By Saima Afzal
China-Pakistan are strategic allies, their friendship is taken as deeper than the Ocean and higher than the Mountains. Since the launch of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it has been remained the center of gravity among Asian analysts. Exponents of this project in China and Pakistan viewed CPEC as a “game changer” that will reshape the economic geography of the region. However, critics of this project across the globe depict it as a part of China’s debt trap diplomacy in Asia.
First, they blame the current financial crisis on the loans acquired for the CPEC projects and the ensuing payments of these loans, secondly, they say the previous government did not negotiate CPEC terms properly and gave Chinese companies tax breaks, which have disadvantaged local companies and lastly they believe the roads and other communication networks will only benefit Chinese traders who will be able to move their goods cheaply with Pakistan deriving only meagre benefits. In the same vein, the analysts compare Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port to Pakistani Gwadar port and CPEC project as a part of debt trap to financially paralyzed the states for China’s dependence. The following points may highlight the CPEC as a Debt Trap or Game Change for the region and particularly for Pakistan.
Strategic Importance of Balochistan for China
Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, is a junction point of South Asia, Central Asia, and a gateway to the Middle East. The abundance of natural resources enhances its importance as a center of gravity for regional powers including Afghanistan, China, and Iran. It is the largest province of Pakistan, composes 42% of the total land area, but the population density is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water.
The economy of the province is largely based upon the production of natural gas, coal, and minerals. The province’s natural resources significantly help to meet the energy needs of Pakistan as a whole. Over the years, the deprivation of Balochistan has caused several uprisings against the federal government due to its natural resources. It is still the least developed region of the country. Efforts have been made by the different governments to address the grievances of the Baloch people through various development projects.
CPEC game Changer or debt Trap
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship of the Belt and Road initiative launched in 2015. Various analysts viewed it as a game-changer because of its connectivity plan and regional markets from China to South Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. CPEC aims at promoting economic development and inter-regional connectivity which are partially achieved with both infrastructural, industrial, and socio-economic development projects, especially in Balochistan. Its strategic location increases its importance not only in Pakistan but also across the globe. Therefore, the CPEC project has the potential to open new avenues of socio-economic development and employment opportunities for the masses of Balochistan. It has been assessed that the project will contribute to the development of the whole province and address various economic and social problems of Baluchistan. Gwadar would also soon be transformed into an economic hub after the completion of several projects under the CPEC. It stresses that CPEC could be a game changer for Balochistan people if fully utilized with cooperation.
CPEC Impact On Balochistan
Balochistan in general, and Gwadar in particular, is the linchpin of CPEC. It is being successfully implemented in Balochistan. The Gwadar port and Balochistan are at the nerve center of this corridor. Few states assume that in Gwadar port China’s strategic design is to strengthen its maritime power in the Indian Ocean, both in terms of commercial and naval, thus adding to Beijing’s “string of pearls” including in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, and Seychelles; under BRI, this string of ports will extend across the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Africa, and the Mediterranean. In the same vein, the completion of projects under the CPEC is going to change the socio-economic landscape of Balochistan and it will be at par with other developed areas in Pakistan. However, various nefarious elements have always opposed development in Baluchistan. They are also opposing and targeting CPEC with false propaganda and creating a sense of negativity in Baloch about CPEC. These vested interests and selfish elements want to continue deciding the fate of the Baloch people by keeping them under-developed, uneducated, and economically dependent.
Pakistan’s Perception on CPEC
However, in the changing geopolitical environment of the region, Pakistan is desirous to strengthen itself domestically and bring a change to the much-needed province of Balochistan. The restive province has been remained much neglected due to various factors including political, administrative, security, and lack of funds. Some Baloch assume China as a colonial power that wanted to occupy Gwadar their resources and land due to the lack of Chinese communication and interaction with the local people thus adding to their fear of being colonized. However, large numbers of Baloch people are hopeful that CPEC would bring jobs, employment, and economic activity to them. This would make it difficult for the spoilers to exploit youth against the state.
In the nutshell, for the further enhancement of the economic situation of the province, a comprehensive provincial development strategy for Balochistan is required which outlines the key areas of investment for inclusive growth and provides the roadmap for integrated development in the province. It is a need of the hour that Balochistan people should involve more and more in development projects like CPEC and should address their grievances by providing them job opportunities in public sectors, giving special waivers, and increasing the education quota in universities. If these issues related to Baloch grievances would be addressed, it will further widen the gap between the state and the Baloch community. The perception of China’s debt trap diplomacy also need to address because CPEC type projects are essential to uplift the economic development of most deprived areas like Balochistan.
* The writer is an Islamabad Analyst and her expertise are South Asia, Indo-Pacific and security and can be contacted at [email protected].