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China, Pakistan investment in Gwadar pushes the Baloch minority to the margins

The Pakistani port city of Gwadar, being developed by big Chinese investment, is bringing rich profits to Pakistani investors. The port city is witnessing the

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Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  9 April 2021 7:31 AM GMT

NEW DELHI: The Pakistani port city of Gwadar, being developed by big Chinese investment, is bringing rich profits to Pakistani investors. The port city is witnessing the development of special economic zones, industrial clusters, residential estates, recreational facilities like a golf park, malls and various modes of connectivity.

The hectic development in the port city, once a sleeping fishing village inhabited by the Baloch minority, is coming at a heavy cost to the locals. For the Baloch people, the city is out of bounds as it has been fenced off, they have no stake in its development, do not partake in the galloping land prices and do not get jobs either.

DrZainabAkhter, Research Analyst, South Asia Centre, ManoharParrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) says: "The benefits of development of Gwadar are not trickling down to the local people. The locals were dependent on fishing and waterways - their main source of livelihoods. But the Pakistani establishment will not give jobs to the locals."

"Gwadar Master Plan envisions a wide city and suburban roads, shopping malls, hotels, recreation ventures, world-class education, and health facilities alongside top-class industry and business infrastructure. Moreover, as per the plan, Gwadar will have convenient global access by road, rail, air, and sea as well as cutting-edge Telecommunication Infrastructure connected to the Global Information Super-Highway. In short, Gwadar envisages Gwadar to be a "Global Smart City," says the Gwadar Master Plan which runs till 2050.

The master plan for the port city, which is to be developed on the lines of a cosmopolitan Dubai and Singapore, has been designed by Chinese firm, China Communications Construction Company. The Minister of Planning, Development & Reform and the Gwadar Development Authority too have contributed to the plan. The idea is to turn Gwadar into a South Asian economic hub "with a GDP per capita of $15,000 10 times that of Pakistan's average."

Land prices in Gwadar have shot up manifold and large Pakistani real estate companies have shifted base to the city from other parts of the country. Pakistani developers plan to build facilities for adventure, water sports and also develop it as a tourist destination. Many have already raked in big monies by buying and selling land.

Ironically, Pakistanis put faith in Gwadar not because of their own government but because Gwadar is a made-in-China product. China has designed it, is investing big in it and is running it as well.

Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune quoted Zhang Baozhong, chairman of China Overseas Ports Holding Company the firm that operates GwadarPort as saying that 43 Chinese companies will invest in the special economic zone while 200 more firms have registered for it.

As Chinese companies come into Gwadar and pull in Pakistani investment, an alienated Baloch minority gets pushed out. Akhter adds: "The main issue is gentrification - displacement of local people from core areas of Gwadar. They are migrating to the outskirts of Gwadar or Karachi where they live in dismal conditions. Local fishing will be replaced by Chinese fishing companies, so the benefit will either go to China or port revenues that come under the federal government."

As Pakistan attracts investment into Gwadar from non-resident Pakistanis as well as local companies, it has conveniently overlooked the rights of the indigenous people. Italian journalist Francesca Marino, in her book Balochistan: Bruised, Battered and Bloodied, released in 2020 says that the CPEC project did not even compensate the local populace for acquiring their land. Moreover, jobs under the Gwadar projects are going to "imported workers" - the workforce that has been ferried into Balochistan from other provinces, says the book. (IANS)

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