Violence at Balochistan mines spotlights grievances over Chinese investment

By Abdul Ghani Kakar

Baloch militants in February. [Baloch Nationalist Army]

Baloch militants in February. [Baloch Nationalist Army]

QUETTA -- Attacks by suspected Baloch militant groups on development projects have intensified over the past month, as grievances continue over Chinese investment in Balochistan.

Suspected militants on June 14 abducted four workers from the Habibullah Coal Mine near Quetta.

Thousands of coal miners from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab work in Balochistan.

"The motive for the abduction is not known, but it seems that the same militants involved in the incident may consider the ongoing development process in Balochistan against their interests," said Asmatullah, a senior official of Habibullah Coal Mines.

Trade union activists shout slogans to mark International Labour Day in Quetta May 1. [Banaras Khan/AFP]

Trade union activists shout slogans to mark International Labour Day in Quetta May 1. [Banaras Khan/AFP]

"The lives of thousands of workers in the mining sector of Balochistan are under threat due to rising insurgency in the province," he said.

Militants are freely moving in far-flung areas of the province and demanding that labourers leave, he added.

"We are in contact for the safe recovery of our abducted workers, but so far no development has been shared with us."

"The main purpose of spreading unrest is to create uncertainty in the province and to send a message to the world that the situation is not good for investment here," Bilal Ahmed, a senior security official based in Quetta, told Pakistan Forward.

"The militant groups are cashing in on the fault lines of the province and in restive areas," he added.

"Restoring law and order is the top priority of the government in Balochistan. Every effort is being made to protect the lives and property of the people," said Ahmed.

The mining sector and workers of construction companies are being targeted because anti-state groups want to force these thousands of workers to leave the province, he said.

Beijing in recent years has inked deals with Islamabad for several multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a Pakistani component of China's controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt One Road (OBOR).

But the deals have raised concerns among local residents about Chinese influence and resentment over the companies' labour practices, particularly paying Chinese nationals more than Pakistani workers.

Anger over growing Chinese influence in Balochistan has spurred Baloch and Sindhi militant organisations to ally with each other, fuelling concern that the combined group will step up violent activities in the region.

Plundering resources

Local officials have accused Islamabad of refusing to include the Balochistan government in discussions with foreign companies.

"Chinese companies have long been plundering Balochistan's resources in collaboration with the federal government. We will not accept any deal with a foreign company that does not involve the real leadership of Balochistan," said Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani, a former senator and senior political leader.

"For decades, Chinese companies have been plundering our resources ... but the government of Balochistan and especially the people have been ignored in all these matters."

"Unless steps are taken to improve the situation in Balochistan based on on-the-ground realities, no foreign investment here can be beneficial to anyone," he added.

"Foreign companies, especially Chinese investors, haven't yet fulfilled promises that were made during the signing of contracts," said Abdul Malik Baloch, president of the National Party and former chief minister of Balochistan.

"The announcements made by the Chinese companies operating here regarding the provision of employment opportunities to the local people and the development of respective areas are also tantamount to non-implementation," he said.

"Balochistan is a province rich in natural resources -- if the agreements signed on these resources do not include the leadership of the province, then how can we accept the decisions of the government in this regard?"

One of the main reasons for the instability in Balochistan is that Islamabad is rapidly entering into agreements with foreign investors but not paying attention to the impact of these agreements, he said.

"Even during my tenure, the central government did not pay any attention to the concerns raised about the agreements with Chinese companies. This would not be the case today if the concerns raised were addressed," he added.

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