The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is all set to change Balochistan’s destiny, even its hitherto remote and backward areas will be connected and brought forth into the mainstream of economic and developmental activities, for Pakistan and entire the region. 

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, it has immense geo-strategic importance as its vast, sandy terrain leads to a coastline bordering the Arabian Sea; it was initially considered a surprising, lesser-known location for becoming one of the world’s great trade routes by critics. Today, its Gwadar port is intrinsic to the flagship CPEC project of China’s OBOR, the 21st century maritime Silk Road, the project comprises of highways, motorways, energy projects, railways, a seaport and oil and gas pipelines. The largest amount of CPEC projects 16 in number out of 37 are solely planned for Balochistan.

The corridor has three routes leading from Gwadar to different cities; the Western route passes right through the interior of Balochistan as it starts from Gwadar onwards to Turbat, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Kalat, Quetta, Qila Saifullah, Zhob, Dera Ismail Khan, Mianwali to Attock leading to Islamabad. The Pakistan government has visualised a major uplift in the zone of influence of this route which comprises of 11 districts, Gwadar rail links to Khunjerab at the China-Pakistan border are also included in the project and would be laid after the road infrastructure is complete.

One major advantage of the CPEC is that it would virtually bring Balochistan’s ‘Sardari Nizam’ to an end, this rule by local chieftains  that behaved like dictators proved counter-productive all these decades,they were not interested in providing education or health facilities for their poor subjects. This international economic project would empower the poor Balochi locals with jobs and trade opportunities and their overall lifestyle would improve. There will be lesser conflicts as there will be fewer jobless people that get sucked into militancy and crime, special quotas for locals have been planned in various projects, they could also be taught skills and the English and Chinese language that would increase their chances of employment.

Critics of the project have shown concerns that the demographics of the province would change, they overlook the fact that the CPEC is an international project and Balochis get international exposure as a result, it will bring the rich Balochi culture and home industries into the limelight. The Chinese government is providing special facilities for Balochi women engaged in home industries, they will be provided the materials at home and the handicrafts would be specially marketed.

In the same way there are plans to give maritime training to the local Baloch working in the fishery industry at Gwadar, Balochis will have access to health and education facilities closer to where they live because of the newly laid road infrastructure and enhanced connectivity. There is talk that previous projects planned by Pakistan government did not really take off, now the CPEC is a project on a totally different level, it’s strategic, economic and political importance will ensure its success. The overall perception about CPEC among the locals is positive; it is media that has played a negative role from time to time at the behest of foreign lobbies opposed to the project. The CPEC makes Balochistan globally relevant as a center of trade with free business zones, why would anyone grudge the province a golden opportunity.

It is important to maintain the law and order situation in the province, for this it is essential that the border with Afghanistan be sealed off as soon as possible as terrorist elements use this route to degrade the security situation. There is a 10,000-strong force provided by Pakistan Army to provide security along the CPEC routes, insurgencies funded by enemies have been contained and the incidence of terror attacks has decreased considerably.

Gwadar port was recently inaugurated for trade activities, at the occasion the Pakistani PM said, “The enemies of the CPEC are actually enemies of Pakistan, every region and province of Pakistan will benefit from this CPEC that is a comprehensive project of peace and economic progress.” At the occasion, the Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong said, “Gwadar sea port will bring prosperity not only to the people of Pakistan, but the entire South Asian region.”

The Pakistan government recently secured an additional $8.5 billion of investment from Beijing as part of the countries’ joint energy, transport and infrastructure plan, this has driven up the estimated cost of the CPEC project to $55 billion as of now. At least three quarters i.e. $35 billion, out of the originally estimated $46 billion of planned Chinese-led investment have already been harnessed into the project in Pakistan, implementation will take place early next year. The Pakistan economy has received a boost in growth, the highest in about a decade since the Chinese mega-investment. This flagship mega-project provides Pakistan connectivity and trade opportunities with 70 per cent of international maritime trade via the ports of Karachi and Gwadar.

Recently, Khaleej Times reported that ‘ the CPEC is planned to shoot up for a $ 150 billion investment, and a new whole world of business that will make it the largest economic region, as details of its size and stature are unveiled this week. The plan is to connect three engines of growth South Asia, China, and Central Asian Republics and aligning it with the entire South, Northern, and North Western regions.’

Apart from the business and trade point of view, Gwadar could become a Dubai of the future with its beautiful beaches and lovely five-star hotels coming up, it has potential to become a tourist destination if developed in that direction as it has mild temperatures during the winter. Balochistan is about to get reconnected to the world with the debut of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the possibilities are endless.

 

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Sabena Siddiqi is a Lawyer, a Journalist writing on geopolitics and International law-related topics, also engaged in facilitating local charities for women and children since several years.