By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Five construction workers of non-Baloch ethnicity were shot dead while another three suffered injuries in an attack near Ganz, some 15 kilometers west of Jiwani town in the Gwadar District of Balochistan on October 31, 2018. According to official sources, the labourers were working at a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-related private housing scheme on Peshkan-Ganz road, which links Gwadar with Jewani, when a group of unidentified assailants riding motorcycles appeared on the scene and opened fire. Security officials identified four of the deceased as Naeem Ahmed and Hunzullah, residents of Karachi (Sindh); Irshad Ali of Sukkur (Sindh); and Muhammad Shakir of Multan (Punjab). The identity of the fifth deceased is yet to be ascertained.
Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) ‘spokesperson’ Azad Baloch, claiming responsibility for the attack, stated,
The site attacked today was part of CPEC project… Today’s attack is a clear message to China and all other countries that Balochistan is an occupied territory. We warn all military and other constructions companies to immediately stop working on their projects in Gwadar or they will be targeted by Baloch fighters.
He added that any agreement with China and other countries by Pakistan, without the consent of the Baloch nation and before the freedom of Balochistan, has no legal standing. Further, that Pakistan on October 29, 2018, organised a conference of 26 countries – Asian Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Political Affairs – in its attempt assert the legality of its illegal occupation in Balochistan. Warning against the ongoing ‘colonisation’ of Balochistan he stated,
China and Pakistan are settling Punjabis and Chinese in Gwadar and other areas of Balochistan’s coastal belt to turn the Baloch into a minority under their expansionist designs… If the international community fails to fulfil their responsibilities and turns a blind eye to the Pakistani and Chinese colonisation of Balochistan, then the Baloch nation will have no other option but to target all non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan… The BLA will continue to resist against the occupation of Baloch Ocean and coastal belt…
He added that China and Pakistan were building around 70 housing schemes under the exploitative CPEC colonisation project.
On August 11, 2018, six persons – among them three Chinese engineers – were injured in a suicide attack on a bus in the Dalbandin area of Chagai District in Balochistan. The bus carrying 18 Chinese engineers was being escorted by Frontier Corps (FC) troops to the Dalbandin airport from the Saindaik copper and gold mines, when a suicide bomber tried to drive his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus. “The explosives-laden vehicle exploded near the bus on Quetta-Taftan Highway – and as a result three Chinese engineers, two FC soldiers and the bus driver were injured,” an unnamed Levies official stated. Saifullah Khatiran, Deputy Commissioner of Chagai District, disclosed that the engineers were working on the Saindak project, a joint venture between Pakistan and China to extract gold, copper and silver from an area close to the border.
Jiand Baloch, a BLA ‘spokesperson’, had then stated, “We targeted this bus which was carrying Chinese engineers. We attacked them because they are extracting gold from our region, we won’t allow it.” In a statement issued on Twitter, the BLA identified the suicide bomber as Rehan Baloch, who died in the attack, as the elder son of BLA’s ‘senior commander’ Aslam Baloch.
On May 4, 2018, six ethnic Punjabi labourers were killed and one injured in an incident of firing in the Laijay area of Kharan District. Levies sources said the labourers, who hailed from eastern Punjab, were working on a mobile tower and were sleeping in tents at the site when unidentified militants on motorcycles opened fire on them. The assailants escaped unhurt after the attack. There was no claim of responsibility.
There is persistent discontent among the ethnic Baloch with regard to CPEC, as the Province is at the heart of the USD 62 billion scheme – a massive series of projects that includes a network of highways, railways and energy infrastructure spanning the entire country. CPEC is a flagship project in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This discontent constitutes an enduring threat to Chinese engineers, workers and people associated the constituent projects from Baloch nationalists, who consider it part of a ‘strategic design’ by Pakistan and China to loot Balochistan’s resources and eliminate the Baloch culture and identity.
Highlighting the existing discontent, the then Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo on April 11, 2018, had said that his province was being neglected by the Federal Government in the CPEC project: “More than Rs. [PKR] 5,000 billion is being spent on the CPEC, but Balochistan is not receiving even one per cent of it.”
Earlier, on March 5, 2017, pro-Government Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) president Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal had asserted that no development could be seen in Balochistan under CPEC, and that this project would not benefit its people, as not a single development project had been launched in the region as part of the mega project. He had also argued that CPEC was not meant for the development of Balochistan, but rather for converting the Baloch nation into a “minority on its own soil.” Sardar Mengal alleged, further,
The Punjab is looting resources of the small provinces for its own interest. We do not ask anything from the Punjab, but want ownership of all the resources of Balochistan. The people of Balochistan, and not Sardars and Nawabs, deserved and owned these resources.
Asserting that CPEC would convert the Baloch people into minorities in their own homeland, Noordin Mengal, a human rights campaigner from Balochistan, stated that, with an influx of outsiders as a result of the project, the identity of the Baloch was being threatened.
Much earlier, on August 13, 2016, dubbing China, a ‘great threat’ to the Baloch people, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Balochistan representative Mehran Marri had argued,
China really-really is spreading its tentacles in Balochistan very rapidly, and therefore, we are appealing to the international community. The Gwadar project is for the Chinese military. This would be detrimental to international powers, to the people’s interest, where 60 percent of world’s oil flows. So, the world has to really take rapid action in curbing China’s influence in Balochistan in particular and in Pakistan in general.
Indeed, the Senate (upper house of the National Assembly) was informed on November 24, 2017, that 91 per cent of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar port as part of CPEC would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would be left with a nine per cent share in the income for the next 40 years. This was disclosed by the then Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, after senators expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the CPEC long-term agreement plan, with many observing that the agreement tilted heavily in China’s favour. Balochistan will not get a single paisa from the revenue, because ports are a federal subject and no steps were taken to make an exception for the impoverished Balochistan province.
The Gwadar Port is the epicentre of whole of CPEC project in Pakistan, yet the residents of the city have a hard time getting drinking water on a daily basis. In order to address the drinking-water shortage in Gwadar, the Federal Government has announced many desalination plants, but none has yet materialized.
Most of the other CPEC projects are for power generation, as Pakistan was facing a severe power shortage. CPEC projects are expected to generate almost 10,000 megawatts of electricity for the national grid. But again, Balochistan has not benefited from this. Of the 21 electricity-generation plants planned under CPEC, only one is in Balochistan, and that will also supply electricity to the national grid and not exclusively to Balochistan.
Provoked by a sense of deliberate neglect of the province and systematic loot of its natural resources, the Baloch militant groups have been targeting non-Baloch workers and people associated with CPEC. Militants trying to disrupt construction of CPEC projects in Balochistan have killed 66 persons since 2014. According to Colonel Zafar Iqbal, a spokesperson for the construction company Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), “The latest figure has climbed up to 44 deaths and over 100 wounded men on CPEC projects, mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014.” Since September 7, 2016, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), another 22 persons have been killed in different CPEC related projects across the province (till November 4, 2018).
The latest attack, on October 31, came a couple of days before newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s departure for China on a three-day official visit. Khan’s visit evoked considerable interest as it comes in the wake of his past criticism of CPEC projects. On October 6, 2018, Khan declared that Pakistan was reviewing the projects under CPEC to safeguard the interest of the people in Balochistan Province, adding, “Balochistan will get its due share, whatever it may be, in the CPEC.” Unfortunately, the Province has been getting such assurances for a long time, without any visible positive movement on the ground.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management