Dost Muhammad Barrech
Balochistan, the biggest province of Pakistan, has remarkable characteristics on account of its geo-strategic location, natural resources, Gwadar port, being the gateway to South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East. The Chinese Belt and Road Intuitive (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will further accelerate the significance of Balochistan. Under current scenario, the word CPEC has no doubt become a buzzword. One can see the word CPEC in print and social media on a daily basis. CPEC, by and large, evokes the economic development in mind of many Pakistanis but many of us are still oblivious of the hidden and untapped potential of Balochistan that can change the destiny of both Pakistan and Balochistan.
Balochistan is called as fruit-basket of Pakistan producing 90 percent of cherry, grapes and almond, 60 percent of pomegranate, apricot and peach. Balochistan also produces 34 per cent of apple of the country. In the production of fruits, government needs to make crop-specific zones to produce more fruits. Surprisingly, fruit gardens in Balochistan are irrigated with fuel instead of water. The word fuel seems to be strange but due to shortage of electricity farmers use fuel for the irrigation. Farmers for ages are anticipating resolving the chronic load-shedding problem. Pakistan’s connectivity under CPEC is a glimmer for the ignored farmers of Balochistan to export fruits abroad.
Pakistan is well-known for the production of dates and ranks fifth in the world in the production of dates. Mekran Division of Balochistan produces 0.5 million tons of dates annually, only a few thousand tons are exported abroad. By virtue of CPEC, Pakistan’s connectivity with the rest of the world boosts up export of dates to the rest of the world. Exporting of dates from Balochistan will pave the way for eliminating the marginalization of the people of Balochistan. Government needs to give subsidies to the farmers to produce more date palms. Currently, water scarcity is detrimental to the date palms and farmers are looking forward to rain for irrigation.
Pakistan is also blessed with diversity and great civilization. Under the CPEC umbrella, Pakistan and Balochistan need to expedite the importance of Mehrgarh civilization, located near Bolan Pass in Balochistan that could become a hub for the foreign tourists. The Residency of the Quaid in Ziarat is another untapped area that needs to be materialized under CPEC for the foreign tourists.
Balochistan’s coastline of 750 kms having variety of sea fish and sunny beaches needs a great deal of consideration in attracting foreign tourists under CPEC projects. One can imagine that in 2015 international tourist created US$1.5 trillion in export earnings. Attracting the foreign tourists in poverty-stricken province will certainly alleviate poverty by cementing the national integration.
Improving trade with Afghanistan is another area that could be a game changer for the region. Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2010 signed an agreement to bolster trade relations, promised to grant transit route to Afghanistan. Ironically, trade agreement has not been implemented in letter and in spirit. The participation of Afghanistan in CPEC, particularly via Balochistan will usher the era of development in Pakistan and Balochistan. Pakistan’s annual trade with Afghanistan is US $2.5 billion. Engrossingly, an annual illegal and undocumented trade with Afghanistan is US$3 billion, causing an irreparable damage to Pakistan’s economy. By converting illegal trade into legal and allowing Afghanistan to participate in CPEC will reduce trust deficit and will promote prosperity in the region.
Under the CPEC project, China grants scholarships to Pakistani students. So far, 19,000 Pakistani students are studying in China including 2,400 PhD scholars, funded by various Chinese scholarships. A searing question that needs to be answered is how many scholarships have been given to the students of Balochistan? The statement of Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa regarding Balochistan is a ray of hope for the students of Balochistan, saying “Balochistan’s youth most precious asset and urged them to contribute to national integration and progress by performing a positive role”. Most considerably, he accentuated the importance of Balochistan and said that Pakistan was incomplete without Balochistan.
Bajwa’s statement “Pakistan is incomplete with Balochistan” reflects that Balochistan is the nervous system of Pakistan. One can imagine the nervous system of Pakistan is engulfed by insurgency, terrorism, extremism, sectarianism, poverty, illiteracy, drug trafficking and food and water scarcity. The policy-makers of Pakistan need to engage into introspection and pounder over the statement of Bajwa by giving more and more opportunities to the students and people of Balochistan in order to curb disease to the nervous system of Pakistan. A prosperous and luminous Balochistan guarantees developed and bright future of Pakistan.
Balochistan’s youth termed as precious asset of Pakistan without an advanced education in 21st Century should be considered like a body without soul. Talent without opportunity is merely a pipedream, giving enough chances to the people of Balochistan reinforces the national integration. The Chinese proverb rightly says that a nice word needs to be uttered thrice; peace is only based on equality, equality equality.
The writer works at Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.