It is important for the federal government to reach out to people in Balochistan who may be adversely affected by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The government should explain to them the need for the project. More importantly, it is essential for the government to put in every effort to alleviate the hardship of these people.
Regretfully, both aspects are conspicuous by their absence. Naturally, this offers priceless opportunities for dissident elements, as well as opportunists including some politicians, to benefit from the suffering of those affected.
In my article published last week, I had mentioned a conference held on CPEC at Brussels where a documentary was screened about the project’s negative impact on people of the province. We are aware that documentaries can be produced with content picked partially to emphasise a particular aspect of the matter only. Even distorted and exaggerated versions of a story are easy to sell when there may be some truth in accusations and the target audience is receptive, due to the past record of the government.
I am certain that members of the EU Parliament and human rights activists who participated in the conference are respectable and genuinely concerned individuals. But even they can be victims of “perception management”.
I am also firmly of the view that, whatever may be wrong with CPEC, and there is plenty, it must and can be fixed. From the beginning of time and in all recorded history, we see that all great movements of people have resulted in demographic changes.
The US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all seen major demographic shifts. Demographic changes have also taken place in Europe and in our part of the world.
Despite its enormous size and an extremely sparse population (about 12 million), Balochistan has a mix of ethnicities. Pashtun are about 44 percent and Baloch 47 percent of its population. The Baloch include Makranis, Zikris, Baruhis, Rukhsani, Sulaimani, Sindhi, and even Saraiki. The rest include Hazarvis, Hindus, Punjabis, Tajik, and Uzbek etc. These percentages are based on estimated growth in the population since the last census.
Many Baloch tribes like the Lagharis have migrated en masse to other provinces. While numerous Pashtun tribes, like the Raisanis, now insist on being identified as Baloch. Others, like Gabols, have settled in Sindh and identify with that province.
In most developed democracies of the world, taxation is the responsibility of federating units. From the collections made by the federating units, resources are distributed to the centre. In our system, however, the bulk of taxes are collected by the centre and an infinitesimal portion by provinces. Thus, the annual meeting of the National Finance Commission decides how the pot shall be divided between the centre and provinces.
There are several criteria for division of these pooled resources – area, population, and need are the most prominent among these. However, consideration is also given to economic viability.
With its enormous land mass and sparse population, it is unbelievably expensive to ensure provision of basic necessities to all of Balochistan. It has been some years since I last travelled to the interior areas of the province. But when I had visited the region, I saw areas where humans and animals were sharing drinking water from the same source. Some Baloch may have spent their lives without access to potable water. This is criminal negligence on part of the authorities. Gwadar is the port that makes CPEC the corridor that it is. Without Gwadar, the entire concept of the corridor is unviable, and the city of Gwadar has no potable water. What can one say here expect, “water, water everywhere; but not a drop to drink?” What a terrible shame.
I have already recommended to authorities concerned that the entire coastline of Gwadar should be suitably paced with desalination plants. This will not just provide water for drinking purposes but also for agriculture because the soil on the coast is extremely rich – so much so that if agriculture is promoted there, the province can replace Punjab as Pakistan’s granary.
I have also recommended that thousands of small dams should be constructed in catchments of hilly areas as well as in the desert, where the soil is water resistant. The latter could help refill the ages-old underground water supply system called Karez; which has dried up.
Neither the Baloch nor the Pashtuns of the province are an agrarian people any longer. Thus, mass migration will be needed to realise the potential of agriculture in the region. Migration will inevitably lead to a demographic shift, but it will not only enrich the province but also increase its population sufficiently to positively affect its portion of the NFC award.
Is that a prospect which should be opposed?
Some of my other recommendations were for immediate implementation and others were for short-, medium- and long-term. These included suggestions about matters of employment and rehabilitation made to me reluctantly by dissident leaders after hours, days, and weeks of confidence building.
Some of these recommendations have been considered favourably. I have no knowledge about the status of other suggestions.
Indeed, a lot needs to be done for citizens of Balochistan. CPEC might facilitate, even accelerate, these efforts. It can most certainly do no damage to the Baloch people, who are a part of Pakistan’s Balochistan.
The writer is a retired soldier with pretensions of being able to think