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CPEC: JIGSAW takes shapes in Balochistan

Balochistan would remain the soft belly of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for a decade or two.  And in this context, the current security sate in Balochistan is likely to stay by and large the same. Internal disturbance and foreign interference are likely to continue. Direct and indirect foreign interference is likely to remain a potent facto. Therefore, security of the infrastructure has to be planned and executed in a comprehensive way, not only in terms of gun and bullet but also in terms of community participation. Security of personnel working on the CPEC related projects could only be achieved by making the local population stakeholders in these projects through Corporate Social Responsibility offset projects.

Process of contacts began by Dr Malik needs to be expedited and the exiled Baloch leadership should be convinced to return and paly their role in the development of Balochistan by mobilizing the opportunities unleashed by CPEC. While there in enough of attraction for the international players for the, the uphill task has been to save it from the internal and external spoilers. Credit goes to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, so far he has been able to do this job well. Most of the uproar on the issue has been on faulty assumptions and non-availability of complete information about the upcoming projects that would keep unfolding as the overall CPEC programme keeps materialising.

From political perspective, the things are moving in the right direction. Mid-term political transition has been smooth and without any blame game. Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri has once again extended an invitation to self-exiled Baloch leaders to the negotiating table for resolving political issues and building on the reconciliatory approach of the government. This process needs to be accelerated to build on past breakthroughs. Narratives that engage the stakeholders rather than isolate them are key to stability. Politics of violence have hurt Balochistan, and the use of force brings nothing but destruction. Time is ripe for a new beginning, while at the same time window of opportunity may not be unlimited.

Pakistan and China had signed an agreement on April 20, 2015 to commence work on CPEC development projects worth over $46 billion, which comes to roughly 20 per cent of Pakistan’s annual GDP. The corridor aims to connect Gwadar port in Balochistan to China’s Xinjiang region via a network of highways, railways and pipelines spread over 3,000km.

As per its track record, India has raised objections to the project and has set aside US$ 300 million to cause disruptive activities both physical and political. India has lodged permanent representatives of most of self-exiled separatist Baloch leaders and provides them forum for venting anti-Pakistan sentiment within India and other countries. Gravity of the matter can be gauged from the fact that during the construction of M-8, there were 207 attacks on the FWO workers by miscreants that caused 26 deaths of its staff, while 18 helping staff also lost their lives.

On February 03, Prime Minister inaugurated Rs13 billion Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab Road (M-8), a part of CPEC. Army chief General Raheel Sharif drove the prime minister on the newly-constructed 193-km long highway, which will connect the western, central and eastern routes of CPEC with the Gwadar Port. The premier on the occasion said his government accorded top priority to development in Balochistan, and regarded the road construction as a dream come true. He termed Pakistan’s prosperity as the prosperity of Balochistan and 2016 as take-off year for CPEC; Army Chief has already declared 2016 as timeframe for eradicating terrorism from the country. Both these are laudable visions but would require gigantic effort to accomplish.

Nawaz Sharif said that Central Asian Republics were keen to use the elaborate network of roads in Pakistan to reach to the open seas, adding that the road linkage would benefit as many as three billion people of the entire region. He lauded the FWO team for completing the road despite numerous challenges, and appreciated the army chief for his interest in the project, as well as overall peace in Balochistan.

The Prime Minister announced three new road projects: Quetta-Khuzdar Highway would be dualised. Work on Baseema-Khuzdar, Shahdadkot and Bela-Awaran highways will start soon. The completion of these roads would link Quetta to Gwadar and to Afghanistan through Chaman. He said the Pakistan Army and FWO are proud of their work on the M-8 project which was initiated under the directives given by the Chief of Army Staff on February 6, 2014. Completion of the project within such a short time under adverse security situation is indeed a commendable job.

The seminar on “Peace and Prosperity in Balochistan”, held in Quetta on February 02, was highly educative in the sense that it served as a platform to discuss all aspects of the Balochistan issue and how to address them. The highlight of the seminar was address of General Raheel Sharif who minced no words in identifying the causes of the trouble in the province with foremost being the proxy war being fought by different regional and distant powers for their own ends. He also explained the strategy being pursued by the Army to help restore normalcy in the volatile province. Since the Army Chief is in the know of things, everyone should take his words seriously and listen to his appeal for joining hands to counter conspiracies of the enemy. His revelations crystallize two things – there is gross foreign interference with some foreign powers training, arming and funding anti-state elements and hence the need for a combination of measures to address the challenge effectively.

As for exploiting of the situation by foreign agencies is concerned, our agencies are countering their activities but there is dire need that the political leadership should highlight the issue during engagement with world leaders. Similarly, our diplomats should sensitize public opinion especially governments and media in host countries about designs of these powers. Similarly, as COAS has pointed out the problem in Balochistan is compounded by factors like poverty, unemployment and lack of educational and other facilities, a comprehensive approach is required to ensure all round development of the Province. It is good that the Army is playing a leading role in this regard as thousands of youth from Balochistan have been enrolled in cadet colleges besides provision of education and health facilities to thousands of other through military-run institutions. A salient revolution has been taking place in Balochistan under the stewardship of Pakistan army for over a decade or so whereby a large segment of youth has been put on right track through skill enhancement programmes and vocational training.

Implementation of CPEC can also help overcome a number of problems of Balochistan and therefore, it is incumbent upon the political parties not to create hurdles in the way of execution of various projects under its umbrella. If socio-economic environment of the province is changed, then there would also be no no-go area there and this would, in return, help promote national unity and harmony. Balochistan, despite being the largest, remains the least developed, least secure of Pakistan’s provinces; with poorest Human Resource Development Indicators in the world. CPEC has the potential of reversing all these miseries.

In the broader context, it is a century long project that would eventually inter-connect Asia-Europe-Africa under the broader umbrella of One Belt One Road (OBOR). Finances are readily available through Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that has a projected equity of US$ 200; other major financial institutions have also shown interest in investing in CPEC projects.

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