WEB DESK: The Balochistan government has handed over around 280 acres out of a 2300 acre tax exempt land for the development of a special economic zone in Gwadar port to China on a 43-year lease, a component of the 46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The remaining land will be handed over soon under the agreement signed with China Overseas Port Holding Company.
The CPEC is a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan – for China to develop and gain access to a warm water port, enhance trade with South Asia/Middle East, ease pressure on the South China Sea, as well as counter US and Indian influence in the region; while Pakistan would benefit from massive Chinese capital inflows to develop its deficient infrastructure and enhance trade through greater connectivity with regional countries, including former Soviet republics.
In this context, it is relevant to note that foreign direct investment and exports have been declining in the country and the Chinese commitment is widely believed to be a game changer for Pakistan. The International Monetary Fund as well as the World Bank in their recent reports acknowledged that investments foreseen in the CPEC will contribute to an increase in investment.
Given this context it is extremely unfortunate that the CPEC has become highly controversial in Pakistan. Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the Awami National Party, recently stated that the government is continuing to favour Punjab at the cost of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in terms of connecting the country with Kashgar, a concern shared by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. In addition, the government is silent on the actual deals signed with China under the CPEC which is further fuelling controversy. T
he Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules are also not being implemented in projects associated with CPEC which is a cause of further criticism.
The government in its own defence first clarified that it had not changed the routing of the CPEC but later maintained that the Chinese have proposed that the existing road network be used as much as possible, which exists in Punjab and not in large parts of KPK. It further argued that economic activity would not simply pick up as roads are built in far-flung areas but would need improved law and order as well as associated infrastructure which at this stage is simply not available in the original routing. However, the trust deficit between the federal government and those federating units which are not governed by the PML-N is so wide that no other party is willing to accept PML-N’s assurances. Additionally, the federal government points out that China is the only country that has indicated any interest in investing massively in Pakistan; however, it has set certain conditions which violate the PPRA rules; the economic benefits would far outweigh disadvantages associated with conforming with the rules, the government argues with a degree of credibility.
Sixty-eight years after Independence, the resource-rich Balochistan province has been unable to take advantage of its abundant natural resources due to an ongoing insurgency exacerbated by the then President General Pervez Musharraf’s policy to try to squelch armed Baloch resistance led by Akbar Bugti through a military operation rather than seeking a political solution.
The PPP-led coalition government made few inroads into quelling the Baloch resistance in spite of the apology to the Baloch for previous flawed policies by former President Asif Ali Zardari. The mitigating factor for the failure to resolve the Baloch insurgency was, at the time, acknowledged to be the military leadership, under Kayani, which accounted for non-implementation of the then Prime Minister Gilani’s Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan.
This no doubt accounts for the recent statements by Bugti’s grandson, self-exiled in Europe, that while he has held talks with the Baloch Chief Minister yet he would welcome negotiations with those with power. The Baloch government responded that the civilian and military leadership is on the same page and Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has the mandate to negotiate with the Baloch leadership.
Brahamdagh Bugti previously supported a separatist movement believed to be funded by arch nuclear rival India and his statement that he was willing to talk if the army has changed its mindset and is ready to stop operations and solve the Balochistan issue politically must be welcomed. This is the second time he has so stated and one would hope that the opportunity this provides for peace in that province that would fuel economic growth both within Balochistan as well as the rest of the country must be proactively pursued.