CPEC Balochistan and Western Route
We are living in a world that in spite of advancement is also fastened to the barbaric ways that justify annihilation in the name of personal interests. Previously if territorial disputes had torn the world apart, today ideological and cultural differences under the prevailing concept of sovereignty have disrupted the world order. We have never yearned for peace as much as we do today. The new phenomenon of non-state actors has given rise to a faceless enemy who is hard to identify, easy to buy, and capable of causing incalculable and unexpected destruction. Terrorism is a new name of world conflict. Its scourge inflicts almost the entire world and Pakistan is no exception. For the last 15 years, since the start of the war against terror in Afghanistan, Pakistan is struggling to eliminate this menace. Almost 70,000 people have died that includes casualties of army and police officers. It obliterated Pakistan’s economic hub, Karachi into, pieces. It rampaged through our schools killing innocent children. It turned the peaceful terrains of FATA into terror machinery. It diverted our resources from education and health to the capacity building of security and law enforcement forces. Unfortunately, Pakistan has to face conflicts on two fronts, one from India and another from Afghanistan. Now with both joining hands to stop Pakistan from getting its share of global economic development from China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the need is greater than ever to learn, how to avoid war, resolve conflicts and establish peace. In times to come Pakistan, because of its strategic location, and being an essential partner in the CPEC, would rise and shine. And the jewel in this decoration would be Balochistan. Pakistan’s future lies in Balochistan. It is for this very reason that the country should focus on Balochistan, especially the economic, social and political implications of CPEC on the Western Route. Running through one of the toughest and most underdeveloped regions, the Western Route is seen both as the reason for hope and fear for the people living there.
Balochistan is areas-wise the largest and the least populated province of Pakistan. Rich in mineral resources, the province has been the source of comfort and economic activity for the rest of Pakistan. The irony is that the province itself could not savour the benefits of its resources. Most of the blame for this underdevelopment is laid on the tribal chiefs who by design wanted to see their people uncultured, uneducated and poor. However, it was the responsibility of the centre to ensure that Balochistan received its share of socio-economic development. Education, health and law and order were federal subjects until the arrival of 18th Amendment in 2010. Somehow inertia prevailed both in the provincial and federal governments on providing the Baloch their due rights. Consequently, a sense of deprivation led to a feeling, in the natives of Balochistan, that the state was biased and the Punjab-led bureaucracy and military had exploitative relations with Balochistan. These negative feelings against the state, compounded with the insurgency in Balochistan, kept the province politically unstable for decades. Five military operations have been carried out so far to suppress the insurgency. An Army Corps along with police, frontier constabulary and different shades of law enforcement agencies have been put in place to keep Balochistan from withering. Local Lashkars were raised to defeat insurgents, but a toxic mixture of sectarian and Islamist militants made these Lashkars even more deadly. Balochistan saw the worst sectarian killing of the Hazara Shias at the hands of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The group has been largely supressed.
Balochistan today needs more attention than a simple development strategy does. A policy shift to empower the people of Balochistan so that they become the real stakeholders of the project is required. It makes essential for the government to look at the Western Route from five angles. One, the development of economic zones, so that the route does not comprise just roads passing through difficult terrains. Two, development of human resource to give ownership of the project to the locals so that they are directly involved in economic activities. Three, arrangements are made to manage migration and urbanisation. Four, development of a policy framework to handle ethnic and sectarian divide likely to ensue due to in-migration and urbanization. Five, increasing peace prospects with countries that could potentially intervene to disrupt development in Balochistan. India could challenge CPEC in more than one ways.
The question is what kind of peace do we want in Balochistan? A peace obtained by just averting conflicts or insurgency would have no real value. Often oppressive policies leading to the human rights violation are used to enforce such superficial calm. This kind of peace has existed in Balochistan for over seven decades with the result that the province gives a spectacle of a garrison.
What we require today is lasting or positive peace. Peace, resulting from respect for human rights. Peace, incurred from justice dispensed to every person without discrimination. Peace, borne out of maintenance of the rule of law, good governance, and social cohesion. It is this peace that would eventually bring about a sustainable change in Balochistan. No foreign hand would be able to play any negative role to the extent that it annihilates our system if our people have faith in the state and its institutions.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan injustice and institutional and administrative corruption has made people desperate. People take law into their hands without qualms. The powerful make the weak rot in subjugation. Health and education have become so expensive that people survive to eventually die of incurable diseases and a lead a life devoid of knowledge and learning. Such treatment makes people lose their trust in the government.
In this equation, China would be loath to see Pakistan at war with itself. China knows that terrorism will haunt CPEC and that the hostile regional forces would try to sabotage this initiative. But China would have little patience for Pakistan’s policies leading to political instability. The roots of ethnic and sectarian violence are entrenched in the psyche of this nation. One spur and people can start killing one another. Balochistan can be engulfed in this fire easily unless the government in the centre makes Balochistan autonomous under the 18th Amendment and trusts its people for their loyalty towards the state.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.