A Gateway to Prosperity in Balochistan – OpE – Eurasia Review
In a developing economy, the arrival of foreign investment means the same thing as oxygen for living beings. The case is the same with Balochistan, Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Baluchistan is a facility-less province of Pakistan and CPEC is a game-changer for the fate of the province. Thanks to the CPEC, a large amount of foreign investment is landed here, which is enough to develop the socio-economic conditions of the province. It also connects the province to many regional states which will improve trade, employment and tourism in the province. In a nutshell, the CPEC projects will address the socio-economic problems faced by the inhabitants.
In order to understand CPEC, one needs to know about the “Beijing Consensus” – a Chinese economic model, under which the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) was launched. CPEC is a BRI flagship project that starts in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and ends in Gwadar Balochistan. This project consists of the creation of special economic zones (ZES), massive investments in energy projects, railways and roads and the agricultural sector. It includes 9 special economic zones (SEZ), 4 of which are priority. “Bostan Economic Zone” is a Baluchistan-based SEZ that covers an area of 1,000 acres, located in “Pishin” district bordered by Quetta, Qila Saifullah, Ziarat and Qila Abdullah.
Speaking of Balochistan, this province constitutes 5% of the Pakistani population or 13 million and the largest area of the country is the poorest and at the same time the richest in its wealth of natural resources. Its coastline stretches for 750 km, which represents 70% of Pakistan’s coastline. Due to the lack of industry and few employment and business opportunities, the per capita income and average household income are very low. According to the Asian Development Bank (AfDB), the poverty rate stands at 47% in Balochistan. Female education is 16% compared to 32% in the rest of the provinces of Pakistan. In addition, agriculture and animal husbandry are the main sources of income and more than half of the working population is engaged in agriculture.
CPEC offers multi-faceted opportunities for disadvantaged Balochistans. It helps Balochistan by increasing economic, political, social and technological avenues. Infrastructure development, creation of new sources of economic activity, energy projects, optimal use of resources, communications and transport, housing and amenities, efficient management of water resources, education and recreation are some of the areas that could be improved through this project. Moreover, the socio-economic development of the province is linked to this multi-billion project which would contribute to the restoration of harmony in the regional context.
In addition to this, ‘Gwadar’ means the ‘air door’while keeping in mind the benefits of CPEC, it wouldn’t be wrong to say ‘Gwadar’- ‘a doorway to prosperity and progress’. In this context, the smart city of Gwadar has a number of projects ranging from a primary school to an international airport and an industrial zone that would change the fate of Balochistan as multiple crossings will be built to properly connect this vast province. Gwadar’s projects will also solve its water problem by installing desalination plants as well as sewage treatment plants. Moreover, Balochistan is enriched with natural resources such as the production of dried fruits, gold, copper, petroleum, gemstones and chromite. The export of all these elements would contribute to the national economy and the growth of the national GDP. According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Baluchistan has more than 80 mineral resources with significant deposits. Some have been discovered, while most are waiting to be explored.
While considering the regional value, its importance can be gauged by the fact that through CPEC, Balochistan is connected to China, Russia and Central Asian states. Russia’s hot water access, China’s trading activities through the deep port of Gwadar, and energy import from energy-rich Central Asian states, to overcome the country’s energy shortage , will help increase the value of CPEC. In this creative process, the role played by the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) is commendable. The army has put all its resources for the construction and protection of the corridor at the disposal of the nation while the FWO has also been urged to act to build new sections of roads in Balochistan.
Coming to an end, the projects worthy of the CPEC have been oriented towards the upliftment of the socio-economic sectors of the province as well as the country. The creation of “ZES” will attract foreign investors and industrialists, which will create more employment opportunities for the inhabitants. Similarly, local manufacture will lead to “no imports” and, furthermore, exemption from duties. With improved intra-state road infrastructure, inter-state connectivity will also be improved. In addition, the standard of living of the inhabitants will be improved, which will help them to get out of poverty. Thus, this satisfactory image of the CPEC ensures the prosperity of the backward province.
*Ahmed Saeed is an analyst based in Islamabad, Pakistan.