Dialogue at Gwadar: Ex-CM Balochistan for including Baloch communities in all CPEC projects

By Hamid Khan Wazir

GWADAR, Pakistan: The former Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Mohammad Malik Baloch believes that federal and provincial governments should priorities the inclusion of Balochistan’s local communities in all China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, and their interests and identities need to be protected through legislation for economically sustainable and socially acceptable development.

Speaking at a stakeholders’ round-table at Gwadar, Dr Baloch advocated the greater lead role of the locals in running institutions such as the Gwadar Port and Gwadar Development Authority (GDA).

“How can you expect the local people not to be resentful if their share of jobs in provincial institutions such as GDA or the Port Authority is minimal,” asked the former chief minister, adding that share of jobs must be increased for locals (Gwadar) in particular and Baloch people in general across the province.

The former chief minister pointed out that inclusive development is the spirit of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but we haven’t seen direct involvement of local communities in planning and execution of critical development projects in Balochistan.

The political activists, provincial government’s officials, fishermen, and business representatives participated in the round-table, organized jointly by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and the Association for Integrated Development (AID), sounded frustrated with what they called the indifference of federal and provincial governments to issues such as health, education and livelihoods of the fishermen.

“Is it not ironical that we are surrounded by sea but have hardly a pint of potable water,” asked local trader dealing in fish.

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Most of the delegates, who deal in fisheries, demanded subsidies or cheaper loans to further develop their business. Almost 75 percent of Gwadar’s population lives off the sea i.e. fishing but hardly has anybody access to subsidies or loans, they pointed out. Almost all participants pointed out the dismal state of public health and educational institutions.

Abul Hassan, a local political activist, asked if the CPEC agreements were state-to-state loan and grants or were purely commercial projects. He bemoaned the fact that hardly was socio-economic impact study carried out before launching development projects that concerned humans and the ecology of Gwadar. The people at large sound wary of local politicians;  they are ready (politicians)  to spend tens of millions on their election campaign but hardly seem to care for potable water that locals so desperately need, commented a local fisherman during the stakeholders’ dialogue.

Residents of Gwadar also appear discomforted with the unusually strict security measures on roads connecting the port with the city.

“These security measures would come across as less imposing if the personnel on checkpoints were sensitised on how to approach locals,” said Ashraf Hussein, a local politician.

They demanded immediate redressal of problems that local fishermen face because of the trawlers that intrude into Balochistan’s waters from Sind.  Most of the participants also repeatedly underscored the need for urgently setting up technical education/training centres in Gwadar so the city could produce young skilled workers for the upcoming industrial zone.

Officials, speaking in their personal capacity, did point out that several demands by the local communities were being gradually addressed, albeit at a slow pace. This obviously leads to frustration among people who feel their livelihoods and social space in Gwadar may be at risk.