Will CPEC Live Up To Promises Of Betterment In Balochistan?

Will CPEC Live Up To Promises Of Betterment In Balochistan?
Policymakers consider China-Pakistan Economic Coorporation (CPEC), the flagship project of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a game changer due to its geo-strategic location. When CPEC was officially launched in 2015, people of Balochistan thought it would improve their standard of living, unlike previous projects, like Reko Diq and Saindak, which gave nothing to them except poverty and displacement. Unfortunately, CPEC is turning out to be no different.

Instead of uplifting the economic, social and political status of people, the project has created new problems, particularly for the local communities of Gwadar. Their main concern is related to fishing.

According to the fisheries department of Balochistan, more than 9000 fishing boats and 90,000 fishermen are registered in Gwadar. The operation of illegal trawlers is affecting them in two ways: first, it has reduced the quantity of fishing gains for fishermen; and secondly, the trawlers carry large nets which captures small fishes as well. This, according to locals, is genocide of fish.

In reaction, Haq Do Tehreek emerged as the largest political movement in Balochistan. Besides sit-ins in Gwadar, the Tehreek presented a 19-point charter. Some of the main demands were to put an end to deep-sea fish trawling, reduction in security checkpoints in the area and easing of restrictions on border trading with Iran. The sit-in ended after an agreement with the government of Balochistan.

In 2022, once again, protests started by Haq Do Tehreek, claiming that the government had breached the agreement. Protesters blocked the port's Marine Drive. This time, the government failed to end the sit-in through negotiations. Finally, it launched a police operation to disperse the Tehreek protesters. Hundreds of them were injured, including women and children, and hundreds of them were arrested. Waja Hassan Wadela, President Haq Do Tehreek, was arrested and shifted to Quetta.

The operation resulted in chaos and uncertainty in the area. A prominent public leader and founder of the Haq Do Tehreek, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, was arrested from the court’s jurisdiction. He is still under arrest. Around 19 FIRs are lodged against him.

It is important to note that the success of any mega project is linked with security. Without security, even a small scale project fails in the initial stages. Indeed, it would be irrational to consider CPEC as a game-changer for Pakistan as the basic rights of locals are neglected. One wonders if CPEC will operate successfully and sustain in long run amid such uncertain circumstances in Gwadar? Will China continue to work in such an insecure situation? These are the fundamental questions which must be considered by both federal and provincial governments.

Unfortunately, like Reko Diq and Saindak, local people have been neglected in the development of the area by a few privileged individuals, sitting in federal and provincial governments. Since the government refuses to give importance to the non-kinetic strategies available, such as negations for resolution, significant projects of national importance have become a conundrum.

Pakistan is facing multiple crises. Political instability has worsened the already fragile economy, and there is no sign of economic development in the near future. The country needs mega-projects like CPEC, but they cannot be game changers without long-term planning and inclusive policies.