Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, connects the country with South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. As a gateway to the Middle East, Balochistan gains a great deal of significance in the prevailing international and regional politics. The province is full of natural resources which accelerates its status among global and regional players. To draw the comparison of Balochistan with the rest of the provinces in the indicators of development, the province lags far behind in prosperity and development. Poverty, unemployment, and lawlessness have been a major obstacle in the development of this province. In such delicate circumstances, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will prove instrumental in mitigating poverty, and unemployment and ushering in a path to development and prosperity.
Admittedly, over the years, marginalization and deprivation impelled the people of Balochistan to the point that they were on the verge of starting an uprising against the federal government. In order to address the Guanine grievances of Balochistan, numerous efforts were made by the federal government. However, some initiatives witnessed success while others remained utterly unsuccessful. The CPEC is a flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative and is believed to have been a game changer for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular.
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Understanding Balochistan’s importance
In comparison to other provinces, Balochistan is of monumental importance in the CPEC, which connects the country from China to South Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, promoting inter-regional connectivity and economic development by stimulating infrastructural, industrial, and socio-economic development projects. The CPEC project, thus, has the potential to open new avenues of socio-economic development and job opportunities for the underprivileged masses of Balochistan.
Gwadar alone will connect 3 billion people in the world in the foreseeable future, making the province the hub of regional connectivity, and the construction of Special Economic Zones and will alleviate poverty and people’s grievances. Robert Kaplan, in his fascinating book entitled “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power”, shedding light on the significance of the Indian Ocean, articulates that WW1 and WW11 were Pacific and Atlantic Ocean-oriented.
The domination of the Indian Ocean in the 21st century is extremely likely to embark on a path to the domination of the whole of Asia. Against this backdrop, Gwadar port for China’s strategic design would bolster its maritime power in the Indian Ocean, consolidating its commercial and naval power.
Balochistan is labeled as “the fruit basket of Pakistan”. It shares 90 percent of the national production of cherries, grapes, and almonds, and 60 percent of pomegranates, peaches, and apricots. Most noticeably, the province produces 34 percent of apples and 70 percent of dates in the country. Farmers can have a much greater earning potential if they are provided with improved linkages with domestic and international markets under the CPEC.
Improving the blue economy of Balochistan under CPEC will overwhelmingly reinforce the underperforming fishing sector, increase employment, and improve the living standards of people. Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest mangrove area due to Balochistan’s coastal areas, which contribute $4 billion to the country’s export earnings each year. Taking pragmatic steps under CPEC, mangrove production will benefit Balochistan immensely.
Coastal areas of Balochistan are blessed with scintillating scenery
The sea beaches of Hammerhead in Gwadar, Ormara beaches, and Astola Island, situated in Pasni, are other untapped areas that need special attention to promote the blue economy. It is worth mentioning here that the World Travel & Tourism Council’s report states that “Travel & Tourism sectors contributed $8.3 trillion to the global economy and supported 313 million jobs in 2017. This was equal to 10.4% of the world’s GDP, and approximately 1 in 10 of all jobs”. Balochistan’s scenic beauty and historical sites have the potential to make travelers pack their bags and hit the newly paved roads.
Pakistan has been ranked third in the number of international students, with 28,023 Pakistani students currently studying in China. Unfortunately, the number of students from Balochistan studying in China is insignificant and negligible. The future of the province belongs to the youth. Granting Chinese scholarships will enlighten the youth with sophisticated knowledge, enabling them to contribute to the socio-political and economic development of the province.
There has been an exciting overlapping in statements by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Tim Marshal, who mentions both in his book “Prisoners of Geography” that “Pakistan is incomplete without Balochistan” and “there is no Pakistan without Balochistan.” The Indian Ocean and Balochistan in the prevailing great power rivalry spearheaded by the US and China will remain a locus point.
Balochistan, consequently, requires special attention to stimulate indigenous production, diversify the economy, grant ample scholarships to the youth, and tap the untapped natural resources and blue economy of the province under CPEC, which would likely alter the destiny of the province. Overlooking the developments in Balochistan under CPEC will apprehensively create a vacuum that might be filled by the enemy of the country. In short, the more Balochistan progresses, the more it will guarantee Pakistan’s prosperity.
The author is a former Research Associate of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). He is currently a lecturer in International Relations (IR) Department at the University of Balochistan and is also Ph.D. (IR) candidate at the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). He can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.