In a recent visit to the Thar coal power project, members of the parliamentary committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) expressed their delight at the vast potential of Thar as a power source of Pakistan. This is the same region that has been in the news for over a decade for its severe drought, famine, lack of access to healthcare and education, and last but not the least over 331 children dead just in the last 11 months due to starvation and disease. The health minister of Sindh has been scrambling to make excuses for his party’s poor governance, blaming the media for ‘exaggerating’ the dire situation. Strange that the region is the ‘energy future of Pakistan’, when its future has been dying from starvation.

The only silver lining is that that the people of Tharparker will benefit from the power projects, but one cannot be optimistic of any economic benefits being shared with the locals in light of the past performance of the state projects to extract Balochistan’s natural resources. The project is said to complete in 2018 generating 1,330 MW of electricity from the indigenous coal mines from Thar, bringing prosperity to not just Thar but the entire nation. The committee members have requested that the authorities hire local labourers and provide jobs so their standard of living may increase. Other suggestions also include establishing a technical training institute for youth so that they may get the skill set required to work in the power project. While the commercial exploitation of natural gas at Sui began in 1954 and was first supplied to Punjab, it took almost thirty years for the project’s benefits to trickle down to Balochistan. Natural gas reached Quetta only in 1984 and 1985. How long will take it for coal to start benefitting the people of Thar?

Most likely Thar will be no different than Balochistan. The resources will be used extensively and the people of Thar will be employed as labourers at best in coal-powered plants, bearing the brunt of the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and energy production. Are the people of Thar destined to play their part in the larger scheme of things to make Thar the solution to the entire county’s energy crisis, while being too crippled to resolve their own? Maybe this time, things will be different. It will require that Thar local problems be solved as an end in themselves. CPEC investment will not guarantee egalitarian outcomes, only economic exploitation in the garb of the myth of trickle-down economics.