CPEC A Big Game Changer For Pakistan: A Pipe Dream For People Of Balochistan – OpEd


Paulo Coelho de Souza, an eminent literary figure of Brazil has described the friendship, “ Friendship is not about whom you know the longest. It is about who came and never left.” 

What he said is unique nature of the friendship or relationship between Pakistan and China. The phrase of “iron brothers, higher than mountain, deeper than sea, sweet than honey “ proudly claimed by the two countries reflects the impregnable nature of relations between the two countries since beginning. Pakistan was the first country to recognize China and established diplomatic relations in 1950. They became closer, in the wake of the 1962 Sino-Indian clash followed by Chinese construction of Karakoram Highway in 1966 linking China’s Xinjiang region with Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan role in détente between china and the US particularly Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger secret visit in October 1970, followed by, February 21, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon arrival in China for an official trip. China has become Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and its third-largest trading partner. The long partnership culminated lastly in a flag ship project namely CPEC, which will be game changer for Pakistan.

A recent visit by PM Shebaz Sharif with high level delegation where he met President Xi Jinping and hold delegation-level talks with Premier Li, the two leaders, reaffirming their mutual commitment to the CPEC. According to the PM, the second phase of CPEC promises to usher in a new era of socio-economic progress that will uplift the quality of our people’s lives. In fact, the ground realities are altogether different particularly in the context of Balochistan. CPEC is invisible and no positive impact on the life of people has been witnessed so far in the province. 

Actually,  first phase of CPEC started in the year 2013 when Nawaz Sharif was PM. the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was conceived and designed as the flagship project of (BRI). CPEC, linking Pakistan’s volatile Balochistan province to China’s troubled north-western region of Xinjiang, is central to the Belt and Road initiative. CPEC is an exclusive corridor between Pakistan and China to connect Kashgar with Gwadar deep seaport.

In fact, CPEC will transform China from a one-ocean to a two-ocean power and is a key component in China’s ambitious 65-nation.The value of CPEC projects is worth $65 billion as of 2020. CPEC’s potential impact on Pakistan has been compared to that of the Marshall Plan undertaken by the United States in post-war Europe. Pakistani officials predict that CPEC will create over 2.3 million jobs between 2015 and 2030, and add 2 to 2.5 percentage points to the country’s annual economic growth. 

Over $33 billion worth of energy infrastructure is to be constructed by private consortia to help alleviate Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages, which will amount to over 4,500MW, and have shed an estimated 2-2.5% off Pakistan’s annual gross domestic product. Over 10,400 MW of generating capacity had already been added to the national grid while another batch of projects with a cumulative capacity of nearly 2500MW is near completion under the aegis of CPEC. 

On 20 April 2015, Pakistan and China signed an agreement to commence work on the $46 billion agreement, which is roughly 20% of Pakistan’s annual GDP, with approximately $28 billion worth of fast-tracked “Early Harvest” projects to be developed by the end of 2018. Similarly, six major infrastructure projects were either completed or near completion by the end of 2018, including the Multan-Sukkur Motorway (392 kms), the Havelian-Thakot section of KKH (120 kms), Hoshab-Sorab Road N-85 (449 kms; financed through PSDP), Hakla- DI Khan motorway (297 kms; financed through PSDP), Orange Line Metro train (27 kms), and cross-border optical fibre from Khunjerab to Rawalpindi (820 kms). 

The total investment made in the completed and under-implementation projects stood around $22-23 billion approximately and the Balochistan’s current share under CPEC is only 4.5pc. If we don’t include Gwadar Port and Hubco projects, then Balochistan’s share in CPEC is reduced to a meagre 1pc,” this was disclosed by the chief minister Balochistan on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly in December 2021. 

Balochistan cabinet was left shell-shocked at the end of a briefing on the progress of CPEC projects in the province when it was revealed that no progress has been made in any projects outside Gwadar. The briefing was provided by the CPEC Cell that the Balochistan government has recently established with help from the World Bank. The major finding of the cell was that all projects connected with the western route have seen no progress whatsoever, and the overall size of the portfolio of CPEC projects in Balochistan is miniscule where less than 9 per cent of the total committed, around $5.5b billion, is for the province and less than $1bn has been spent in four years. Of this $1bn, around $200m is accounted for by the Hub power plant. The cabinet members described the CPEC spending thus far as “a joke” and they blasted the previous government for its inaction. 

In the energy sector, the cabinet was informed that the current shortfall of 700MW in the province means that all the new power injected into the grid as a result of CPEC power projects has not found its way to Balochistan due to non-availability of transmission capacity in the existing lines and that Makran Division has still not been connected to the national grid. 

Two projects negotiated by the previous government — Quetta Mass Transit and PAT feeder to Quetta water project — have also been shelved. Further Proposed Railway line from Gwadar, through Basima to Sukkur is still “envisioned” — nothing more. Work on Special Economic Zones initiated in Gawader, Bostan, Lesbila etc are negligible 

However, to pacify the public,  former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated an ADB funded project under the name of the western guy route of (CPEC) in Balochistan’s Zhob in December 2015, in the presence of Mehmood khan Achkzai of PKMAP, Molana Fazal Rehman of JUI and Mian Ifthikar of ANP. The Zhob-Mughal Kot Section is part of the western route of the CPEC which is moving through DI Khan, Zhob, Quetta, Surab and Hoshab, ends at Gwadar but that has never been materialised. 

Meanwhile In the year 2020, Imran khan government approved dualization of 298 kilometers long Kuchlak-Zhob road costing 63 billion and Dualization of Khuzdar Kuchlak’ section of N-25 with a length of 330.52 km. The project will cost Rs. 81,582,219 million, which would be one of the projects in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). but the pace of work is too slow that only 6 km has been completed in two years. 

It is worthwhile to note that CPEC originates from Gawader city of Balochistan but after laps of eighteen years, the deep seaport is neither functional nor properly connected by roads and railways network with rest of the country. Even the Chief Ministers of the province have never been part of strategic level talks between the two countries since beginning, particularly Dr Malik Baloch former CM wasn’t allowed to participate in the initial meetings and processes despite his presence in Islamabad. Further instead of getting its due share in the projects, the province has suffered a lot due to CPEC. On August 8, a blast in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, killed at least 95 people most of them lawyers. The same day Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the then army chief Rahail sharif visited Quetta and labeled the attack an attempt to sabotage the CPEC.  The irony is that CEPEC is visible nowhere in Balochistan. All CPEC related projects are in other provinces particularly in Punjab but blood is shed in Balochistan. 

Further, In the backdrop of global power politics, following BRI and CPEC flagship status in the project has pushed Balochistan into another realm of Indian Ocean’s geo-political competition., US struggling to maintain its influence and conflicting interests of other regional players are the new geo political realities have resulted in a chaotic and downtrodden Balochistan.

Now is the second phase of so-called early harvest projects, two new major projects are included in the CPEC during the recent visit of PM Shehbaz Sharif to China, the Up-gradation and Doubling of Main railway Line-1 (ML-1) from Karachi to Peshawar and Taxila to Havelian (1733 km) with the estimated cost $ 10 billion and the $1.3 billion Karachi Circular Railway project duly approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) but nothing has been heard about Balochistan where CPEC originates. 

Though Balochistan government has expressed concern  over denying its due share in CPEC-related projects time and again but all in futile. Balochistan has been the target of “hybrid warfare” for decades. Balochistan cannot turn into a peaceful haven, insecurity will continue to increase with each passing day. It can only be reversed through sober thinking and wise policies both at federal and provincial levels. Peace and security are linked with human development and human security. Perpetual Violence has caused pain and sufferings to the public in the province. As a result, Balochistan is sliding backward in all walks of life. These all are the fallout of CPEC. The irony is that the ruling elites are using Balochistan as milking cow instead of giving its due share in the country’s development projects and financial resources.  Vices of the public must be heard and their concerns should be addressed. It needs a combined political and social strategy along with change of colonial mindset, so that.  it doesn’t slide completely into a quagmire. 

Sher Khan Bazai, Retired from civil service as Secretary Education. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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