A study carried out with the technical assistance of the World Bank has shocked the leaders of the volatile Pakistani province of Balochistan, which feels deprived of its due share of investments pledged under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) mega-project.
The Balochistan cabinet, during a briefing last week, was informed that the investments thus far made in the province were dismally low while the ongoing development projects moved along at a snail’s pace.
The province’s legislative assembly termed Chinese investment a joke and exhorted Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani to take up the issue with the central Pakistani government for rectification, a demand that the federal Planning Ministry cannot possibly meet without first ratifying it with the China-Pakistan Joint Coordination Committee (JCC).
To make things worse for Chinese policymakers, the politicians of Balochistan, a heartland of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, feel ignored in the multibillion-dollar initiative after learning that a mere 9% of development work has been completed during the last approximately five years against CPEC’s total investment portfolio of US$5.5 billion.
The briefing, given by the World Bank-sponsored CPEC cell of the province’s Planning and Development Department, dwelt at length on the five-year performance overview of the CPEC projects. The cabinet was informed that there was no progress on the Western Route of the corridor as none of the roads that are part of the so-called “western alignment” have seen any work. Also, out of the minuscule share of the total allocated for Balochistan, only $1 billion has been spent during the last five years or so.
The lawmakers learned that China had shelved two of the big projects, namely Quetta Mass Transit and the pat feeder (canal) to the Quetta water supply, which the provincial government is believed to be financing through its own resources. The findings also show that the power deficit of the province remains 700 megawatts, despite the additional power-generation capacity with the commissioning of early-harvest projects of the CPEC.
Feeling the heat, the federal minister for planning, development and reforms (PD&R), Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, rushed to Balochistan House in Islamabad on Thursday to meet with Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan and try to put his concerns about the CPEC’s Western Route to rest. He assured the chief minister that the implementation of the projects would “open up” and Balochistan would be prioritized in the socio-economic development component of the CPEC.
However, an official of the PD&R Ministry, on condition of anonymity, told Asia Times that the chief minister insisted that he would not attend the forthcoming CPEC JCC meeting scheduled to be held next week in Beijing unless the federal government gets the agenda of the meeting revised.
Balochistan, he claimed, wanted to get its stakes secured in the CPEC portfolio with an assurance from Beijing that completion of existing projects will take precedence over the rest of the corridor’s activities.
He disclosed that the chief minister was informed that the responsibilities for slow execution and elimination of mega-projects rest solely on the province’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government and the present set-up would remove the grievances of Balochistan in this regard.
Khusro Bakhtiar did not respond to a call from Asia Times for comments despite repeated attempts.
The PML-N is, however, in a state of denial saying that neither the chief minister, Balochistan nor the provincial assembly issued any such indication that the province had been snubbed in CPEC-related funding. The whole issue, it claimed, was created by the anti-CPEC lobby to malign China and the PML-N government.
“In his recent interview with the BBC, Finance Minister Asad Umar disclosed that the chief minister of Balochistan during a meeting in Beijing [requested that the Chinese] make more investment in Balochistan. He was on board and fully committed with the developments,” Ahsan Iqbal, a former federal minister and a focal person for the CPEC initiative in the PML-N government, told Asia Times.
He said the elected representatives of Balochistan had not issued any statement to show their reservations on the pace of development or lack of funding under the CPEC umbrella. “Certain elements are busy feeding concocted stories to the press to create confusion and damage the friendly relationship between China and Pakistan,” he said, adding that the PML-N had never ignored Balochistan.
The official circles of Balochistan did air concerns on the CPEC projects. In a tweet last week, the chief minister wrote, “Balochistan shall work for its true share…. It’s sad in last 5 years we got only 5% of the overall share … and it’s sad to see how our governments proved incompetent in achieving … we missed the first 3 years where Balochistan could have gotten anything it needed.”
Balochistan is a belligerent and worrisome region for CPEC. The forces of Baloch radical nationalists have been waging a war against the Chinese penetration in the Global South. Baloch separatists have been opposing the project since its inception, fearing the circle of exploitation will further strengthen if the province collaborates with a foreign state. By carrying out targeted killings, abductions of Chinese workers and attacks on the Chinese installations and CPEC infrastructure, they have expressed anger over the Chinese involvement in Balochistan.
For the first time, the mainstream political circle of an estranged province of Pakistan has realized that all is not well with the CPEC and demanded greater share of the development pie.