Dr. Naseer Dashti
CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is one segment of the proposed ‘One Belt One Road’ program of the Chinese government aimed at expanding Chinese economic and strategic influence in Asia. It involves a road and rail link from the Baloch town of Gwadar to Western Chinese city of Kashgar. Several special economic zones will be established along the entire length of the Corridor. The Baloch have been expressing their reservations on this project. The majority of them consider this as a corridor of death and destruction for the Baloch as they believe that it will cause drastic socio-cultural, economic and political changes in Balochistan leading to a crisis of existence for the Baloch.
CPEC in context
The development of Gwadar as a deep sea port was originally envisaged in 1990s. In order to counter the emerging Sindhi nationalist movement, the state establishment in 1980s manufactured a militant political organization, the MQM. This party drew its support from the Urdu speaking Indian immigrants, who settled in Sindh after the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and became part of the ruling alliance of the state along with the military and religious elite. However, after some years, the MQM evolved as a Frankenstein monster and the only port city in Pakistan, Karachi, became hostage to its criminal activities. Intermittent strikes and blockade of the only outlet for the transport of goods to and from the Punjab was perceived as a grave threat to the survival of the state. As an alternative to Karachi, it was decided that Gwadar should be developed as a deep sea port and connected with Punjab via Rathodero thus bypassing Karachi.
After the 9/11 events in the United States, the relationship between the Pakistani establishment and the West deteriorated because the Western establishments became suspicious about the actual designs of Pakistani military in their war against terrorism. Many in the West believed that Pakistani security agencies are supporting Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant organizations and they are freely using Pakistan as a base in order to carry out subversive activities in Afghanistan, India and other parts of the world. In this context, the military establishment of Pakistan decided to shift its loyalty from the Western powers to the emerging economic and military power of China. Gwadar was offered to China as a naval base and economic centre linking the Persian Gulf to its western border, in exchange for military and economic aid. In the second decade of 21stcentury, the concept of this link road was further expanded and named as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Possible impacts of CPEC on the Baloch and Balochistan
The proposed economic zones affiliated with CPEC need thousands of workers and the infra-structure needs thousands of operators. It is certain that there will be no employment opportunity for the Baloch neither in the work force nor in the security apparatus of CPEC. In other words, thousands of people from outside Balochistan will be brought in and the majority of these will settle permanently. In 2002, the Pakistani Finance Minister Shoukat Aziz disclosed that 2.5 million people will be settled in Gwadar region after the completion of Gwadar deep sea port. It should be noted that at that time there was no perception of a CPEC. So far, about 90 percent land in Gwadar district has already been acquired by the armed forces or purchased by Punjabi businessmen or Pakistanis settled in Europe and North America. The military establishment in the name of national security has acquired lands not only in Gwadar district but also thousands of acres of land on both sides of the CPEC road and rail links routes. These will be developed as housing complexes and business centres run by the military, bringing thousands of outsiders into Balochistan. The demographic balance has already shifted against the Baloch with the settlement of nearly 2 million Afghan immigrants in northern Balochistan since 1980s. It will change dramatically with the influx of up to another three million Pakistanis from other parts of the country. After a few decades or so, the Baloch will become a minority.
For the last 70 years, the Baloch faced the cultural onslaught of Pakistani state. Their history, socio-cultural traditions, and religious beliefs have been controlled or distorted. The Balochi language is on the verge of extinction. A North Indian religious narrow mindedness and superfluous cultural traditions are being imposed on the Baloch. This is tantamount to cultural genocide of a whole community and has been justified in the name of Muslim Brotherhood. The purpose of this cultural aggression is to dilute the Baloch national sentiments in order to weaken their national resistance against the repressive and exploitative measures of the state. The introduction of CPEC will be a double whammy for the Baloch. It will accelerate the pace of on-going cultural imperialism with resultant changes in social outlook, political future, and economic prospects, thus endangering the survival of the Baloch as a national entity for ever.
The Baloch believe that the economic exploitation of Balochistan is among the main objectives of the CPEC. The Chinese firms have already depleted a vast area in Chagai district of gold and uranium deposits. It is an open secret that the CPEC is not only a transit route for Chinese goods, but also an easy way to exploit the huge natural resources of Balochistan. Taking into consideration the track record of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources in African countries by the Chinese, there is no doubt that within a few years, Balochistan will be exhausted of its precious resources plunging any future generations of the Baloch into further economic misery.
The significant political impact of CPEC would be on the Baloch struggle for national sovereignty. After the incorporation of Balochistan into Pakistan in 1948, there has been a protracted conflict between the Baloch and the Pakistani state. CPEC will cause further escalation of this conflict with its accompanying devastations.
As the Baloch view CPEC as an assault on their national interests, it is certain that they will resist it with all the strength they can muster. The Pakistani army has already announced a ten thousand strong special force to ensure the security of the route. There will be a military check point every 20 Kilometres. Several Baloch settlements in Kech and Awaran districts have already been destroyed by the security forces in their scorched-earth policy in order to eliminate any danger to the route. Already in many power circles of Pakistan there are talks of settling the Baloch population away from the CPEC routes. Many among the Baloch fear that in the name of securing the routes, the Baloch population will ultimately end up in reserved areas.
The Baloch political parties are under tremendous pressure from the security agencies and any voice raised against CPEC has been officially declared as anti-state and anti-Islamic. To counter the Baloch national resistance, the policy of the ruling Pakistani army has been to depend on the support of social outcasts, tribal non-entities and religious extremists since the occupation of Balochistan in 1948. In the process, the authorities have created and patronised several religious and sectarian organizations. Drug dealers in Balochistan are not only partners with the army in their business but are also involved in attacking and harassing of family members of the Baloch nationalist activists. In the contemporary conflict, numerous death squads responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder of nationalist activists are composed of social outcasts, convicted individuals, drug dealers and religious fanatics under the active supervision of security agencies.
The obsession with the security of CPEC by the army is bound to result in the complete curbing of nationalist political activities, the ultimate supremacy of religious extremists and rogue elements will be established on the Baloch political scene within foreseeable future.
Balochistan as the centre piece of a new “Great Game”
CPEC is not only an economic project, but also the part of Chinese strategic ambition. China has emerged as a global competitor with wide ranging economic and strategic interests, which threatens the existing unchallenged Western supremacy.
The new ally of the West, India, perceives the leasing out of Gwadar port to China as part of the Chinese design to encircle it and curb the Indian economic and strategic influence in Central Asia and the Gulf. The planned route passes through the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir, which India consider as its integral parts. India’s Prime Minister and other officials have on many occasions termed the corridor as “unacceptable”.
For all practical purposes, the loss of their overwhelming influence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is unthinkable for the West. It is certain that serious counteraction is being planned in Western capitals against the Chinese onslaught on their vital economic and strategic interests. These measures will certainly initiate a ruthless power game between China and the West in the region.
During 19th century, in order to gain political and strategic influence, a “great game” of espionage and subversion, was played between the Czarist Russia and the British Empire in Central Asia and the Middle East. The aim of this protracted tussle between the two great powers of the day was to contain each other’s influence. Russians were afraid of British flirtation with its Muslim population in Central Asia, while the British were fearful of the Russian advances towards India and Persia. In the grinding jaws of these great adversaries, several nations, countries and communities faced occupation, division and socio-economic misery. As a casualty of this great game, Balochistan was occupied by the British, and it was subsequently divided between Iran, Afghanistan and the British India.
With the advent of CPEC, it appears that history is repeating itself for the Baloch. This time, it is the West under the leadership of the United States versus the emerging China. A great game with new players but on the same turf, is about to begin.
This new “great game” in the region will undoubtedly bring unimaginable misery to the Baloch. With the intensification of the conflict, the Pakistani response will be increased atrocities, and ruthless suppression of any nationalistic activities on the part of the Baloch, coupled with more funding and patronization of religious elements among the Baloch. Perhaps the Baloch nationalists may get some kind of material support from quarters opposed to the Chinese influence in the region; however, it would be quite simplistic at this stage to believe that the Western powers are going to support an independent united Balochistan. If the support for the Baloch nationalists would be just to disturb or delay the Chinese advance, then the result for the Baloch as a national entity would be catastrophic. The net result would be that Balochistan would be converted into a war zone, where civil strife and the great power’s tug of war would result in the mincing of the Baloch people.
CPEC: the corridor of death and destruction?
For the Baloch, CPEC is a deadly poisonous arrow aimed at their bare chest and they are not in a position to duck it. For them, this project will create existential challenges. In Balochistan, the majority of Baloch analysts are visualizing a scenario after a few decades of the completion of CPEC. They are visualizing that the coastal towns of Balochistan becoming attractive places for Chinese tourists. They are visualizing that there would be numerous industrial establishment with their own townships throughout Balochistan. The shops and high streets of these townships would be bustling with different kinds of business activities but there will be no Baloch in sight. The historical account of once a proud nation, who happened to be the master of this land, would end up as a myth.
(The writer is the author of numerous publications on socio-historical and political issues relating to Balochistan and South Central Asia. His latest book is “The Baloch Conflict with Iran and Pakistan: aspects of a national liberation struggle”.)
Article was published in Balochistantimes.com