Sunday, May 28, 2017

China woos Pacific nations for Silk Road

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/05/29/china-woos-pacific-nations-silk-road

Fiji has signed up for China's One Belt One Road plan and a Pacific Island Forum official believes the program holds great potential for the region.

Source: 

AAP

29 MAY 2017 - 12:06 PM  UPDATED 4 HOURS AGO

Struggling Pacific island nations who aren't feeling much love from Australia, are being wooed by China to be part its ambitious project building bonanza.

Fiji has already signed up for the Chinese government's One Belt One Road Initiative and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama joined 28 other world leaders at a recent Beijing summit on the new Silk Road plan.

It's an ambitious infrastructure building spree on land and across oceans linking parts of Asia, Eurasia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe aimed at boosting trade, economic growth and cutting transit time for goods.

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There's $US1.3 trillion ($A1.8 trillion) worth of projects already in the pipeline.

It's open to all countries, not just those physically on the ancient land and sea trade routes.

The Pacific Island Forum's representative in China, David Morris said nations were looking for opportunities to boost their fisheries, mining and tourism industries, increase trade as well as shipping and air connections, transport and communications infrastructure.

"This does hold great potential," Mr Morris said.

"Pacific island countries are very remote from major markets, they are not well served by transport and communications links at present, although there is progress being made."

But Mr Morris said Pacific countries were conscious about debt levels.

"All of the governments are aware of the need to balance debt with economic development," he said.

In 2009 Tonga's debt to China was $US100.4 million ($A132.9 million), which was equivalent to one-third of its national income.

China's influence in the Pacific is growing and between 2006-2016 200 aid projects were showered with $US1.8 billion.

According to a Lowy Institute interactive tracker map, Chinese aid to Fiji has already gazumped Australia's contribution.

Beijing's aid to Samoa and Tonga is close to outstripping Canberra's assistance.

Mr Morris said Pacific island nations are proudly independent and don't see their relationships with China and other western countries like Australia through a competitive lens.

"There's no doubt Australia doesn't think much about its neighbourhood and the neighbourhood knows that," he said.

Australia's engagement with its Pacific neighbours is something Labor's defence spokesman Richard Marles has flagged should be ramped up.

But he's relaxed about China's growing ties with Pacific island countries.

"The countries of the Pacific have a right to engage with the rest of the countries of the world... and make friends elsewhere," Mr Marles told the National Press Club in Canberra last week.

"Sometimes there's a presumption that (Australia) is the only dog in the woods."

New Zealand is also among the 68 countries to sign up to One Belt One Road, but Australia is yet to join.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop briefed the national security committee of the cabinet about China's grand scheme but ministers were not convinced of the benefits of participation, The Australian reported

Balochistan gets 24 of 33 water schemes mentioned in budget

https://www.dawn.com/news/1336006/balochistan-gets-24-of-33-water-schemes-mentioned-in-budget

Kalbe AliUpdated about 2 hours ago

ISLAMABAD: Out of 33 water development schemes identified in the federal budget for next year, 24 have been earmarked for Balochistan, which include construction of dams or canals and feasibility studies for new projects and improvements in the existing ones.

The water-related projects mentioned in the budget include three for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two each for Sindh and Punjab.

Besides, there are 19 ongoing water schemes for Balochistan, but Senator Saifullah Magsi has accused the incumbent government of playing with figures.

“This is nothing short of deception — only to show that development activities continue in Balochistan, but I am confident that none of the new schemes will materialise because this government releases funds for Punjab-based projects only,” Senator Magsi added.

ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

While, the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2017-18 has two national level water projects, including rehabilitation and modernisation of the Sukkur barrage.

The total cost of this project is estimated at Rs16.16 billion which includes foreign funding too. However Rs10 million has been allocated for the project in the budget 2017-18.

The other national level project in the budget 2017-18 is strengthening the technical capacity of the office of the Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Water, with at a cost of Rs635.36m, while Rs50m has been allocated for the project in the current budget.

A vast majority of new water related projects are for Balochistan, including Rs50m for studies of Burj Aziz Khan Dam, located near Quetta for water supply to the provincial capital. The government has allocated Rs50m for a feasibility study of Badinzai dam near Zhob and Rs50m for the construction of 200 small check dams for groundwater recharge in Quetta.

The other water related schemes for the province are Abato Daisara & Sanzaia dam, Chaman — Rs50m has been allocated for it in the budget and Rs50m for construction of a dam in the Aghburg area, Quetta.

Mara Tangi dam, will be constructed in District Loralai. Out of its total cost of Rs450m half will be financed through foreign funding. Similarly, small storage dams in Rud Mullazai area, District Pishin, will be constructed at a cost of Rs300m and half of it is foreign funding.

The government has allocated Rs50m for Dosi dam, Gwadar. Extension of Pat Feeder canal for utilisation of Indus Water is part of the Balochistan Package-III.

Several other water projects in Balochistan include construction of Delay Action dam in Nushki district, Tuk Storage dam in Wadh of Khuzdar district, Kangori Storage dam in Shah Noorani area in Khuzdar district, Garah Storage dam in Wadh and Bohir Mass Storage dam in Wadh, Khuzdar district.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2017

Why China’s Great Leap Into Kashmir Is An Own-Goal

http://m.huffingtonpost.in/pranesh-prasad/why-china-s-great-leap-into-kashmir-is-an-own-goal/


 29/05/2017 8:48 AM IST | Updated 3 hours ago

Pranesh Prasad

CAREN FIROUZ / REUTERS

The Indian government's decision to boycott the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has resulted in much debate, with most commentators either castigating or praising the official position. The government's decision is based on two key concerns —

On grounds of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, particularly because BRI's flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the illegally occupied Gilgit-Baltistan region and Pakistani-held Kashmir.The fact that the BRI initiative is not transparent and its supposed economic benefits could not possibly be balanced and equitable.

The government can be lauded for not blindingly giving in to Chinese rhetoric about inclusive growth and also for providing a reality check to the countries that have lined up for soft Chinese loans. The government understands that the project is really about Chinese peace, prosperity, well-being and global leadership, at the expense of India. That is why CPEC is its flagship project. By increasing connectivity through disputed areas and throughout Pakistan, China is killing many birds with one stone, including neutralising India's Cold Start doctrine.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is god-sent to India

However, both the government and its critiques have failed to acknowledge that the CPEC is actually god sent to an increasingly besieged India for two reasons —

Firstly, because it allows India to turn the argument into one where Indian participation is contingent upon China taking steps to embrace democracy, pluralism, human rights, rule of law and abiding by established international rules. This way, not only the absence of democracy in China and the plight of Tibetans can be highlighted but also the hypocrisy of those who disregard such matters in the hope of gaining business. Moreover, this clears the way for an alternative principled connectivity-based path that India can champion and through which equal alliances can be established.

Secondly, and crucially, CPEC has rendered obsolete the essential demand which forms the core of the Pakistani grievance since 1948 regarding Kashmir, by what can only be labelled as the China-Pakistan Own Goal masquerading as an economic corridor. And, that is the demand of a plebiscite — something which Pakistanis have always harped on, internationally, ever since an inexperienced Nehru administration committed the folly of taking the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations on 1 January 1948.

CPEC has rendered obsolete the essential demand which forms the core of the Pakistani grievance since 1948 — the demand of a plebiscite.


China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ensures unfairness and partiality

For a plebiscite to be held in Kashmir, essential preconditions are a must and include fairness and impartiality. Clearly, the Pakistani establishment has never been fair and impartial in Kashmir, and with China entering the fray as its dominant economic partner, even those who are only indoctrinated in Pakistani ideology will have to dig deep to justify that fairness and impartiality are the hallmarks of the Pakistan-China relationship.

Naturally, it is then valid to ask how CPEC ensures that a plebiscite is rendered impossible in Kashmir. Simply because, to protect Chinese economic interests, Pakistan will have to increase the number of security personnel in Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as in the part of Kashmir which they are occupying illegally. And, to ensure that Pakistan is looking after their interests, the Chinese will have to send in more troops too. As such, the UN Security Council Resolution 47 will not only be further violated by Pakistan but also a meddling third-party — China, which is engaged in unconscionable conduct by undertaking business in illegally occupied land. This then pretty much ensures that the precondition of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir can never be put into effect.

But, rather than boxing it in through Chinese and Pakistani design, the CPEC has provided India the opening she was looking for.


It's all about Kashmir

🔴With a plebiscite no longer an option, there is basically one reality — Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir will never be returned to India. And, the only political solution is to turn the Line of Control into a permanent border. Could it be then that this is what both Pakistan and China really want and the strategy in the form of CPEC is to eventually make India realize that the military option is permanently off the table. And, then India can start negotiating on Kashmir? If it were that simple, the political solution would already be in place. Rather,🔷 CPEC is another strategy in the battle for Kashmir.🔷 It will place Pakistan in a position of permanent dependence on China. And, with that established, the rogue state can make more disruptions in Indian Kashmir. In light of this, the

🔴 CPEC is about changing the terms of the Kashmir dispute — India will now potentially be fighting Chinese and Pakistani interests permanently.

But, rather than boxing it in through Chinese and Pakistani design, the CPEC has provided India the opening she was looking for — that Kashmir is in danger because of CPEC; that Pakistan is not pro-Kashmir; and India more than Pakistan stands for Kashmiri rights as only she can safeguard generations from being swallowed up by debt owed to China.

India needs to fix its own house in Kashmir through a series of measures, including articulating properly the detrimental consequences of CPEC on Kashmir, taking steps to connect and integrate Kashmir with the rest of India, creating jobs and empowering the Kashmiri people.


Through CPEC, it is clear yet again that China lacks international diplomacy finesse, for she keeps on overplaying her hand in international relations in an effort to cement national pride — the South China Sea dispute, and now the strategy to constrain India.

The way forward

It must be stressed that creating trouble in parts of CPEC by utilising the Balochi's will be a zero sum outcome. Rather, India needs to fix its own house in Kashmir through a series of measures, including articulating properly the detrimental consequences of CPEC on Kashmir, taking steps to connect and integrate Kashmir with the rest of India, creating jobs and empowering the Kashmiri people. However, most importantly, India actually needs to live up to its claim of being a secular country. If people are free and safe, then they simply won't look to Pakistan and China for support and one does not have to be an economist to know that that is a prerequisite for Indian prosperity



Pak budget has clear Chinese footprint-Experts

http://wap.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/pak-budget-has-clear-chinese-footprint-experts-117052900230_1.html



ANI | Islamabad/Lahore [Pakistan] May 29, 2017 11:22 AM IST

Financial and economic experts in Pakistan have said that budget proposals announced for fiscal 2017-18, have a clear and visible Chinese footprint.

A majority believe the budget is more or less an extension of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, reports the Dawn in an op-ed.

They see it as an attempt by the government to complete as far as possible all CPEC-related energy and road development projects before heading into the 2018 elections to secure an endorsement from voters.

Using the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) as a medium to divert funds for the CPEC-related projects, Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has, according to these experts, set aside Rs.180 billion - or slightly less than a fifth of the total budget outlay for CPEC projects.

A detailed study of the budget clearly indicates that energy and road development projects, directly or indirectly linked with the CPEC, will consume a better part of the cash allocated for the PSDP.

The highest priority has been given to the transport and communication sector with an allocation of Rs.411 billion, including Rs.320 billion for highways.

The energy sector has been allocated Rs.401 billion.

China has also emerged as the single largest lender of money to Pakistan ever since the two countries decided to undertake the CPEC project a little more than two years back.

Beijing will provide loans of Rs.168.3 billion, including Rs.1.3 billion as grants for the international airport and a vocational training centre in Gwadar.

Over 55 percent of the Chinese loan, or Rs.93.4 billion, is meant for the Orange Line Metro Train project in Lahore.

The amount of Chinese loans booked in next year's budget is more than 26 percent greater than the loans of Rs.132.8 billion received from Beijing in fiscal 2016-17.

"The Chinese footprint on Pakistan's economy is expanding as the CPEC initiative nears completion. I don't consider it a bad thing for the country as long as the government decides to make public the details of the cost of the deals made with China's government and its firms to trigger a healthy debate, and protect the interests of the local businesses and investors," the Dawn quoted a Lahore-based financial analyst, as saying.

The analysts have, however, warned the establishment to ensure that there are no slippages in tax and non-tax revenues, as this could affect the balance between what they called "expansionary development spending and fiscal sustainability" in the election year

Baloch Activists against Pakistani Nukes

Baloch political activists protesting against Pakistani nukes in a protest staged by @freebalochmovt in #London

Free Balochistan Movement rally in Germany

Düsseldorf,  Germany

China’s state fund kicks start new Silk Road project with eastern Europe investment

http://m.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/2096005/sino-ceef-track-first-investment-central-and-eastern-europe

Maggie ZhangUPDATED : Sunday, 28 May 2017, 10:36PM

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A Chinese government-backed fund focusing on investing in central and eastern Europe is poised to make its first investment this year amid Beijing’s ambitious new Silk Road initiative, the head of the company overseeing the fund said.

The fund is finalising its first investments after going through a list of about 100 projects involving infrastructure, manufacturing and consumer products, Jiang Jianqing, chairman of the Sino-CEEF Holding, told the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of a financial forum in Shanghai on Saturday.

The fund is seeking to raise €10 billion (US$11.2 billion) in funding and “a significant part of it has already been secured”, Jiang said after speaking at a forum held by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

He declined to elaborate on specific investment figures or prospective projects as negotiations are continuing.

Sino-CEEF, which was inaugurated by Premier Li Keqiang and his Latvian counterpart Maris Kucinskis in the Latvian capital Riga in November 2016, was set up as a platform for economic cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe, Xinhua reported earlier.

The fund has a capital leverage target of €50 billion.T

he “state-backed, commercially run and market-oriented” fund is also a channel supporting Beijing’s ambitious new blueprint for infrastructure, also known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

The holding company that runs the fund is invested solely by ICBC Asia, a subsidiary of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the nation’s biggest bank.

Jiang, a heavyweight in China’s banking industry, stepped down as chairman of ICBC last year after 16 years at the head of the bank.

Jiang told the forum that central and eastern European nations hold an important geographic position along the new Silk Road, and that they are likely to benefit economically. He added that the outlook was particularly bright for small and medium- sized enterprises with strong technology capabilities.


Economic turmoil in the Eurozone is also driving some European nations to seek out new opportunities for cooperation, making this an ideal time for China to reach out, he noted.

Earlier this month, China’s top insurance regulator said procedures will be simplified for insurers to fund major infrastructure projects that comply with the new Silk Road, a move that may help close the US$26 trillion gap required for infrastructure projects in Asia by 2030, according to the Asian Development Bank

Silk Road expedition reaches Arabian Sea

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/207081-Silk-Road-expedition-reaches-Arabian-Sea

Karachi

May 28, 2017


Team members travelling along the historical Silk Road completed their expedition in Karachi amid sweltering heat on May 25.

After exploring historical sites along the Silk Road from Xian to Kashgar in China, the team went along its southern spur to enter Pakistan over the Khunjerab Pass (4,693 meters) and then continued along the Karakorum Highway (KKH), said a press release issued on Thursday.

Silk worm rearing continues in Suzhou on the Eastern coast of China to Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. Silk fabric production is evident in Shanghai, Multan and Karachi. 

The team visited Taxila, near Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, which was an important staging point on the Silk Road along with Peshawar. The towering mountains, powerful glaciers and the roaring rivers in the Hunza and Gilgit areas right upto Abottabad were a special delight. 

The area people are extremely friendly and hospitable. We saw no signs of any extremism at all. It is surprising that the Pakistan government issued a restriction on foreign tourists and put in a requirement to obtain permits six months prior to travel. Amid an uproar from the tour agencies of the Northern Areas, this restriction has now been withdrawn. This withdrawal was informally announced by the commissioner of Gilgit-Hunza while welcoming us in Gilgit. So glad that we witnessed the evolution of a sane decision! 

The cleanliness, education, music and friendliness of the Hunza people are a model to be followed by all. Ancient Buddhist carvings on stones were seen at many places along the KKH/Silk Road in Pakistan as is frescoes, paintings and statues all along the Silk Road in China. There was clear evidence of exchange of goods, ideas, thoughts and religions along the entire route of the Silk Road. 

There is great hope that One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) or the ‘New Silk Road’ initiative of President Xi Jinping will result in revival of trade, ideas and thoughts for the economic benefits of all along the Silk Road.  

In Pakistan, the CPEC roads and economic infrastructure are part of the same grand scheme and all indications are that they are being actively pursued.

Unless we goof up the implementation, there is tremendous expectation in all the people along the belt. At Islamabad, the team paused for a day while reconsidering the various options for the route to be taken. The original plan was to use the CPEC central route all the way up to Gwadar. Due to security conditions we used a mixture of the CPEC eastern and central routes and skipped Baluchistan entirely. 

From Islamabad to Multan we used the CPEC eastern route, where the existing motorway is wonderful and was uneventful. We stayed across the Bahauddin Zakaria University at Buch Villas. This is a new development with luxurious homes and full facilities. Our host was Captain Bucha (now retired from PIA) and at one time he flew the Islamabad-Beijing route possibly hauling silk, jade and other trade goods between China and Europe! Multan was conquered by Alexander the Great (326 BCE). It was here that he was struck by a poisonous arrow; he barely survived and led his army down to Gwadar and to Babylon. 

The noted Chinese traveller, Huen Tsang, visited Multan in 641 CE in his travels on the Silk Road. Multan is known as the “City of Saints” and we visited the mausoleum of Shah Rukn-e-Alam (1251-1335) on a hillock within the Multan Fort to offer fateha and prayers. The restoration work at the mausoleum is remarkable and accurately exhibits the grandeur of the artisan’s work in the 14th century. The blue tile work and other architecture elements reflect Persian influence. While Taxila and Peshawar were important staging points, Multan, Lahore and Debal/Banbhore/Barbarikon (near Karachi) were other staging points on the Southern spur of the Silk Road. 

Next day the team travelled towards Muzaffargarh and visited a mango farm. The area is famous for quality mango cultivation. The trees were laden with various varieties of mangoes. Alas, our favorite fruit will not be ripe for another fortnight or a month!

We crossed the Indus at Dera Ghazi Khan and then joined the CPEC central route. The roads were good, but the traffic discipline and encroachment of shops needs attention, they hinder the smooth flow of traffic. Motorcycles and tricycles are galore. We saw a variety of tricycles. “Qingqi” (a Chinese origin tri-wheeler with a motorcycle front portion) has inspired dozens of derivatives for passenger and goods haulage. The best was a 4-wheel tri-wheeler. Here the entire motorcycle was attached to the rear two wheels for goods haulage!

What an adoption, it does the work very well! 

This was the season of wheat crop harvesting, so we encountered bulbous loads of straw being hauled in trucks and tractor-trailer combinations. They often occupied the entire width of the highway and the traffic and cops had no issue with it, they would wiggle around these straw hauling trucks in full comfort! We stopped in Shikarpur for lunch. The city is famous for their quality sweets (mithais). After this we left the CPEC central route. The originally intended route turns South-West for Shahdadkot, Khuzdar, Panjgur and Gwadar (also known as the under-construction M-8 on the CPEC routes). Although we did not see any evidence, we learnt that the construction is in full swing and the M-8 route should be completed by mid 2018. Security concerns did not allow us to use this route. Our repeated requests for military or police escorts in Balochistan went unheeded. 

We had tea at Sehwan and then headed to Karachi. The 18-hour driving stretch was arduous at best! Karachi and associated cities of Debal, Bhanbore and Barbarikon on the wildly swinging Indus delta were staging points on the Silk Road as well as the maritime silk route. This role is now being taken over by Gwadar. 

We did reach the Arabian Sea, but are sad that we could not get to the intended city of Gwadar which is the terminus of the ‘New Silk Road’s Pakistan portion. Safety considerations prevailed and we sincerely hope that the right political and economic steps are taken to befriend the Balochistan populace and give them a sense of participation in the larger CPEC and Silk Road initiatives.

A lot of simplification of visa and truck movement processes need to be done if CPEC trade and tourist traffic is to be generated. The expedition members are preparing a series of articles and a documentary with the intention of encouraging Pakistanis to discover more of the country and the neighbouring regions and get involved in adventure and history to create a better respect and understanding of each other. Look out for the release of the documentary

Foreign Firms Seek a Fair Shot at China's New Silk Road Projects

https://www.voanews.com/a/foreign-firms-seek-a-fair-shot-at-china-new-silk-road-projects/3874333.html

May 28, 2017 7:38 AM

Jim Randle

Leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum wave as they pose for a group photo at the Yanqi Lake venue on the outskirt of Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.

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WASHINGTON — 

China's planned modern version of its ancient "silk road" may bring more than one trillion dollars of infrastructure investment along trading routes that wind through emerging markets in dozens of countries throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR) trade routes, which stretch from China to London and to Africa, are intended to boost the economies of China and the many nations along the routes by making trading easier and cheaper.

But so far, these road, rail, pipeline, port, power grid, telecom, and other projects offer major opportunities for Chinese companies and not so many for outside firms.

The Chinese will take “most of the highest-profile projects," said Researcher Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute.

The author of China's Asian Dream: Empire Building Along The New Silk Road, Tom Miller, said Chinese banks are financing much of the work with the goal of exporting Chinese technology and creating new demand for Chinese products. Miller said nations that use Chinese technology are more likely to buy Chinese products in the future and will work to boost Beijing's political influence abroad.

Cornell University's Lourdes Casanova, an expert on emerging markets, said China is using these investments to "gain strategic power."

Five of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world [measured by revenue] are Chinese, said Casanova, as well as four of the five largest banks [by assets]. The Cornell University researcher and senior lecturer said Chinese companies gained experience building huge infrastructure projects at home that will help them handle major projects elsewhere.

“Chinese engineering firms perform better in difficult environments than any other firms in the world,” said Scissors, adding "they don’t necessarily have to show profits, and have accumulated experience in Pakistan, Nigeria, Ecuador, and elsewhere."

It may be difficult to operate in some OBOR nations, Cornell's Casanova said, but they will still attract investment because they need a "huge" amount of infrastructure.

Workers install wires on a Golden Bridge of Silk Road structure on a platform outside the National Convention Center, the venue which will hold the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing, April 18, 2017.

New opportunities

Some foreign companies tell researchers the business climate in China is deteriorating, and they are rethinking investments, which might affect new projects like OBOR. A survey by AMCHAM (the American Chamber of Commerce in China) finds some firms slowing investment in China or moving some operations to other nations. Members complain that "inconsistent" enforcement of regulations puts foreign companies at a disadvantage while slowing economic growth is hampering opportunity.

But major U.S. firms - GE, Honeywell, and Caterpillar - already do a lot of business in China and see opportunities in the new silk road/OBOR projects.

Caterpillar's revenues have been boosted by improving sales in China, and the firm says it has been "deeply involved" in the new silk road initiative which it sees as a "long-term opportunity."

FILE - Heavy equipment is parked at the site of Caterpillar Belgium, in Gosselies, Belgium, Feb. 28, 2013.

Caterpillar officials said the company uses global resources to focus on solving problems for customers in China and 20 other nations along the new silk road. In the 40 years, it has been in China, Caterpillar has evolved from importing machines to China, to sharing technology with local partners, to now operating factories and other facilities within China.

Honeywell employs 13,000 people in China and earned billions of dollars in revenue there in 2016. Company spokesmen say their workforce includes a couple of thousand Chinese scientists and engineers, who are helping establish Honeywell as a local Chinese company that can address the needs of local business and consumers. The company offers a wide range of China-made products that support oil & gas operations, airports, healthcare, and other activities

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said in a recent speech that his firm competes successfully in China and elsewhere with "local capability inside a global context." He says GE has 20,000 employees in China with "multiple factories and research centers." He said his company partners partnership with Chinese construction companies, and his firm leads in power, healthcare, avation, and petroleum.

John Rice, vice president of General Electric Co (GE), speaks during an event in Beijing, China, Oct.14, 2016.

Human rights

Human rights experts say another concern grows from the need to move some people out of the way of large infrastructure projects. Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson told VOA it is unclear what impact these large and ambitious projects will have on human rights, but she said there is reason for concern because some nations along the silk road routes "preside over widespread abuses."

Richardson said China has "heightened surveillance and repression" to prevent unrest that might impede OBOR plans in that nation's Xinjiang province. The far-western region of China is a key part of the silk road, and home to 10 million Muslim Uighurs, who differ in culture, language, and faith from China's majority population. Xinjiang has long been the scene of ethnic and political tensions and is heavily patrolled by Chinese police and military units.

Richardson said private companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and must take steps to mitigate or avoid risks. She said these obligations are spelled out by United Nations guidelines that have been embraced by key Chinese business organizations, and firms should be judged on how they handle peaceful protests of their activities

Foreign banks divided on best approach to financing China’s US$5 trillion new Silk Road project

http://m.scmp.com/business/banking-finance/article/2096010/foreign-banks-divided-best-approach-financing-chinas-us5-tr



Alun JohnUPDATED : Sunday, 28 May 2017, 10:37PM

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Foreign banks are divided on whether to help finance China’s new Silk Road initiative, with some seeing an opportunity in providing direct financing for the government-backed project while others opt for reduced exposure, citing concerns over poor returns from large infrastructure investments and other risks.

Participation by foreign banks is seen as crucial to the trade initiative’s success as even President Xi Jinping’s pledge of US$780 billion in additional funds is not enough to cover the full cost of the infrastructure plan.

“The amount of funds required for the initiative, as much as US$5 trillion over the next five years, means that foreign banks will need to be involved for it to succeed,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at Natixis.

“The Chinese policy banks and commercial banks combined will not be able to fund that by themselves, and at the top level the authorities have realised that.”

Moody’s Investors Service’s decision last week to downgrade the ratings on China’s policy banks has aggravated the funding problem.

Not all foreign banks, however, are choosing to get involved, and a divide is emerging between those that are more cautious and those that are already involved in the scheme.

“The opportunity for banks from greater intra-Asian trade flows as well as major investment projects is significant,” said Bernhard Kotanko, managing partner for Asia-Pacific at global consultancy Oliver Wyman.

 

“I see opportunities for the large universal banks that finance a lot of global trade, the regional banks and the Chinese banks.”

HSBC Holdings and Citi fall into the first group, while mid-sized lenders such as Standard Chartered and some Singaporean banks make up the second.

Perhaps the most vocal player of the banks that have chosen to get involved is HSBC, which put up advertisements around Beijing during the summit, saying “HSBC will lead the new Silk Road”.

The bank declined to give examples of current projects in which it is involved, citing client confidentiality, but it did provide some past examples, including financing for China Electric Power Equipment and Technology to deliver the first belt and road project in Egypt and acting as an financial adviser to the Vinh Tan 3 power project in Vietnam.

“Standard Chartered is already involved in funding a number of projects under the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’,” said Biswajyoti Upadhyay, regional head of trade transaction banking for greater China and north Asia at Standard Chartered.

Not all banks are as optimistic, however.

ANZ cautious of ‘further disruption’ to regional trade amid political tensions

Last month, ANZ’s head of international institutional business Farhan Faruqui said that while it saw opportunities from the scheme, it would instead let its existing clients drive their involvement in it. He said it was “too early to say what ANZ’s involvement would be”.

Societe Generale’s chief country officer for China, Anne Marion-Bouchacourt, told Thomson Reuters that foreign banks were keen to support Chinese corporates and the belt and road projects, but clarity was needed around issues like tax, financial planning and risk management.

There are certainly risks for foreign banks for getting involved in what is at present still very much a Chinese-led initiative.

“Some of the projects are so large that they will need to be financed by a consortium of banks, but there will be competition over which bank will play the lead role,” Kotanko said.

In fact, Garcia-Herrero believes the Chinese banks, which feel they are leading the scheme, may try to keep foreign players out of it.

Another area of concern is whether the large infrastructure projects at the heart of the scheme can be relied on to provide returns.

“Any banks that go into a large infrastructure project in an emerging market needs to be aware of the risks,” Kotanko said.

Underscoring the problem, not all projects may be able to offer commercial returns.

Earlier this year, Fitch Ratings warned “genuine infrastructure needs and commercial logic might be secondary to political motivations”.

The trade scheme is a component of China’s efforts to expand its strategic international influence and a means of securing access to key commodities.

However, some analysts believe foreign banks could fare better than their Chinese counterparts owing to their longer track record and sophisticated risk management systems.

“Chinese banks do not have a track record of allocating resources efficiently at home, especially in relation to infrastructure projects, and they are unlikely to have more success [doing it] overseas,” Fitch said.

In contrast, the agency is more optimistic about the opportunities for foreign banks.

“Fitch sees an opportunity for foreign banks to benefit from the initiative if they have experience in emerging markets and cross-border transactions,” said Sabine Bauer, senior director for financial institutions at Fitch in Hong Kong.

“We think HSBC is well placed to identify the projects that yield appropriate returns, given its prudent approach to taking risks and its discipline around managing capital

India’s objections to CPEC are fake: Masood

http://www.brecorder.com/2017/05/28/350889/indias-objections-to-cpec-are-fake-masood/

 FAWAD MAQSOOD  MAY 28TH, 2017 20:06 0 VIEWS: 18

MIRPUR: President Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Sardar Masood Khan said India's objections to China Pakistna Economic Corridor (CPEC) were fake and disingenuous. 

''Having occupied the territory of one part of Jammu and Kashmir, now it stakes claim of 'sovereignty' to Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, under what law?'' he questioned. 

The AJK president was addressing a one day international seminar on 'Belt and Road Initiative: CPEC and regional integration ' organized by The Institute of International and Cultural Affairs late Saturday. 

He said the territory did not belong to India. "Is India worried because it has moved its 700,000 troops to the Indian Occupied Kashmir to maintain its illegal occupation in Jammu and Kashmir? Or is it concerned that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and Pakistan will become prosperous? Or does its anxiety stem from the fear that Kashmir will be internationalized? I would ask: more internationalized than it already is?" he posed questions. 

Sardar Masood said there was no easy way to assuage India's  concerns. India was not a stakeholder in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad  Kashmir; it never was, it was known in the region as an occupier and  denier of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, he added. 

''The Belt and Road Initiative is an undertaking with no precedent, its scale is massive, the BRI is the most ambitious global development plan in history," he said 

The AJK president said the 'Belt' comprised a series of land corridors linking China with Europe through Central Asia and the Middle East, while the 'Road' was a maritime route linking China's ports to Africa, and though the Mediterranean to Europe

Killing fields of Balochistan

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/killing-fields-balochistan/#.WSrxlWnhXqA


Naseer Memon May 28, 2017Leave a comment

Violence against peaceful citizens working in Gwadar will only undermine the Baloch rights movement, and its political legitimacy

Victims of ethnic conflict.

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Ten labourers belonging to district Naushehro Feroz of Sindh were cold-bloodedly executed by a militant group near Gwadar in Balochistan on May 13. These labourers were working on a road project. They were lined up and showered with bullets after checking their ethnic identity. One of them was spared after he conversed with the assailants in Balochi language.

Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility of the terrorist act.

The incident was not the only one of its kind. One week later, three labourers hailing from Rajanpur district of Punjab were gunned down near Turbat. In April 2017, four labourers belonging to Ghotki district of Sindh were executed in Kharan district of Balochistan. In April 2015, 20 labourers including seven from Sindh were brutally killed by the self-proclaimed freedom fighters near Turbat.

The series of assaults and killings actually started with targeting of security forces. However, cowed by their retaliatory power, the militants moved their guns to empty-handed labourers working on the government’s projects.

Southern coastal belt of Balochistan has been the hotbed of the Baloch militancy that gained impetus after the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti. The obdurate octogenarian, who dodged security forces before being holed-up and assassinated in an operation in August 2006, emerged as an icon of the Baloch militancy.

Baloch rights movements maintained a tradition of armed confrontation with law enforcement forces. Having a scant middle class, sparsely populated settlements separated by swathes of parched land, the Baloch society is a mosaic of tribal fiefdoms dominated by sardars who wield unrivalled power within their remits.

However, southern coastal strip of the province eludes customary tribal system with a different social fabric. Districts of Gwadar, Turbat and Panjgur are home to a politically fertile and socially liberal Baloch middle class. The Baloch nationalist movement draws its ideologically steadfast cadres from these areas. Inherently tranquil yet politically dynamic far-flung pockets of these districts such as Tump, Mand, Jiwani and Pasni are now infested by militants.

In spite of a prolonged operation by the security forces, these militants manage to evade their fences and assault security forces and labourers in these areas inflicting considerable loss of lives. Dozens of Baloch militants have been killed in targeted and retaliatory operations by security forces and scores of mutilated bodies of the abducted persons have been dumped. Unabated bloodshed has turned the area into a war zone.

Considering the geo-strategic eminence of Gwadar, security establishment claims that rival regional powers are inciting violence through quislings to jeopardise the CPEC related investments. Machinations and clandestine acts of the adversaries cannot be ruled out altogether.

Gwadar has been the centre of gravity of this insurgency. Gwadar became part of Pakistan when the government formally purchased it from Oman at the cost of Rs5.5 billion in 1958. Balochistan became a province after abolition of the One Unit in 1970 and Gwadar subsequently became a district of the province.

The fishing town attained a strategic significance when Pakistan decided to construct a modern deep-sea port at Gwadar. The port is being constructed in two phases at an initial cost of $248 million. The first phase was completed and inaugurated by the former dictator, Pervez Musharraf, in 2007. The port has now become lynchpin of the topical China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China has been interested in the port since its inception.

With the onset of CPEC, the port attained supreme strategic paramountcy. Under CPEC, the port is set to expand manifold having additional container berths, a cargo terminal, two oil terminals, a four-lane expressway to connect it with the coastal highway, a new international airport, a floating liquefied natural gas terminal, a special economic zone, a desalination plant, a 360 megawatt coal-fired power plant and a range of other investments. In 2013, China Overseas Port Holding Company was awarded a 40-year contract for construction and operation of the port.

Located at a distance of only 600kms from the Strait of Hormuz, the port will provide a vital link to China through Kashgar in the western province of Xinjiang.

China imports half of its oil from the Middle East, and much of this oil has to pass through the Strait of Hormuz. Currently, tankers of oil have to sail for approximately 10,000 kms to reach China through the Arabian Sea, after crossing Strait of Malacca.

Both these straits are sensitive for China due to international geo-political interests.

Gwadar provides an opportunity to China to make its presence in the proximity of the Strait of Hormuz. It will also curtail the distance to only 4,500kms for oil and other goods to reach Xinjiang. Even adding 4,500kms to dispatch consignments to the eastern China, the Gwadar route is economical, faster and safer by skirting the strait of Malacca.

The Baloch militants, on the contrary, have resorted to violent options by discriminately targeting innocent citizens due to their ethnic identity. Baloch militants are thus erasing the blurry line between nationalism and racism.

This makes Gwadar an important location for Chinese strategic interests.

Considering the geo-strategic eminence of Gwadar, security establishment claims that rival regional powers are inciting violence through quislings to jeopardise the CPEC related investments. Machinations and clandestine acts of the adversaries cannot be ruled out altogether.

Baloch nationalists loath Gwadar port project. They maintain the port city will open a floodgate of non-local population that will distort demographic balance drastically. It will not only convert the native Baloch into a numerical minority but they will also lose control over their coast, like other natural resources in the province.

Former president Musharraf tried to assuage their fears by offering a gambit that the land ownership rights of the local communities of Gwadar could be secured through appropriate legislation. Addressing a gathering of tribal elders at the residence of the Khan of Kalat in April 2005, he said, “while people from other areas could come to Gwadar to develop it, no one could dislodge the locals”.

Baloch nationalists dismissed such assurances.

Twelve years down the road in January 2017, the provincial cabinet constituted a committee to formulate recommendations for legislation to safeguard social, economic and political rights of the natives of Gwadar. Political leadership of the province is also miffed due to an insolent behaviour of the federal government as the Islamabad-based establishment took no measures to address the concerns of the native communities.

Baloch militants use the charade of nationalism to justify their xenophobic acts as a measure to forestall development of the Gwadar port. They are apprehensive of a looming threat of inexorable influx of hundreds of thousands of people from other provinces. Whereas the political concerns are not completely misplaced, yet the terrorist acts targeting labourers will fetch little empathy in the contemporary world. After failing to trounce those who carry guns, the militants have unleashed their brutality against those who carry spades and shovels in search of their livelihood.

Political issues merit sane political solutions. A peaceful and consistent political movement is the best option in a parliamentary democratic system. Sindh’s movements against the One Unit and the Kalabagh Dam are pertinent examples to cite. At the time of the anti-One Unit movement, large swathes of land of Sindh were allotted to the civil and military bureaucrats mainly from Punjab. Dozens of settlements of communities from Punjab were established in Sindh. The Sindhi nationalist movement was at its zenith in those days. The movement was completely peaceful and strictly confined to political means. No one attacked Punjabi-speaking communities, neither were their settlements targeted. There could have been localised fistfight and slugfest but no grisly incidents of communal violence occurred.

As a corollary, six decades on, most of the Punjabi settlers have been subsumed into Sindhi identity both culturally and politically. Young generation of those settlers speaks Sindhi fluently, they study in Sindhi-medium schools, recite Shah Latif Bhitai’s poetry with the same reverence and dance to the tunes of Sindhi music with the same enchantment. They are inextricably intertwined with Sindhi identity and one could hardly distinguish them from native Sindhi communities.

Punjabi-speaking community of Sindh contributed some outstanding music maestros, singers, poets and writers of Sindhi language. A large number of such Punjabi-speaking people actively participate in political movements on the issues of Sindh such as Kalabagh Dam, water shortages and Sindh’s share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. They have tied their cultural, economic and political knots with the Sindhi society and have become Sindhi for all practical purposes. Sindh has demonstrated a successful model of an inclusive and peaceful political movement that culminated at the interment of the One Unit.

The Baloch militants, on the contrary, have resorted to violent options by discriminately targeting innocent citizens due to their ethnic identity. Baloch militants are thus erasing the blurry line between nationalism and racism. Violence against peaceful citizens will only sully the image of the Baloch rights movement and undermine its political legitimacy

Balochistan’s under-reported poverty

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/balochistans-reported-poverty/#.WSrwDGnhXqA

Adnan Aamir May 28, 2017Leave a comment

The 7th NFC Award, assessed on the basis of almost a decade-old reports, robs the province of its due share

The 7th NFC Award, assessed on the basis of almost a decade-old reports, robs the province of its due share.

After the 18th Amendment, the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) was the second biggest achievement of the last PPP-led government.

The 7th NFC altered the revenue distribution in favour of smaller provinces and Balochistan was dubbed as the biggest beneficiary.

🔴However, what is not known is that Balochistan is still being deprived of approximately Rs28 billion annually from its share in the federal divisible pool due to technical wizardry.

Prior to the 7th NFC award, population was the sole criterion for distribution of revenue collected by the federal government from the entire country. However, in the 7thNFC, the weightage of population was reduced to 82 per cent. Poverty and backwardness was given 10.3 per cent, revenue generation five per cent and inverse population density 2.7 per cent.

Balochistan was the biggest beneficiary of this new arrangement whose share jumped from 5.11 per cent to 9.09 per cent.

🔴Nevertheless, the 10.3 per cent weightage given to poverty and backwardness has been neutralised by playing with the figures.

In this analysis the focus is only on poverty section of NFC award and other components such as population, revenue generation and inverse population density are assumed to remain constant.

In the 7th NFC award the poverty figures of all provinces were compiled from three different reports. First report used was Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper-I (PRSP-I) titled Accelerating Economic Growth and Reducing Poverty: the Road Ahead which was published by the Finance Division in 2003 based on data of 1998-99. Second report used was Pakistan National Human Development Report 2003 published by UNDP. Third and last report was the province-wise HDI report published by Statistics Division in 2008. Composite poverty figure for NFC share calculation was calculated based on aggregate of poverty figures in three aforementioned reports.

🔴A major chunk of funds Balochistan receives from the federal divisible pool are either wasted through corruption or bad governance, or they lapse. This is something that has to be sorted out in Balochistan

Based on this aggregate, poverty component of NFC was divided among the provinces where it was 23.17 per cent in Punjab, 23.42 per cent in Sindh, 27.83 per cent in NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and 25.62 per cent in Balochistan.

The problem with the usage of the three aforementioned poverty reports is that those were outdated, and did not represent factual poverty situation in the country in 2009, when the 7th NFC was drafted. This has resulted in unfair distribution of share from the federal divisible pool where smaller provinces like Balochistan are at a loss.

This point can be further elaborated by comparing the poverty levels in Balochistan with other provinces which are almost the same as per the aforementioned reports. This means that the share of funds from federal divisible pool which are distributed based on poverty will almost be equally divided among all four provinces. This is unjust for obvious reasons because there is more poverty in Balochistan as compared to rest of the three provinces. As a result the 10.3 per cent share reserved for poverty and backwardness has been rendered ineffective due to manipulation of data on the pretext of unavailability of latest poverty measurement reports.

In other words, provinces with higher poverty rates are not getting more share from NFC as they were supposed to.

Moreover, in June 2016, UNDP, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and Federal Ministry of Planning and Development published Report on Multidimensional Poverty 2016. This recent report measured poverty in the country using three indicators, health, education and standard of living, and 16 sub-indicators. Based on these indicators, the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) was calculated for each province which when translated into percentage, presented a much more realistic picture of poverty. According to this report, MPI is 0.394 in Balochistan, 0.25 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 0.231 in Sindh and 0.152 in Punjab.

These figures seem more realistic because there is a huge difference between poverty figures of Balochistan and other provinces.

Moving to the interesting part, when the new poverty figures extracted from Report on Multidimensional Poverty 2016 are used for provincial share calculation as the 7th NFC then the share of Balochistan jumps from 9.09 per cent to 10.41 per cent. The estimated amount of the federal divisible pool for fiscal year 2016-17 was Rs2.135 trillion. An increase of 1.32 per cent in share of Balochistan translates into approximately Rs28 billion.

Simply put, Balochistan is losing approximately Rs28 billion from its due share in the federal divisible pool due to manipulation of poverty figures. It must be noted that all three provinces are consuming the amount Balochistan is losing.

Interestingly, the 7th NFC expired on June 30, 2015. Presently, same old formulae are being imposed through Distribution of Revenues and Grants-in-Aid (Amendment) Order, 2015. The decision of PML-N government to extend the 7th NFC formulae beyond 2015 is unconstitutional. At the same time it’s absurd to use poverty figures from 1998 in 2017, when latest poverty figures calculated by the UNDP and adopted by the planning commission are available.

Consequently, Balochistan is being deprived of approximately Rs28 billion per year for the last two fiscal budgets. Balochistan will continue to lose amount in similar proportion till the time new NFC award based on accurate poverty figures is not announced.

A claim can also be made for the lost share of Balochistan in resource division from 2010 to 2015 because the poverty figures used back then downplayed the real poverty in the province.

The amount of Rs28 billion which Balochistan is not getting can be used for uplifting the living standards in the province. It can be used to educate approximately one million children, hire 45,000 new teachers or build 7,000 new primary schools. This is inferred from an analysis of Annual Status of Education Report and Pakistan Education Statistics Report of Idara Taleem-o-Agahi from 2011 to 2016. Funds earmarked for health in last budget were Rs17.36 billion which means that the amount Balochistan is losing out on can fund its health budget by nearly 1.5 times.

This point has not been identified so far. Plausibly the ruling elite of Balochistan is not bothered about such issues.

A major chunk of funds Balochistan receives from the federal divisible pool are either wasted through corruption or bad governance, or they lapse. This is something that has to be sorted out in Balochistan — for that can’t be used as a pretext to deprive Balochistan of its due share in the National Finance Commission

Huge cache of arms, ammunitions recovered in Balochistan

http://dunyanews.tv/en/Pakistan/390309-Huge-cache-of-arms-ammunitions-recovered-in-Baloc




  Last Updated On 27 May,2017 About 22 hours ago

The security forces carried out search operations in different areas of the province

RAWALPINDI (Dunya News) – As Operation Raddul Fasad in various parts of the country, the security forces have recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from different areas of Dera Bugti and Sui in Balochistan area, reported Dunya News on Saturday.

According to ISPR, the security forces during their search operations at different areas of the province recovered seven RPG launcher, four mortar shells, two mines, four grenades, 170 pressure buttons, three remote control and other explosives.

The operations were carried out in Dera Bugti and Sui areas of Balochistan as communication devices and other explosives were also recovered in operation carried out at terrorists’ shelters. 

Balochistan by road

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/balochistan-road/#.WSru6GnhXqA

Saad Qaisrani May 28, 20175 Comments

Covering over 3,000 kilometres in five days, to experience the calm but uneasy peace of this isolated province

The statue of Princess of Hope at Hingol National Park.

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While travelling across Balochistan, I can so easily relate Lt. Henry Pottinger’s luscious descriptions in his book, Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde, published in 1816. Apart from the rare additions to the landscape that clearly stand out, everything from the blowing sands, distant hills and rugged ravines to the local tribesmen seem to be stuck in the past.

My five-day-long road journey from Mastung to Karachi begins on April 17, 2017 and ends at noon on April 22, 2017, and takes me through many districts of Balochistan.

My two friends and I depart for Dera Ghazi Khan on Tuesday night around 10pm from Lahore on a Daewoo, and enter Balochistan on Wednesday around noon, from there we proceed on a friend’s vehicle.

On the way to Mastung, we pass the vast plains of Jhal Magsi and Dhadar, which are parched and wrecked, and utterly unproductive owing to the aridity. This is just the beginning of our journey inside the province. A herd of sheep passes by our car as we move further along the road, and I can spot the wretched herdsman — the quintessential representation of a life so beautifully vivified by classical Baloch folklore.

We can also see the grandeur of our colonial legacy, the North Western Railways. Despite our joy and the desire to explore the relic further, we have to keep on moving due to shortage of time.

Mastung, which we reach with about a half hour to spare before dusk, is a charming little desert town. It is spring in this mountain valley, and the sandy expanse between the rugged hills is covered with colourful blossoming plants and blooming wildflowers. Fruit orchards along the road and pine trees lining the gardens speak well of the fertility of the soil. But the air is sombre, for violent memories of the past still linger. There is an uneasy calm in the city making the evening rather bleak.

We stay with the District Police Officer Mastung, for the night. Despite the fatigue of the previous day’s road journey from Lahore to Mastung, we quickly start moving down south next morning at 10am, after a sumptuous breakfast offered by our host.

There are colonies of single-room mud houses surprisingly without any boundary walls. This freedom and openness may be a sign of Baloch tradition or it could be a disturbing reflection of abject poverty. Whatever the case, it certainly is strange yet uniquely pleasant.

By mid-day, we are at Kalat, the princely town and former seat of the throne of the Baloch confederation. Despite its glory narrated by history, Kalat hardly catches the eye. It is only in the evening that I am informed of ruins of the old palace here. It would have been a delight to explore more, but much like in Mastung, our time limitations force us leave lots to be discovered during our next visit.

The sandy expanses between rugged hills are rendered colorful by spring in the valley of Mastung.

Proceeding onward, the valley gradually broadens out. From Sorab we take the newly carpeted CPEC route, cutting straight through the Nag valley. Miles on end are unpopulated and twisters are frequently observed in the distance. There are colonies of single-room mud houses surprisingly without any boundary walls. This freedom and openness may be a sign of Baloch tradition or it could be a disturbing reflection of abject poverty. Whatever the case, it certainly is strange yet uniquely pleasant.

Traditional Baloch mud houses.

The rail bridges in Bolan.

Nag Valley with its broad dusty plains is hardly attractive, although its importance as a breeding ground for Pakistan’s rare Houbara Bustard is noteworthy. Still, not everything appears to be in tatters. The business for Iranian petroleum products is booming, and we realise that we are travelling on one of its primary routes. The number of pickup trucks on the road loaded with jerrycans point to a booming trade, or a lively smuggle, whichever the eye of the beholder may view it as.

A desperate search for fuel pushes us off the track multiple times, resulting in the loss of daylight. Finally, some brawling with the umpteenth pickup owner helps us get a few litres of Iranian diesel, enough to safely reach Panjgur, where we can refuel and take a short break.

Windy Corner 1894, from Bolan to Quetta.

We enjoy a wondrous view of date orchards against the arid backdrop in Panjgur. This is a land of date palms, and produces some of the most delicious cultivars of dates in Pakistan. Sadly though, these dates never reach mainland Pakistan and so nobody knows about them.

As the sun slowly slides down the horizon we move further down south towards Turbat. The sky soon grows dark. We quickly pass by dark outlines of the Central Makran Range, where the complete absence of traffic renders the night ghostly. A bone chilling loneliness and frightfulness is written all over the road; broken only by isolated law enforcement pickets.

Ruins of Ari Jam’s fort in Turbat.

Reaching Turbat at night, however, the view is suddenly and pleasantly overhauled. Despite the hot weather, the lights in the city can be seen from afar. The electricity comes from Iran, as does the honey we consume for breakfast, and the chocolates I purchase for the remaining journey.

Turbat, where we stay for the night with Sarmad Saleem, Deputy Commissioner Turbat, has its fair share of sites for geographical inspection. With this in mind, we head for Koh-e-Murad, the site of holy relics for Balochistan’s Zikri population. Perched on a hillside, the boundary wall enclosing the compound and the stringent faced guards at the entrance are both reflections of our collective intolerance. That Zikris are still surviving here is music to the ears, although we are informed that their numbers are now in decline.

Diversity was once a hallmark of Baloch culture. Sadly, it is now threatened by increasing religiosity. How these Zikris will fare over time, and how they will manage to preserve their culture, only time will tell.

The ruinous mound we visit on the riverbed in Turbat is both appalling and intriguing — appalling because Ari Jam’s castle is in ruins and intriguing because I am sure in the rocks, under the Salvadora bushes, in the markings on the sides, there are so many stories that will unfortunately never be unearthed.

We spend our remaining time in Turbat exploring Koh-e-Murad and Ari Jam’s castle, and next, we head to Gwadar, to see the enchanted land of opportunities.

Whale skeletons, propped up next to the sea-view point in Jiwani.

The hills south of Turbat slowly recede into the background. We now move though beautiful yet frightening desert. The cliffs in the distance appear to be worthy of exploring, except that they are largely shrouded in a cloud of dust. It is only then that the sea reveals itself on our left, and we are awestruck.

Reaching Gwadar after about two hours on the road, I am treated to a pleasant sight in the sky. It is a raptor with white under-wings soaring in the hot updrafts of air currents. Closer inspection reveals it to be an Egyptian Vulture. Now this species may not be as affected from the use of diclofenac as a medicine for cattle as the slender-billed and the oriental white-backed vulture, but it has nevertheless suffered greatly in the last two decades. While the last two species are barely avoiding extinction, the former has greatly declined in numbers and is virtually extinct from a greater part of the country.

The inspiring calmness of the sea from afar, and the murderous dash of incoming waves.

While the eyes were treated to a fair view in the sky, the views on the ground were disappointing — there was litter everywhere. And Gwadar is not the only place I get to see this despicable sight. I see more waste dumped along the coastal highway the next day.

It has been suggested to us to witness the sunset at Jiwani. Before that though, I added a detour to the west to catch a glimpse of the trigger-happy world of border guards on a man-made boundary that would prevent me from going forward into Iran.

The road to the Iranian border and back is beautifully lined with ponds of various sizes, occasionally a complete estuary too. Against the arid, stark grey backdrop these sights are refreshing, till finally we reach the sea view point beside the Coast Guard establishment in Jiwani. Here, perched on a wooden frame, are the remains of a whale. Over 20 feet in length, it is awe-inspiring. Even this, we are told, is just part of the whale’s structure. The whole creature is too big to be propped up in the limited confines of this place.

After a few hurried photos, most people rush to get tea. I decide to enjoy the view of the sea and observe the composition of the rocks. Each and every bit of them are fossilised remains of life existing beneath the waves. It signified hope. Perhaps our sea is not dead after all. In spite of our propensity to destroy ecosystems, life still thrives in its deep recesses.

Golden sands, emerald green waters and queer hills in the distance signify Ormara’s pristine beaches.

Back at Gwadar that night, we tried to use our remaining time to explore the area in the dark, but unfortunately fatigue from three days of continuous travel had completely worn us out.

The next morning, we make our way back to Karachi through the Makran Coastal Highway which despite its name offers a view of the sea only when you are close to Ormara. Here, we park near a police checkpoint, and head out to feel the rush of the waves. The setting is picture perfect — a golden sandy beach, an endless body of emerald green water ahead, a strong breeze caressing the body, light waves massaging the feet and hills rising in the distance.

The journey onward to Karachi is more or less mundane. Except for the statue of the Princess of Hope and strange landforms of Hingol National Park, and the littered beaches around Kund Malir, there is but little to notice. Fatigue has probably affected our powers of observation, but we could not find much to visually enjoy, except for the obvious footprint of the littering species that we humans are.

Curious landforms of the Hingol National Park.

The journey ends the next day as we dispersed on our own separate ways from Karachi. In the last five days, we have explored a great part of Balochistan, travelling over 3,000 kilometres, and witnessing the majesty of its unique land and seascapes taking with us enchanting memories of the calm but uneasy peace of Mastung, the frightful road from Panjgur to Turbat and the variety of sights along all the roads