Economic Corridor and Local Apprehensions

RehaanChina–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a development megaproject worth $46 billion. The entire project is expected to be completed in several years. It will not only give Pakistan domestic benefits in the form of boosted economy but also international favors in U.N and in many other regional organizations. But, the question is, will it heal the wounds of local people suffering since decades? Will it be a harbinger of change for the poor and destitute or to a small absentee quarter residing elsewhere? Is it part of china grand policy to extend its imperialistic designs globally and to make more and more satellite states by economically crippling them?
The progress on Gwadar Port has been the most significant development task in recent years. Once developed, the port would be a game changer for the province, country and region by and large. It would promote trade in the entire region, as this would be the shortest route to Central Asia and China.  In the new wave of development that is taking place with China’s collaboration, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will open up new avenues of opportunities for the people of Balochistan. It is envisioned that Gwadar would be transformed into an economic hub and will subsequently contribute towards the development of the whole province, resulting in addressing the various economic and social problems of Balochistan. Another potential sector, that can change the fate of the province, is mining. The province is rich in mineral resources and the mining sector would flourish, as the CPEC would become operational. It would contribute towards reducing unemployment in local areas. It would also enable the local government to develop and enhance its human resource.
CPEC is although advantageous in many shapes but at the same time it has been rejected by the local people owing to its negative implications on the local economy, culture and demography. According to the local people, CPEC is a blowing curse and it has nothing to do with local poor people. It is tantamount to saying that neither the government of Pakistan nor that of china has chalked out any mega project to change the destinies of people residing in the coastal belt. Government of Pakistan has done nothing to take the local people on broad before undertaking such initiative. The condition of infrastructure, health and education is worse. Moreover, before starting such game changing mega project it was incumbent upon the government to won the hearts and minds of local people and by considering them as the real stake holders. Many indigenous problems are still unresolved which has to be solved decades ago. How to bridge trust where the locals are ignored and deprived of their rights is a million dollar question. According to the locals all this game is being done to boost up the industries of Punjab rather than that of Balochistan. Still, central government holds all the power that is supposed to be with the provincial government. Furthermore, the complex problem regarding the routes of CPEC are still unresolved despite protests by two provinces i.e., Balochistan and KPK.  The way things are, the limited infrastructure will soon collapse as the population has already reached a saturation point.
Currently, the population of Gwadar is 0.1 million and among them 20% are non locals. The locals of Gwadar are poor and related to the business of fisheries which has become a culture. The outsiders are mostly from District Kech who moved to Gwadar for better lives i.e., jobs. The ratio of people from other provinces is as numerous as blackberries. Although, they own lands but they rarely visit there. They may be called as absentee landlords. Years ago, real estate business boosted up which give the locals to sale their properties. The people of other provinces availed this opportunity and bought commercial, residential and industrial estates.  Apparently, majority of land records are not genuine, owing to various frauds on administrative levels or due to fake estate agents. The future changes will obviously change the prevailing demographic setup and may deprive the locals of their ancestral lands. Any governmental level step to locate the locals will bring hopelessness and disappointment among the locals.
China-Pakistan economic corridor is vital for the progress and development of the region in various ways. It will not only open vista of opportunities for the local population but also improve the poor infrastructure of this region i.e., Balochistan. Gwadar will be the main centre of foci and the development of Gwadar on the modern basis is the ultimate agenda of this corridor but till now the people of Gwadar are far away to enjoy the bounties of this billion dollar mega project. According to the planning commission of Pakistan that Gwadar would be the future industrial city on the footings of Faisalabad. Gwadar, the future industrial zone will accommodate thousands of locals and provide them with lucrative jobs. Moreover, in future the education and health system of Gwadar would be better. Furthermore, the business of real estate will boost up in coming days which will benefit the local people. The construction of airport will give the locals’ and the investors’ facilities to easily access other cities and foreign destinations. Recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced new reserved security force for the protection of port and the highway. Will the government accommodate locals by recruiting them. Will this force encompass the locals or the imported SSGs? Will it going to transform Gwadar into a garrison state or a welfare state for its local residents? Seemingly, government strategy is to push out the indigenous population by making life more tuff for them in one way or the other.
China-Pakistan economic corridor is not out and out a blessing for the locals. It has far-reaching negative implications and impacts on local population. It can be a blessing in disguise. It will leave no stone unturned to transform local people into men of no lands. The demographic transition which is underway under the patronage of the government will push the poor local from master to vanquished slaves.  Unless and until special measures are taken there would be disappointment and hopelessness. Local nationalists are considering this billion dollar mega project a threat to their culture and economy.
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Rehan Baloch is a freelance columnist, a former youth parliamentarian and Gold medalist in the discipline of history / politics and literature from GCU Lahore. He is a featured columnist for Balochistan Voices.