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Editorial: Balochistan for Sale
Increasing Chinese influence in Balochistan is a matter of concern. Once again, the government of Balochistan and the natives of the province have been utterly snubbed in a major decisionby the federal government to handover the Gwadar Port to China for operational purpose.
This decision is likely to draw much criticism not only from the local people but also from the provincial government. In his initial reaction, the provincial chief minister, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, has expressed total dissatisfactionand anger over Islamabad’s decision. The head of the provincial government said his government had not been taken into confidence by the prime minister while deciding the fate of the Gwadar Port.
“This decision is likely to contribute to Balochistan’s sense of deprivation rather than ending our longstanding poverty and lack of representation in the federation,” said Raisani who also reminded the powerful federal government of an earlier promise made by Prime Minister Gilani that the chief minister of Balochistan would actually be appointed as the chairman of the port. Unfortunately, that decision has not been implemented yet.
Since the inception, the deep-sea port in Gwadar has been a disputed one. The local Baloch leadership resisted the construction of the port by firstly asking the federal government to unearth the terms and conditions of development in the port town. The Balochs insisted that they should be given top most priority in the job opportunities created from the mega project if the government truly believed in economically empowering the people of Balochistan. Concerned about a demographic imbalance,the Balochs also demanded that the non-locals should partner with locals before launching any investment ventures and ‘outsiders’ should be barred from voting rights in Gwadar for at least twenty-five years.
The federal government, on its part, did not pay attention to these basic genuine Baloch demands which eventually led to a major conflict and now a full-fledged secessionist movement.
Over the years, Islamabad and Beijing have been secretly working on “developing” Balochistan. The Baloch view this as exploitation of their natural resources under the pretext of development because the Balochs have not benefited from these development projects. In Gwadar, for example, the bulk of labor force either came from China or rest of Pakistan at the cost of the local people’s employment opportunities. China’s record of labor rights was remained abysmal. Up till now, Chinese explorations at Sandak Gold and Copper Project have remained a mystery. Balochistan barely benefited from its resources.
We fully back the stance of Chief Minister Raisani when he says that the provincial government should control and operate the port at Gwadar. Prior to this decision, there was equal discontent over the handover of the port to the Port of Singapore Authority for forty years. The Balochistan government even complained at a Supreme Court hearing that “the federal government neither considered the reservations of the Balochistan government, nor taken it into confidence.”
Only Balochistann’s control over the port can actually take the province on the path of economic prosperity and financial autonomy. All nationalist political forces should back CM Raisani’s stance on this matter. They should also work together to review the terms and conditions under which the Port of Singapore Authority managed to secure the right to operate the Gwadar Port.
It is extremely disturbing the way Islamabad unilaterally decides the fate of certain mega projects and lands inside Balochistan without even the consent of the local stakeholders. Foreign investment is one thing but deciding the future a controversial project is another thing. Such secrete deals will only antagonize the local people of the conflict-driven province. In the past, Baloch armed groups hadattacked and killed Chinese engineers because of the same reason. If Islamabad does not consult the Baloch and proceed with these high level deals, it is going to irresponsibly compromise the safety of the Chinese. The security of foreign nationals would further be jeopardized if Islamabad annoys the government of Balochistan too.
In the past, Baloch land and major resources were offered to foreign companies, Pakistan army, navy and air force and Arab kings which infuriated parliamentarians and opposition members in the province. Islamabad should stop making Balochistan a scapegoat to cement what it boastfully terms as ‘time-tested sino-Pak relations”.