After being in limbo for a while, the Kashgar-Gwadar route is back in the mainstream national debate. Now that the authorities are planning to alter the route, disagreements and objections have flared up again. Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Ideological) have both mounted opposition to the proposed route change.
The proposal, the said parties say, bypasses the rights of the people of Balochistan who ought to be the key beneficiaries, given that Gwadar is located in Balochistan. In an All Parties Conference convened to discuss the issue recently, an ANP leader said, “Center must include Balochistan, otherwise we will agitate.”
Veteran Baloch nationalist and activist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur wrote about China-backed development in Balochistan back in 2013, “All concessions are aimed at ensuring China’s involvement in the exploitation of Balochistan’s resources. The Baloch resent this parcelling out and surrender of Gwadar on the pretext of development, as it would hasten the demographic changes and give China a military foothold there.”
Talpur further writes, “the locals are left out of the benefits; demographic changes are wrought forcibly; a rapacious land grab and exploitation of resources on the lame pretext of development continues; acute shortage of essential facilities is perpetual; Baloch assets are gifted away; militarisation goes on unhindered; the armed forces impose arbitrary restrictions and deal punitively with the Baloch; the list of killed and missing keeps mounting, and last but not the least, the Baloch continue to resist all these injustices.”
The Kashgar-Gwadar route is an economic door which Pakistan will provide to China, linking the Xinjiang region in China to Pakistan’s port-city of Gwadar. The route is originally planned to go through Gilgit, Muzaffarabad, Mianwali, DG Khan, Khuzdar and Turbat.
National Highway Authority (NHA) had proposed to construct a number of new roads to facilitate the completion of the route. China had also announced development projects worth $20 billion for the route and cities along the route. It stands to benefit immensely from the brief route (2395 kilometer) it will have available compared to the Persian-Gulf to Beijing route it currently uses which spans over 12,900 km in the sea.
However, Chairman NHA has recently stated in front of a Senate meeting that the available funds are insufficient to complete the original route, so the authorities are considering a different course. This alternative route will rely on existing roads and infrastructure, going through Islamabad and Lahore and leaving out major portions of the originally planned route in the provinces of KPK and Balochisan.
NHA officials say that such a route will require far less funds, allowing the government to make Gwadar port operational by May this year. As opposed to the originally-planned route which is 2395 km, this alternate route will span over 2740 km.
The Senate committee has, however, come up with a number of objections to this proposal. The first and foremost is the contention that this decision is political. And that once the original plan is bypassed, all the resources will be consumed in the make-shift, temporary route, said Senator Farhatullah Babar.
Baloch nationalists criticize the entire project, terming it an exploitation of Baloch resources by Pakistani and Chinese governments. Over the last week, Twitter hashtag #ChinaQuitBalochistan has been used to voice opposition from Baloch nationalists who want China to give up on the idea. The key contention from this quarter is that without involving people of Balochistan as a stakeholder in the whole plan, any such project is not acceptable. The other stakeholders need to address these contentions if the economic corridor is to become a viable reality.
Route Maps courtesy: Intermodal Asia