New Delhi, Apr 6 (IANS): Pakistan has decided to turn its port city of Gwadar, the starting point of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as the capital of 'southern Balochistan'.
The deep move has several implications. The new administrative change will allow the government to change the demographic complexion of the region, by opening the gates for Pashtun settlers to enter the province, undermining the influence of the more militant ethnic Balochs. If everything goes to plan, the resulting "stability" in turn will secure the huge investments that are pouring in from China under CPEC. CPEC is the flagship of the Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Pakistani newspaper, The News International, quoted Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) Chairman Naseer Khan Kashani saying: "We have received a letter from the Government of Balochistan in this regard." The newspaper said: "Gwadar is now an official provincial metropolis of southern Balochistan. GDA officials said the provincial government has declared the rest house of Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) as the secretariat office of Gwadar."
Geopolitical analyst Mark Kinra says: "This is a move which will create divisions in Balochistan. Pakistan has been wanting to do so for a long time. The idea to make Gwadar as the capital has earlier been proposed in 2011, 2017 and 2019 respectively."
He adds that Pakistan is trying to implement the British technique of 'divide and rule' because northern Balochistan has a good population of Pashtuns while the south has a Baloch majority. "This move will create further tensions in an already tense region," he says.
Kinra adds that the Establishment along with its political class is trying to divert funds for themselves in an already under-nourished region. "Because of this facade, more funds will be spent by the government to set-up offices, there will be more army bases, units and this will further entice Non Resident Pakistanis (NRP) to invest in Gwadar properties thereby squaring off more money from these naive Pakistanis who will be putting in their hard earned money for investment, thereby increasing land prices in and around Gwadar, where majority of the corner plots are already taken in by the who's who of the Establishment."
While Balochistan has always been in global news, Southern Balochistan has been in the headlines, mainly within Pakistan.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn had reported in November last year that Islamabad announced a Rs 600 billion package for development projects for south Balochistan. A group of ministers including Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Information Minister Shibli Faraz, Minister for Defence Production Zubaida Jalal and Minister for Communication Murad Saeed, together made this announcement for Southern Balochistan.
The minister also said that once this package is implemented, special initiatives will also be announced for the other regions of Pakistan, namely north Balochistan, interior Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Defence Production Zubaida Jalal added that Imran Khan is the first Prime Minister to visit south Balochistan after former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had done so half a century earlier.
Balochistan, one of the largest but the least populated provinces of Pakistan, remains its most backward in all development parameters - education, water supply, power consumption and poverty. Paradoxically, it is the richest province in natural resources due to coal, copper and gold mines. The Baloch people feel that Pakistan, along with China, through the mammoth and exploitative CPEC is sucking out the natural resources leaving the Baloch people poorer. This sentiment has led to dozens of attacks on Pakistani Army, who are seen as an occupying force.
A raging insurgency for independence by numerous Baloch groups has become as old as Pakistan itself. This war of attrition between the Pakistani intelligence and forces and the Baloch rebels has also pitchforked the vast region into international limelight. Balochistan, with its porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, has also become notorious for cross-border movement of narcotics, arms and militiamen.
This January, Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government is paying full attention to the socio-economic development of the region. He added: "The PTI-led government is the first one in history which is working towards the socio-economic development of Balochistan and paying full attention to it. We are employing efforts to develop South Balochistan through different packages, but we are still short of funds."
In the same breath, Imran Khan also blamed Afghan militant groups for sectarian killings of the Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. He also blamed India for fanning the independence movement in the region.
The division of Balochistan into Southern Balochistan has not been given wide publicity in Pakistan. The federal government is keeping it low profile. However, it does want international investment, particularly from China and non-resident Pakistanis into Gwadar to turn it financially sustainable. The Gwadar port will also operate as a second naval base for the Pakistani Navy, besides the Karachi port