nefarious elements have always opposed development in Baluchistan. They are also opposing and targeting CPEC with false propaganda and creating a sense of negativity in the minds of the people of Balochistan about the CPEC.
These vested interests and selfish elements want to continue deciding the fate of the Baloch people by keeping them under-developed, uneducated and economically dependent.
However, in the changing geopolitical environment of the region, Pakistan is desirous to strengthen itself domestically and bring a change to the much-needed province of Balochistan.
The restive province has been remained much neglected due to various factors including political, administrative, security, and lack of funds. Some Baloch assume China as a colonial power that wanted to occupy Gwadar their resources and land due to the lack of Chinese communication and interaction with the local people thus adding to their fear of being colonized.
However, large numbers of Baloch people are hopeful that CPEC would bring jobs, employment, and economic activity to them. This would make it difficult for the spoilers to exploit youth against the state.
In a nutshell, for the further enhancement of the economic situation of the province, a comprehensive provincial development strategy for Balochistan is required which outlines the key areas of investment for inclusive growth and provides the roadmap for integrated development in the province.
It is a need of the hour that people of Balochistan should be involved more and more in development projects like CPEC and their grievances should be addressed by providing them job opportunities in public sector, giving special waivers and increasing the education quota in universities.
If these issues related to Baloch grievances would be addressed, it will further widen the gap between the state and the Baloch community.