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Beijing to Balochistan – China’s CPEC Quandary


By Dr. Nanda Kishor and Avishkar Pamnani

Beijing to Balochistan – China’s CPEC Quandary

With the partition and creation of two entities as India and Pakistan, like India, Pakistan too faced the issue of integration of the erstwhile princely states and ethnic groups into the new identity of Pakistan. With the simmering of tension in the underbelly of one of the most significant geopolitical region of Balochistan, it is the largest province of Pakistan by land area and one of the least populated. The coastline of Pakistan is around 1000 km, and Balochistan alone constitutes about 800 km of it. For closer to 70 decades, the Baloch people have protested, confronted and rebelled against Pakistan’s mistreatment of its largest and naturally richest province. The unheard voices of the Baloch people across the world have become a topic of interest and study only now due to its newfound importance from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) proposed by China and revival of China-Pakistan nexus in yet another region of contention. The Balochs are fighting hard to keep the foreign powers like China out, and their expression of calling even Pakistan as a foreign power has found new relevance in the geopolitics of the region.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

China’s quest for superpower status depends primarily on its economic development which is mainly fuelled by the uninterrupted supply of oil and gas from the countries of West Asia. As 80% of China’s energy supplies pass through the Straits of Malacca, China faces the possibility the route closed during the time of war, and it is China’s ‘Malacca dilemma’. China and Pakistan have shared a strategic and robust relationship since 1950, and it has strengthened over seven decades. On 20 April 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and a delegation of high-level officials and business people, visited Pakistan. It was the first foreign trip of President Xi Jinping in 2015. There were 51 Memorandums of Understanding signed, including the plan of "China Pakistan Economic Corridor". Closer to 30 agreements of the 51 were related to the strategic corridor apart from infrastructure projects, agriculture, energy generation, telecommunication, education, and research. One of the main reasons for building the CPEC was to ensure an alternate route for unhindered energy supplies to China. Gwadar in Balochistan is the lynchpin of China’s CPEC dream. Without access to Gwadar, China’s access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and its unrestricted shortest energy route to West Asia via straits of Hormuz would not be possible. China’s Malacca dilemma would be avoidable only via the success of CPEC.

The province of Balochistan is rich in mineral resources and has a large number of copper and gold mines. Reko Diq mine is one of the largest mines in the world with abundant resources of copper and gold in the northwest area of Balochistan. The Project is a US$ 3.3 billion investment project copper-gold open-pit mine. The project has an estimated mine life of 56 years. The annual production is 200,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold from 600,000 tons of concentrate. Saindak-Copper-Gold Project mine was leased by Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd. (MCC), a subsidiary of the China Metallurgical Group Corporation, for ten years. The project processed more than 70 million tons of ore, produced 240,000 tons of blister copper and achieved sales revenue of $2.1 billion by the end of 2018. Coal mines of Balochistan possess vast reserves of coal at Hamai, Degari, Mach, Ziarat, Chamalang, and Abegum estimated at 217 million tons. The resource-rich Balochistan has attracted a lot of international players, and China wants to make the best use of this opportunity irrespective of the resistance from the Baloch people.

Saindak-Copper-Gold Mine

The Baloch Resistance

Since 2005, under the military regime of Pervez Musharaff, several human rights organizations have recorded heinous crimes committed by the Pakistani forces including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and excessive use of force. The sparingly populated province of Balochistan has become a major bone of contention for Pakistan when it is in the process of appeasing China for investment. Probably the present aggravated scenario is also the result of massive misgovernance and high headedness of the Pakistani government. During former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's tenure, Baloch insurgents killed Chinese engineers and workers in the province. In May 2004, Balochi militants killed three Chinese engineers. When great efforts were taken by few negotiators to bring peace between Pakistan and Balochistan from the development perspective, the then military dictator and President General Pervez Musharaff declared an all-out war against Balochistan and its people. The worst decision was to eliminate the chief of the Bugti tribe, Nawab Akbar Bugti along with other tribesmen who led an insurgent movement against the central government. Nawab Akbar was a former Chief Minister and former Governor of Balochistan, on August 26, 2006, in a military operation. These men were not even given proper honors in death. The bodies came in coffins with lock and military supervision. In the year 2007, another leader of the banned Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) Nawabzada Balach Marri was killed in an ambush in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

On November 23, 2018, there was an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, Pakistan and it came as a rude shock to the Chinese more than the Pakistanis. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), along with the Majeed Brigade constituting Baloch insurgents have focused on Chinese nationals and Chinese-funded projects. China has a higher risk in Balochistan, and it does not fully trust Pakistan in controlling the condition. China has strategic interests; it wants to build two naval bases along Balochistan’s coast and ‘a Chinese city’ for 500,000 Chinese nationals, at the cost of $150 million, in Gwadar as part of the CPEC. The Baloch people have been seeking global help to stop joint Chinese and Pakistani atrocities in Balochistan. The Free Balochistan Movement, headed by Hyrbyair Marri, has been at the forefront in exposing the China-Pakistan expansionist design in the region. The Pakistani government has raised a Special Security Division of about 15,000 soldiers to guard the CPEC. The Balochistan geopolitical quandary for China in Pakistan would trouble the warm relation built over a period of time. For China at this juncture, its BRI is crucial, and it has been facing major setbacks across the world. The failure of CPEC would mean a loss of face for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has invested a lot of political and financial capital in the project. It would also lead to a loss of dependable energy routes and hinder the growth of the less developed Chinese region of Xinjiang. Pakistan failing China’s CPEC would be the first nail in the coffin of BRI, and from there it would be many nails from many players across the world. Given this background and the importance CPEC holds for China, Balochistan has turned out to be the Achilles heel for China.

About the Author

Dr. Nanda Kishor (ORCID: 0000-0002-2024-100X) teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His area of interest is West Asia and South Asia.

Avishkar Pamnani (ORCID: 0000-0002-5024-1609) is a Post Graduate Research Scholar in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His area of interest is China and Pakistan.

Cite this Article:

Kishor, N., Pamnani, A., "Beijing to Balochistan – China’s CPEC Quandary", IndraStra Global Vol. 06, Issue 02 (2020), 0010,, ISSN 2381-3652

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