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CPEC and it’s significance for Balochistan

With the development of new Economic Zones prospects of economic prosperity are high in the province. Due to a lack of technical and modern education, the vast majority of Baloch people lack the ability to compete in the employment market at the national as well as international levels.

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The Confucius Institute at the University of Karachi which was hit by a suicide terrorist attack on 27th April 2022 by a Baloch militant group that killed three Chinese teachers along with a Pakistani national has by and large been condemned by political leadership and natives of Balochistan. This incident has been received very negatively and people denounce it. The repercussions this act of violence will have on the people of Balochistan are still to be determined and can have far-reaching consequences.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a source of avenues of opportunities for Balochistan ─ the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area. Balochistan with regard to its geographical location is pivotal for CPEC since Gwadar has a central position in the entire project. It is believed that the project would potentially contribute to the development of the whole province and is likely to address its interlinked economic and social problems. CPEC provides a plethora of opportunities for the people of Balochistan, nevertheless, comprehensive planning needs to be carried out for the smooth execution of the CPEC projects.

Read more: CPEC: An element of national power?

Understanding the matter better

Pakistan is eager to reinforce itself to address its domestic socioeconomic needs while also aligning policy orientations with the evolving and changing economic and geopolitical environment within the region and beyond. From 2015 onwards, federal governments have been trying to address economic and political issues of the province through various economic packages, particularly like Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan and a special package for south Balochistan. Balochistan needs an uplift in the living standards of its people along with socio-economic development, improving communication infrastructure and provision of employment which have hampered the social, political, and economic progress of the province.

It is a positive development that policymakers and top political leadership of the country realises the severity of the issues and certain steps have been taken to improve the overall situation in the province. In the light of the above-mentioned issues, it is significantly important to see the impact of multibillion-dollar projects planned under CPEC in Balochistan. To explore the impact, some core questions like how the implementation of the CPEC projects will help to address the development issues being faced by the local population in Balochistan? And, will socio-economic stability help to overcome current and future challenges of Balochistan?

Balochistan with five percent of Pakistan’s population and the largest land area of the country is the poorest and at the same time richest in its wealth of natural resources. Its coastal line stretches 750 km which makes up 70 percent of Pakistan’s coastline with Gwadar and Pasni being the two main seaports in the province. Due to a lack of industry and few opportunities for jobs and businesses, per capita income and average household incomes are very low. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the poverty rate stands at 47 percent in Balochistan. Female education is 16 percent as compared to 32 percent in the rest of the provinces in Pakistan.

Read more: PML-N finding fault in their own CPEC deals?

The population of Balochistan is around 13 million with a population density of only 19 per square kilometer compared to the national average of 166. Agriculture and livestock are the major source of income and over half of the labor force is engaged in agriculture. Over extraction of water, droughts and primitive methods of agriculture and lack of drip irrigation systems result in water scarcity. The province had been facing the worst form of poverty due to the loss of 43 percent of the livestock. With the development of Gwadar Port and other projects under CPEC, it is expected that necessary avenues for further economic benefits and connections with other provinces and regions will help support the economic development of Balochistan.

Over the last four decades, China has pulled eight hundred million people out of poverty with its continuous macroeconomic and political stability along with rural development programs and its open-door policy. Recently, China has been serving as an economic role model for many developing countries like Pakistan in the area of poverty alleviation. Implementation of such programs can help bring about transformational changes not just in Balochistan, but the entire country.

How CPEC will help?

To create economic opportunities, particularly, employment generation, special economic zones should be established in the smaller provinces and priority should be given to Balochistan, being the most backward China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects have the potential to revive and give new life to economic activities in the province of Balochistan. Currently, the share of Balochistan in terms of economic activities is low as compared to other provinces of Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan to hold CPEC Int’l conference

A number of factors have contributed to this which include: energy shortfall, unskilled labor force, lack of local administration’s interest in the economic matters, feudal system, illiteracy, the marginalized focus of the Centre, mismanagement of lucrative natural resources, corruption, separatist movements and foreign involvement in various matters to sabotage CPEC projects in the province.

CPEC projects are meant to set these issues right by reviving and restructuring the industrial sector of Balochistan. With the development of new Economic Zones prospects of economic prosperity are high in the province. Due to a lack of technical and modern education, the vast majority of Baloch people lack the ability to compete in the employment market at the national as well as international levels. This state of affairs results in lower earnings poverty and backwardness in the province. Besides this, poor infrastructure and communication, absence of industry, lack of skilled labor force, terrorism, sectarianism, personal rivalry and disinterest of local administration in solving the above-stated issues are the major reasons behind abject poverty in the Balochistan.

Read more: CPEC: An opportunity or another East India Company?

I personally believe that CPEC can play a role in the development of Balochistan and the majority of the people will back the project if it reaches the common man. Yet the common Baloch is not a beneficiary of CPEC. I also suggest that there may be social welfare programs in Balochistan under the rubric of CPEC which could be a confidence-building measure.

 

The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.