Balochistan is at the heart of CPEC where the jewel of BRI Gwadar is building and progressing with each passing day.
Gwadar’s development progress is sin qua non to the development and progress on BRI. With trade going from the mountains of Kashgar to the Arabian Sea and beyond across the globe, Balochistan is the epitome of global economic prosperity.
The province is having five percent of Pakistan’s population and is rich in natural resources. With 750 km of the coastline, Gwadar and Pasni are the two major seaports with significant industrial, economic, blue economy, trade, and business hubs.
The trends of global integration made both China and Pakistan progress together towards building a shared future. Balochistan with its immense treasures has remained at the forefront of development and progress.
CPEC offered much-needed impetus to the revolution of development happening not only across Pakistan but in Balochistan as well.
Over the years, Balochistan faced the threats of terrorism and the battleground of the proxy wars, creating challenges for the region to build its strength, development, and progress.
After the advent of the CPEC, Balochistan saw the light of the day. CPEC has made tremendous progress in the province where the communications linkages have been developed, and Chinese companies are investing to offer employment opportunities to the locals.
CPEC is following a hybrid approach, a mix of high-end development projects with regional impacts and low-end projects with localized impacts to ensure equitable growth and development in the province.
Some major projects for Balochistan are 1300 MW Hub Coal Power Plant, 300 MW Power plant at Gwadar, East Bay Express Way, Makran Coastal, Gwadar international airport, Gwadar-Nawabash LNG terminal, Gwadar Smart port city, expansion multipurpose terminal including water treatment plant, Gwadar East Bay Expressway, Gwadar hospital up-gradation, Gwadar primary school, and Zhob Quetta highways.
The core of the CPEC projects across Pakistan is energy projects which are also spread in Balochistan.
In the first phase of the CPEC, the focus was on energy projects. As a result of the crisis of energy for Pakistan, these projects on CPEC were considered a lifeline for the industry.
The projects of energy in Balochistan are expected to generate 1620 MW of energy through coal power. Hub Power Plant is its kind power generation plant jointly developed by Hub Power Company Ltd and China Power International Holdings.
This is one of the initial coal-powered plants in Balochistan which has gone operational and provides electricity to multiple regions of Balochistan on a commercial scale.
It is worth mentioning here it has been developed in record time and was part of Early Harvest Projects under CPEC.
This project has added 9 billion kWh energy to the national grid fulfilling the needs of the people of Balochistan. There is another unit of the same power plant developed in the follow-up a year later enabling energy independence in the area.
It is also pertinent to report that Hub power company keeps high standards of Health, Safety, and Environment graph and offers quality services for the people of Balochistan.
CPEC is making it possible to help the authorities to offer power distribution to far-flung areas in the region.
As a result of these joint projects, the companies working have also offered their Corporate Social Responsibility and helped the local communities. They are undertaking social welfare projects for the community in Hub and Lasbela.
These projects include a school in Gadani, a floating jetty in Abbas Village, skill development, and vocational training at the local level.
Hub Power Company is operating four power plants in Pakistan and further plans to expand its welfare footprint in entire Pakistan, a single larger company registered with CPEC.
There are multiple other companies that are working for the energy needs of Balochistan.
Apart from energy projects, there are six mega road and connectivity projects in Balochistan, including the 305-km Zhob-Quetta (Kuchlak, N-50), 1, 235-km DI Khan (Yarik) – Zhob, N-50 Phase-I, 106-km Khuzdar-Basima Road (N-30), 46-km Hoshab-Awaran Road Section (M-8) and 168-km Awaran-Khuz.
The major goal of CPEC is to connect Balochistan to international trade channels in order to strengthen the province’s economy. The development of the Chaman, Quetta, and Karachi Motorways, the Gawadar Eastbay Expressway, a six-lane urban highway, and the Quetta DI Khan motorway among others, speaks volumes of the strong Pakistan-China bond.
Gwadar region of Baluchistan has been central to development under CPEC. The initial phase of development in Gwadar is completed which covers four major projects including Port Development and Free Zone, Gwadar Smart Port City, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute, and Gwadar East Bay expressway.
There are multiple other projects which are very close to completion covering International Airport, water desalination, Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Coal Power Plant, 1.2 MGD, and 5 MGD water desalination plants.
It is worth mentioning here that there are multiple projects in the pipeline such as the Smart Environment Sanitation System, Fish landing Jetty, Fish boat making, dredging of berthing areas, and channels at the port.
Over the years, China has developed a deep interest in Gwadar port in Pakistan and has been considering Gwadar a crucial component of the Belt and Road Initiative.
These Chinese interests are driven by economic factors and prospects of regional integration because China seeks connectivity with Europe, Central Asia, and South Asia.
Gwadar port is a gateway to Central Asia, and West Asia, and a passage to Turkey via Iran, a route that can be stretching up to Europe.
The enhancement of the fishing industry, boat making, livestock, mining projects, agriculture, and halal food cover the micro-industry for the local people.
Due to the CPEC, the least developed and less populated regions of Balochistan such as Panjgur and Turbat are central to development being on the heads of the Western route of CPEC.
These areas will not only be connected with major urban centers but also go through the infrastructure development covering schools, hospitals, and local small-to-medium size industry.
To boost the local blue economy, and fish industry and facilitate the local fishermen, Pakistan and China are jointly working on creating a blue economy, the economic activity across the coastal areas.
Balochistan contributes to the 35% of total fish caught at the local level. Gwadar Livelihood project is helping to upgrade and maintain the local population, especially fishermen to carry out their live hoods and build their lives.
Pakistan is the 6th largest area for mangroves with the potential $4 billion export potential, which along with fishing, can help the local populace.
Although the Gwadar port also falls under the category of blue economy, it is being taken into the context of the traditional economy due to immense commercial activity. Pakistan and China had declared the year 2022 as the year of the blue economy.
Special Economic Zones are other critical components of CPEC which are destined to be the manufacturing hub in Pakistan.
The proposed sites for economic zones in Balochistan are Dera Murad Jamali, Uthal, Hub, Quetta, and the largest one in Gwadar.
Out of 8 economic zones, Bostan Economic Zone is situated in Baluchistan which will house important industries. Bostan Economic Zone is located in Pishin.
One thousand acres of land had been allocated for the SEZ and is adjacent to Qila Saifullah, Qila Abdullah, Ziarat, and Quetta. Development progress on this important economic zone is ongoing and has been announced to be completed.
Quetta houses skilled labor in plenty while Qila Saifullah is known for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Ziarat has its own recognition in grapes, dry fruit, and apple whereby Qila Abdullah has a suitable climate for fruits.
This landscape is very conducive to the industry of juices, packaged meat, fruits, and vegetables. The SEZ will also house the manufacturing units of motorbikes, pharmaceutical companies, chromite, ceramic industry, ice and cold storage industry, food processing industry, and agriculture machinery.
Gwadar international airport is an important project for Balochistan and this entire region which is connected with Airport in Quetta and Gwadar while the land route is connected with Gwadar Seaport.
This Airport is a 246 $M greenfield airport with an area of 4300 acres. This airport will be jointly owned by Pakistan and China and will be managed by Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Quetta Airport is 23 km away, dry port Quetta 32 km, and Gwadar 976 km away from Bostan Economic Zone. It has also been announced recently that Gwadar international airport will be inaugurated next year in March.
The governments of Pakistan and China are working closely to enhance Balochistan’s national and international air connectivity.
The incumbent government is also directed for the opening of the new Gwadar airport next year as a gift to the people of Balochistan.
It is important to note that there are also directions from the ministry of planning development and reform that the international flights from Quetta airport may be started by August 14 this year.
This will connect the province with the Middle East and facilitate the large number of Pakistanis living outside in the Gulf countries. There are also intentions to start the Hajj flights from Quetta Airport to Jeddah Airport.
The logistical arrangements are currently ongoing. Through this enhanced connectivity, the people of Balochistan will have larger openings from the outside world.
From the CPEC authorities, there are certain industry recommendations to be established covering Agriculture machinery, Food processing, Pharmaceuticals, Chromite, Ceramic Industries, Ice and Cold Storage, Electric Appliances, and the Halal Food Industry.
It is important to highlight that Phase 1 of the plot’s allotment for the industry has begun.
Given the centrality of Gwadar port to the CPEC, its development is the core socio-economic interest of China and Pakistan.
Gwadar is connecting BRI to Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, Russia, and China by linking the states with international maritime routes. It not only elevates the global profile of Pakistan but also earns significant revenue for Pakistan and China at the same time.
One of the world’s largest deep-sea ports, Gwadar is not developing in isolation. As a result of the progress in Gwadar, entire communities are developing facilitating the local people with opportunities for health, education, clean drinking water, special economic zones, and employment.
A bitter historic past suggests that Baluchistan had been the least developed region in Pakistan but CPEC has offered a new life focusing on socio-economic development in Balochistan.
It has always been an important region in Pakistan due to its vast reserves of natural resources, but recently it has been intertwined with the fate of China being a major stakeholder in Balochistan.
There has been a rise in terrorist and extremist incidents and factions that remained active in the region as a result of the generous support from those enemies of the CPEC and Pakistan-China friendship and trust.
For instance, the attack on Karachi University where innocent Chinese teachers were killed and another attack on Quetta hotel, all originated from Balochistan. To address these issues, the solution lies in the development and more development of the region.
China and Pakistan are collaborating in Baluchistan and assisting with multiple development projects along with evolving Gwadar into an economic hub in Balochistan.
The government of Balochistan, with the help of the federation and Chinese support, has initiated 200 different projects under human resource development programs covering vocational training skills development institutions.
There are plans to open nursing schools. Gwadar has 150 beds hospital offering health services.
Recently Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited Gwadar after assuming office and announced to give Solar Panels for free electricity and boat engines to fishermen for fishing purposes along with projects of water desalination plants for a clean delivery of water.
The real-time fruits of socio-economic development are not only transforming and helping youth to receive skills for the future.
The youth in Baluchistan can act as a counter-extremism catalyst and infuse peace and stability in the region with effective opportunities from the ongoing progress on CPEC.
With progress on projects, soon Baluchistan’s destiny will be changed into a progressive and developed region. Baluchistan is truly the heart of CPEC creating waves of development and progress across.
*The writer is Research Fellow at the Centre for Central Asia and Eurasian Studies