A ‘made In China’ Solution? Sanaullah Baloch

Putting it in very simple terms: there is no ‘made in China’ solution for Balochistan.

Balochistan’s dormant conflict was triggered by the exploitative nature of the multi-billion mega projects introduced by Musharraf. The general signed off on the Gwadar Port project and gave away the world’s best copper-gold project, Saindak, to the Chinese without a fair and transparent bidding process. To ensure the smooth and uninterrupted expropriation of Balochistan’s natural wealth he announced the construction of three military cantonments – furthering Baloch anger.

The PPP regime, which came after Musharraf, put on hold the construction of garrisons but the multibillion dollar Saindak copper-gold deposit is being mined by the Chinese without any national or international monitoring. Against national and international rules, the Chinese company didn’t spend a single penny on human resource development, education, health and infrastructure in the concerned district, Chaghi.

Musharraf’s glitzy mega-projects didn’t envisage any local participation and had no trickle-down effect. Instead of development, his defective policies led to the wholesale destruction of Baloch society, with political unrest and violence that resulted in a significant decline in social and development indicators.

Regrettably, Pakistan’s newly-elected government is following the path taken by the former dictator, who unilaterally and insensitively took mega decisions concerning Balochistan’s sensitive projects.

During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed several MoUs and agreements with the country. The majority of them strategically significant and profitable for the Chinese, these projects are in the conflict-stricken Balochistan region which has faced extreme violence and injustices particularly in the past few years.

Apart from increased attacks by Baloch armed groups on fuel tankers bound to the Chinese-controlled Saindak copper-gold project, there hasn’t been any strong political response to PM Nawaz Sharif’s unilateral agreement with China on rails, roads, the Gwadar Port and natural resources. However, Baloch nationalists are cautiously observing the prime minister’s moves. No doubt, any miscalculation about Baloch grievances and their sensitivity towards mega projects will backfire.

Energy-hungry China is not blamed for any of the miseries and dreadful social conditions in Balochistan. And the Chinese have not offered any political solution to nor discussed Balochistan’s appalling poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and many other social problems – simply because they are interested in Balochistan and the Baloch.

China is a huge country with a massive population and is justified in looking for options and opportunities to sustain its economic growth and maintain political ‘stability’. The country is a risk-taker, and the Chinese are massively investing in very tricky projects in Africa. But one thing that our Pakistani politicians need to understand is that China’s investment and money are no guarantee for growth and political stability.

In fact, these roads, rails and ports will be of little benefit to Pakistan and Balochistan. Simply, these rail and road links along with the Gwadar Port are there to accelerate growth and speedy access of Chinese products to west bound destinations – towards the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Apart from finished goods, these infrastructures would be of more use to China to transport Balochistan’s raw mineral resources, which include copper-gold and other rare-earth minerals.

Thousands of kilometres of rails and roads were built during the British rule in Balochistan but these purpose-built roads and rails didn’t help bring education, social change and economic development. Such developments simply aimed to serve the interests of the colonial power – to facilitate colonisation, military deployments and economic exploitation.

Before taking on such ambitious challenges, the prime minister and his team have to look for an out-of-the-box solution for Balochistan – nationally debated, consulted and implemented. China’s overwhelming presence, gigantic mining machines, crisscrossing railways and roads will have very little impact, if completed, on the lives of the Baloch people.

Balochistan is going through an appalling human rights crisis – insecurity, law and order coupled with a surge of religious extremism which many believe is used as a tool to counter the Baloch national struggle.

China has nothing to offer on these issues. It may have a solution for the country’s energy crisis, its crumbling railway and expropriation of resources. However, for peace, political stability and conflict resolution, PM Nawaz has to develop his own road map and demonstrate willingness to overhaul faulty and colonially-structured political, security and economic institutions that are unacceptable to the politically-conscious Baloch society.

In an environment of mistrust, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif needs to address Balochistan’s chronic human rights crisis on a fast track. His government must powerfully unmask the real elements of the powerful security establishment that are benefiting from self-created chaos and disorder and are unwilling for any political settlement to be reached.

Putting it in very simple terms: there is no ‘made in China’ solution for Balochistan.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan. Email: [email protected]

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