Balochistan National Party Chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal on Saturday said that the multibillion CPEC project is not meant for the progress of Balochistan and that it would transform the Baloch nation into a minority on their own soil.

That the CPEC is not meant for the development of Balochistan is true. The project is not a development fund or a welfare program. Equal allocation of resources and infrastructure has never been in the offing. Like any economic enterprise, the aim is to generate profits and enhance trade for the investor. That Pakistan gets infrastructure, trade links, jobs and boosts to its GDP are almost externalities. There is no grand conspiracy to cheat Balochistan from the benefits of the CPEC. The corridor is a Chinese investment, the benefits of which are largely in their hands to allocation.

Yet, it would be unwise to just dismiss the concern over Balochistan’s share, seeing it repressed and underdeveloped over the years. Even if the CPEC was based just in the province, the project would be subject to power politics, the home of which is the Punjab (as well as susceptible to elite capture within Balochistan). Last year in October, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, chief of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) said that it was important to pass legislation which would protect the people of Balochistan and “not let them become a minority in the port city of Gwadar”. The Federal Government must treat this as in important concern, because unresolved economic conflict can foment insurgencies, and will end up putting the CPEC at risk.

“We are not seeing any development. Even our people do not have access to hospitals for treatment, not to speak of development,” Mengal has lamented. This again cannot be dismissed, the state has to build for social development, but the CPEC is not the sole vehicle for all development and progress in Pakistan. However, Mengal also expressed reservations over the CPEC and the census, which he termed a conspiracy to convert the Baloch nation into a minority, and this perception must be dispelled. The census is absolutely necessary to understand the demographics of Balochistan and to model its economic development. Without the numbers, we are groping in the dark to understand the province and its economic situation.

The situation of the Pakistani economy is improving. While income inequalities will continue to exist, there will be a general improvement of the standard of living of Pakistanis in the coming years. In this scenario, constant criticism of the CPEC is not helpful, and will sabotage our growth trajectory. Instead, activists in Balochistan must demand better welfare policies from the provincial and federal governments.