Gwadar can never be more important to anyone the way it is to the Baloch people. China may have strategic and economic interests in Gwadar but for the Baloch it is their motherland
Balochistan is in the limelight but the Baloch and their wishes are ignored. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the centre of interest for China, Pakistan and, naturally, the world as all perceive it according to the strategic and economic advantages and disadvantages it holds for them. Whatever importance it may hold for others, it is extremely important for the Baloch whose lives it will destroy in the name of ‘development’. The CPEC is crucial to China strategically and to Pakistan as the implementer of the plan but their views differ from the Baloch who are generally seen as obstacles.
China is risking its money and prestige on this project and, therefore, wants to know how the Baloch view it. I was recently asked some questions in this regard and the answers are as follows:
What is the Baloch opinion about the CPEC? The Baloch do not view the CPEC favourably because they see it as an instrument to deny the Baloch their rights under the excuse of development. The Baloch people realise that the CPEC will put paid to their majority in Balochistan due to the tremendous influx of outsiders and this will sound the death knell for all the political, economic and social rights they have struggled and sacrificed so much for.
The Baloch fears are not unfounded. After President Xi Jinping promised $ 46 billion in investments for the energy corridor projects, it materialised as a serious threat to Baloch lives and Baloch rights as never before. The reason for this was that to guarantee the investors’ full returns the Pakistani establishment promised a severe crackdown on the Baloch who resent the exploitation of their resources. To ensure the success of their crackdown the Pakistani army announced that it would establish a Special Security Division (SSD) consisting of nine battalions of the army and six battalions of the civilian forces, and that it may extend Operation Zarb-e-Azb (the military operation going on in North Waziristan) to Balochistan. These measures indicate that repression in Balochistan will intensify. Already there have been instances of extreme violence in Mashkai, Awaran and other places. The Baloch people see the CPEC as very disadvantageous, detrimental and inauspicious for them, their interests and their future.
What do the Baloch people want from the CPEC and, in particular, the development of Gwadar? There are Baloch people and there are Baloch people; those like Dr Abdul Malik and his ilk simply want a share in the crumbs that will be the share of the Baloch from the bonanza that the CPEC is expected to be for China and Pakistan. Then there are the Baloch people who have resisted the illegal annexation of Balochistan by Pakistan on March 27, 1948 and have resisted the encroachment on their rights in the name of development and progress ever since.
The Baloch people resisted the so-called development of Gwadar even before the CPEC because they saw outsiders swamp it. They saw the land grab that began and they feared this would completely change the demographic balance by putting them out on a limb. The Baloch have not limited their resentment over Gwadar to words alone but have physically resisted it and that itself says a lot about their stance on the development of Gwadar.
What is the feeling of the Baloch people towards the Chinese? The Baloch people naturally view with suspicion all those who help Pakistan either militarily or economically vis-à-vis the Baloch people; this suspicion and resentment extends towards both China and the US for their roles in Balochistan. As China has become an increasingly active investor in Balochistan, this resentment has risen and the CPEC has made people identify China with the brutalities that are being committed by Pakistan in the name of development.
Chinese involvement in Saindak copper and gold mines too has always been viewed with hostility as it is seen as depriving the Baloch people of their resources and them getting nothing in return. The condition of the locals in and around Saindak has not changed and, on top of it all, the fear of environmental hazards created by mining has not endeared China to the Baloch people one bit.
How are the Baloch people communicating their concerns and requests to the Pakistani government? As I have said above, there are Baloch people and there are Baloch people. Those like Dr Abdul Malik do not question any action by the Pakistani government that is detrimental to Baloch interests because they have their personal advantages and benefits to look after. They do make adverse comments as Abdul Malik did regarding the route of the CPEC but that is just posturing for political capital. The fact is that they are powerless and irrelevant because they have no part in the decision making process in Balochistan.
The others who oppose all exploitation of Baloch resources in the name of development are not even allowed to present their views and activists who raise a voice against injustices disappear; thousands have gone missing with nearly 3,000 of them being killed and dumped. All websites raising the issues of Baloch rights are banned. Seminars arranged in Lahore, Karachi, etc, to highlight the plight of the Baloch people are officially cancelled so the only option then left to them is to physically resist, and that is what they do.
Gwadar is very important to the Chinese. How important is it to the people of Balochistan? Gwadar can never be more important to anyone the way it is to the Baloch people. China may have strategic and economic interests in Gwadar but for the Baloch it is their motherland. Moreover, they feel and understand that Gwadar is inextricably connected to their future prosperity and, for that reason, they have resisted encroachments on it in the past and are resisting now too. The Gwadar land grab that began when plans for its development were initiated in the year 2000 was so rampant that billboards inviting people to buy land could be seen in Lahore. However, it was the resistance by the Baloch people that eventually curbed it. That land grab in Gwadar awakened the Baloch to the conditions that will prevail along the route of the CPEC in Balochistan and the dire consequences that it will hold for them by turning them into an insignificant minority. The Baloch people want everyone to know that they are not easily giving up their Gwadar, their future, to anybody either for money or because of brute force, both of which are being employed liberally by Pakistan to make them forsake it.