The timely of completion of $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and mainly development of Gwadar Port under these projects becomes fully operational as hub port will change the fortune of Balochistan — the most backward and the country’s poorest province. On the other hand, if the terrorist activities to sabotage the mega development process gets boost in the next few years in Balochistan, it will be a disaster for the least developed province.
The economic outlook of Balochistan looks somewhat bright and somewhat uncertain. In the coming years, much depends on the state of security prevailing in the province. In fact, a restive Balochistan complicates things related to the development of CPEC, a game changer project, which allows China the access to energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia. But in fact, a peaceful and stable province guarantees the execution and completion of all strategic projects related to CPEC.
Islamabad has been accusing India of using Afghanistan soil in inviting proxy war against Pakistan and sponsoring terror attacks in Pakistan. Is India engaged in a proxy war to destabilize Pakistan through its presence in Afghanistan and Iran bordering Balochistan? Afghanistan is in virtual control of the US and it is not possible that the US is not aware of India’s anti-Pakistan activities. The US is apparently in alliance with Pakistan in war on terror, but actually it is allied with India. Whatever be the dirty game being played out by the external actors, it is the internal weaknesses and unresolved or mishandled conflicts in a country that are actually exploited by the external forces. The bad governance, corruption, socio-economic injustices and military handling of political problems has made things complicated in the country as whole and Balochistan in particular.
Present Balochistan government has already announced to lift a ban on all new projects of oil and gas exploration across the province. The province offers great opportunities in oil and gas exploration sector for local and foreign investors. The exploration projects can open up the province converting it into a land of opportunities for foreign investors. Security has however, been the main issue related to the energy sector development in Balochistan. According to one estimate, as many as 25 blocks of oil and gas were closed and 16 blocks had been opened with the co-operation of Balochistan government during past 10 years. Time calls for opening up the resource-rich Balochistan for investments in oil and gas sector, as the acute gas shortage has led to the closure of many industrial units rendering thousands of people jobless across the country.
As compared to other provinces, Balochistan offers greater investment opportunities in all sectors of economy. The province is rich in natural resources, but it is still underdeveloped region. It has tremendous potential for development of horticulture, particularly the fruit farms. There is a lot of potential for development in the livestock and dairy sectors, as the province can earn a substantial amount of income by exporting the products in these sectors to the lucrative markets in the food deficit region- Afghanistan and Central Asia. The land along coastal belt has enormous potential for development of shrimp farming and processing projects, which can play a vital role in fisheries development in the province. For its huge mineral potential, the province is known as museum of minerals.
As a regional hub of business, trade and commercial activity, Gwadar port can provide a solid base for the economic progress of the province. The establishment of Free Trade Zone, and Export Processing Zone (EPZ) will open the doors for development of small, medium and large scale industries generating revenue for the government and providing profitable avenues for both the skilled and non-skilled workforce in Balochistan.
Gwadar free port project promises massive investment, greater generation of employment opportunities and more development projects in different sectors of provincial economy.
Gwadar port will catalyze the development process in the province bringing it at par with other provinces. It will open up the hinterland. Besides, serving as transshipment hub, it would promote the development of a refinery and petrochemical complex and other industries.
The CPEC involves construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines connecting western China with Pakistan and the Persian Gulf. The two countries signed 51 deals worth billions of dollars mostly relating to the CPEC project. There are no two opinions that the CPEC is going to be a game changer for investment-starved Balochistan. No doubt, a huge investment in infrastructure sector promises a brilliant economic future for the development of industry in the province and it will bring about a revolution in its communication sector. The project would initiate a mega development process with huge investments which could make the province a new economic frontier of the country.
Gwadar port project is expected to bring a revolution in social sector changing the socio-economic conditions of the local people and raising their living standards. Many industries have been envisaged to be established in and around Gwadar. The skilled manpower would be needed for the operation of the port and the allied industries.
According to one estimate, the Gwadar port has the potential to generate over $50 billion in transit trade annually and after becoming fully operational along with strong communication and transport links with Central Asian States, Iran, western provinces of China and commercial cities of the country, an estimated two-third population of Balochistan will become part of port-related activities.
Commerce, industry, trade and economic activities would receive a boost after the development of two-phased seaport in the province. Naturally the local people will benefit from the economic activities underway in their areas. The mega seaport project will open the doors for development of small, medium and large scale industries generating revenue for the government and providing profitable avenues for both the skilled and non-skilled workforce in Balochistan.
The deteriorating law and order situation in Balochistan has been the main reason for slow progress on port-related projects in Gwadar. Today, the province suffers from a separatist insurgency. It reels from sectarian terrorism and targeted killings on ethnic lines. It is not the ports and pipelines which will bring peace and stability in the country but it is peace which will actually materialize the projects vital to economic progress and prosperity.
Balochistan has ever remained on the political periphery of the country. The province has ever been at the receiving end. The long history of neglect and discrimination against the province and the military operations undertaken in the past and the one currently underway has turned it into a mega sensitive province.