As if ethno-sectarian fiasco was not enough for keeping Baluchistan tense, route controversy over China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has added more fuel to the blaze. Going by the history of earlier Balochistan related mega projects, the CPEC is likely to become increasingly contentious. Due to power play amongst the tribal heads, all Balochistan related policies and projects do become controversial, because there is hardly any tradition amongst these leaders’ agreeing on anything unanimously. As a corollary, relationship between the provincial and federal governments perpetually remains on a tenterhook. To survive politically, governors and chief ministers of this province are in a habit of occasionally resorting to rhetoric, through media, against the federal government. Playing to domestic gallery, they would often, speak about unjust resource allocation, exploitations of provincial resources, so on and so forth. Under this domestic political mosaic, arena is conducive for external meddling through interventions—both in cash and kind.
Balochistan’s ethno-sectarian fault lines are quite fragile and hence easily exploitable. With Human Resource Development Index abysmally low, common Baloch, per say, has no independent channels of voice; thus tribal chiefs and other influential persons have monopoly over when and how to convey public sentiment—which is seldom conveyed in its pure content and tenor. These traders of public sentiment speak a different language when in Islamabad, they take another stance in Quetta and exploit the people emotionally when engaging the commoners in their respective constituency.
During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China, India had expressed concern over the CPEC on account of its passage through AJK. National security adviser Ajit Doval had prepared a detailed note on the issue and he vociferously raised the issue stating that Pakistan could use the infrastructure improvement to give terrorism a further push across the border–a silly logic indeed. Resurgence of a new movement in IHK to raise Pakistani flags has indeed put off Modi. China has already dismissed Indian concerns about CPEC. Now, abundant funds have been allocated by India to RAW for keeping the route controversy in limelight and snowballing.
RAW has a long history of sowing the seeds of separatism in Balochistan pegged around disruption of development projects. It routinely provides logistics, travel facilities and platforms to separatist Baloch elements. Besides RAW, there are other players as well, who are keen to keep Baluchistan on boiling point, and CPEC on stagnations. Moreover, Afghanistan’s Karzai government had allowed RAW to establish its springboards in the form of Indian consulates along Pak-Afghan borders adjoining FATA and Baluchistan. Now signing of MoU on intelligence sharing has put the relationship on a better course. Afghan government may also be requested to curtail the activity of four controversial Indian consulates.
This is the first time in recent years that military commanders have publicly alleged the Indian hand behind unrest in the country. Unlike Indian government’s ‘tradition’ of accusing Pakistan of involvement in every terror attack in India even before investigation starts and without any concrete evidence, Pakistan’s policy has been to avoid naming Indian agencies even when they have incontrovertible evidence. Now, Pakistan has, in all probability, decided to take the RAW matter to the United Nations for sabotaging peace in Pakistan. On instructions of Prime Minister Nawaz, foreign office is working on compilation of a dossier, pertaining to India’s meddling; this shall be handed over to India in due course.
Earlier, evidence about Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan was provided to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he last visited Pakistan in 2013. Evidence against RAW has also been communicated to the Indian government at numerous occasions. Time has come to take the matter to the United Nations under UNSC resolution 1540. Moreover, Pakistan should take-up the matter with friendly as well as not-so-friendly countries which are directly and indirectly meddling in Balochistan, especially those lodging separatist Baloch leaders and allowing then to ferment terrorism in the province.
At local tier, law and order situation needs attention. Newsweek (Pakistan), in its April 12 issue carried an article “Targeting the weak”. Write-up recalls the April 10 incident about killing of 20 people in a labour camp in Turbat: “According to security officials, the attackers asked each person their province of origin before shooting them dead – 4 Sindhis and 16 Punjabis. The Baloch Liberation Front…claimed responsibility…By targeting labourers, the extremists have shown their agenda is not that of the common man”.
During a press conference in Lahore, Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik expressed his reservations about NFC award and PSDP allocations; calling for another NFC award. Next award shall soon be in the making, Balochistan government’s nominees should present their argument convincingly during the working sessions of the commission; and at the same time, the federal and remaining provincial governments should make an endeavor to address the reservations of Balochistan. Dr Abdul Malik also stated that he strongly believed that CPEC project should benefit not any foreign multinational but first the people of Gwadar and then those of Balochistan. Here CM has a point, both provincial and federal government need to jointly work out a strategy to achieve this objective in consultation with the Chinese government.
While federal government is making effort to clarify its position on CPEC, marginalized political leaders known for their controversial stance, alongside some media persons, already appear to have crossed over to the doubters’ side. It looks like that no matter what is done by the federal government, they would continue reciting the assigned line. Nevertheless, we need to discuss the matter more openly and bring all the disputes out in the open before it becomes a controversy so big that it threatens a project that could bring in enormous gains to all provinces.
Leader of the Opposition in NA Syed Khursheed Shah has raised a saner voice, by pledging in the National Assembly not to politicize the CPEC issue, he has expressed the view that even after the APC of May 13, confusion still prevails. He has urged the government to call another APC to clear confusion over CPEC project. NA has been informed that government would summon another APC to address the opposition’s concerns.
So far the debate over the CPEC, both within and outside Parliament, has largely been marked by ill-informed rhetoric, compounded by the federal government’s inability to get the story straight at the very outbreak of the rumors. Optimal solution would have been to build the western route of the CPEC first. Uncalled for frenzy could have been avoided had the government taken the concerns about the potential changes in the route seriously at the very outset and addressed the allegations.
Balochistan is a controversy prone province, where anti-federation rhetoric sell well. Some regional and extra regional countries are poised to use this psychosocial pressure point to disrupt the CPEC project. Prevailing conditions in Baluchistan are quite conducive for turning CPEC into an open ended controversy’. It is high time that concerns of Baluchistan are addressed through prudence. For a project as big as the CPEC, which is potentially a game-changing for the economy of all provinces, the nation cannot afford to fall in the trap of spoilers.
The best approach for the federal government would be to make all the information related to CPEC public through print and electronic media as well as websites; and also reach out to the people directly. At the same time, Baloch leadership should understand that due to availability of multiple routes, they do not hold veto power over the CPEC. Making the matter controversial would only cause delay in operationalization of the Western route.
A variant of the article was published in The Nation May 25, 2015.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not reflective of IPRI policy.