By Muhammad Nawaz Khan : –
Pakistan and China are the strategic partners and their all-weather friendship has now taken a practical manifestation through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Both countries have a shared destiny; together they can make the dream of Asian century come true. China is a stabilizing factor in the region. Its Land Silk Route and Maritime Silk Route initiatives are the steps to strengthen the underdeveloped economies. In this regard, the CPEC initiative is a step in the right direction. The scope of the CPEC has been enlarged by including social sector development along with energy, infrastructure and transport. It will help to uplift socially the backward areas of the country particularly Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
The project runs through one of the most important and central geo-strategic locations in South Asia. The CPEC will connect Pakistan with Xinjiang and will become a centre of energy transmission from the Gulf to China. Equally, China would get connected with the Gulf region, Africa, Europe and the other parts of the world in an easier way and in a shorter time. The CPEC will open up new avenues of opportunities for the people of Balochistan. Balochistan, in general, and Gwadar, in particular, are the linchpin of the initiative. The project will subsequently contribute to the development of the whole province and address various economic and social problems of Balochistan.
It is envisioned that Gwadar would soon be transformed into an economic hub. Gwadar is the largest and deepest sea port in this part of the world, also its natural layout and depth enables the largest tonnage ships to dock there, a characteristic, which is absent in Dubai and Chahbahar ports . After completion of the CPEC, Gwadar city would be the international city. Besides, it is estimated that the CPEC could create upward of 700,000 direct jobs over the next 15 years and Gwardar port city will be able to create about 40,000 jobs. The CPEC investment has been hailed as a game-changer for Pakistan, roughly equalling all of the foreign direct investment into the country since 1970.
The positive correlation between infrastructure investments and economic growth is a well-known economic fact. The construction of road networks on the Western route of the CPEC has already started to positively impact the socio-economic landscape in Balochistan. Areas, which were considered inhabitable only few years ago are now showing strong signs of socio-economic activity. The government of Pakistan conceptualises infrastructure development as an integral component of its inclusive growth strategy. Therefore, it is pursuing infrastructure development all across the country because it does not only spur economic growth, it also promotes social justice.
Though rich in mineral resources, so far Balochistan’s contribution to the economy of Pakistan has not been high. This has consequently affected its development. One of the major reasons of this was the geographical ruggedness of the terrain and poor population. For example, Turbat has only a population of 180,000 people and has the most difficult terrain of the Western route in Balochistan. Pangjur, a district in the West of Balochistan, comprises three tehsils with a population of around 350,000. Now, with
the construction of the Western route of the CPEC, property value has skyrocketed in these areas where roads have been built. Other cities like Qalat, Quetta and Zhob will also become more vibrant with the completion of planned road network, which will give a boost to economic activities and other development projects under the CPEC.
The proposed sites for industrial zones in Balochistan would include major cities of the province such as Quetta, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Uthal, Hub and Dera Murad Jamali. The proposed mineral economic processing zones will also be set up in Khuzdar (chromite, antimony), Chaghi (chromite), Qila Saifullah (antimony, chromite), Saindak (gold, silver), Reko Diq (gold), Qalat (ironore), Lasbela (manganese), Gwadar (oil refinery) and Muslim Bagh (chromite).
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has inaugurated another road networks’ sections of the Western route of the CPEC in Balochistan’s Zhob in January 2016 and laid the foundation stones of two key projects: up gradation of the Zhob-Mughal Kot section of the Dera Ismail Khan-Qila Saifullah Highway (N-50) and the Qilla Saifullah-Waigam Rud Road section of the Multan-Dera Ghazi Khan-Qilla Saifullah Highway (N-70). The Zhob-Mughal Kot Section is part of the Western route of the CPEC, which starts from Burhan on the Peshawar-Islamabad motorway (M-1), and after moving through D.I.Khan, Zhob, Quetta, Surab and Hoshab, ends at Gwadar. These two projects are expected to be completed by 2018. Despite security problems, work is in full-swing on construction of roads in Balochistan. Moreover, the M-8 is an under-construction motorway in Balochistan and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. The route is partially constructed. Prime Minister of Pakistan also inaugurated the Gwadar-Hoshab (M-8) road in February 2016. The road network from Gwadar to Quetta, as part of the Western route would be completed by December 2016.
The social and economic activities have picked up in Balochistan owing to the construction of road network as part of the CPEC. Local people have started setting up hotels, shops and houses along the completed portions of the CPEC’s Western route linking Gwadar with China. Boom in construction industry and mining of marble and granite industry is expected. Already social and economic change in Balochistan is becoming visible and this will be further strengthened as more jobs and business opportunities for youth of Balochistan are created. Along with the CPEC projects, completion of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline and its linkage with CPEC would bring new economic dividends for Balochistan.
Initially, the nationalist parties in Balochistan feared a loss of control in their own province because the investments of such a large scale in the province would inevitably cause labour migration to Balochistan from other parts of Pakistan. Resultantly, with the passage of time Balochis would become a minority in their own province. In this regard, the federal government gave the assurances to the Baloch nationalists, people of Balochistan and Balochistan’s government that the CPEC project would not become a cause of turning Balochis into minorities rather the project would be helpful in improving the socio-economic situation of Balochistan. Consequently, the situation is entirely different in the province. Now there is a realization among the local people of the province that the CPEC project is a hope for their future. Therefore, they are putting a lot of pressure on federal government to complete the CPEC project in time. Thus, there
is a complete consensus among all the political parties and provinces of Pakistan on building the CPEC, especially on the completion of Western route as soon as possible.
The writer works for IPRI