In 'crown jewel' Gwadar, residents dismayed by 10 years of CPEC

By Zarak Khan

Residents of Gwadar in June attend a protest for basic civil rights. [Zarak Khan/Pakistan Forward]

Residents of Gwadar in June attend a protest for basic civil rights. [Zarak Khan/Pakistan Forward]

ISLAMABAD -- Increasing Chinese influence brought about by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over the past decade has provoked widespread local anger, leading to a rise of ethnic insurgency in Balochistan and fuelling concern that militant groups will step up violence in the region.

Balochistan, with Gwadar as its main port city, is the country's largest but least developed region, despite its abundance of natural resources, and is the main junction for Chinese economic interests in the country under the CPEC, a Pakistani component of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The province's population is outraged by the rising influence of Chinese companies that are exclusively interested in exploiting local resources while paying almost no attention to local needs.

Banned Baloch militant groups, particularly the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), have tapped into the sentiment that Chinese investment under the CPEC has not benefited locals.

They have targeted infrastructure projects and Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times in recent years.

The proscribed Baloch militant groups, particularly the BLA and BLF, exploit anti-Chinese sentiments and easily recruit youth to violently attack Chinese and Pakistani interests, said a Quetta-based security official who requested anonymity.

"Ethnic insurgency in Balochistan began in 2004, but it worsened and became more lethal after the arrival of the CPEC 10 years ago," he said.

The BLA and BLF are also part of Baloch Raji Aajoi Saangar (BRAS), an operational alliance of several militant groups from Balochistan and Sindh, formed mainly to strike at Chinese interests, he said.

In June this year, the BLA claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing committed by a woman on a police van in Turbat city, Balochistan, that killed a policeman and wounded two others.

After the BLA killed three Chinese teachers in a suicide bombing in Karachi in April 2022, BLA spokesperson Jeeyand Baloch in a statement threatened Beijing with "even harsher" attacks unless the neighbouring country halted its "exploitation projects" and "occupying of the Pakistani state".

In Karachi, the BLA targeted the Chinese consulate in 2018 and the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE)'s building in 2020. A consortium of Chinese companies owns 40% of the PSE.

Plundering resources

Of particular importance to Beijing, CPEC has built trade routes connecting China's far-western Xinjiang region to the strategically situated Pakistani deep-water Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.

Gwadar is often referred to as the "crown jewel" of CPEC.

However, despite a decade of Pakistani-Chinese collaboration, residents and activists say that basic public issues in Gwadar, such as quality healthcare and education, and shortages of water and electricity, have not been resolved.

In December, Pakistani authorities -- at the behest of Beijing, according to locals -- cracked down on a protest movement in Gwadar that was conveying residents' concerns over Chinese influence on their livelihoods and daily lives.

At a protest in mid-November, residents blocked the expressway leading to the Chinese-operated port.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies in Pakistan are continuing to run wild as Pakistani authorities see their hands tied.

A Chinese-state run company has embezzled more than 7 billion PKR ($26 million) from the Saindak Copper-Gold Mine project in Chaghi district, Balochistan, Muhammad Arif Muhammad Hasni, a local lawmaker, informed the provincial parliament in February.

"The Balochistan government is not taking any action against Chinese companies because it fears that Beijing will be angered and this will affect Sino-Pak relations," Hasni said during a provincial assembly session.

Do you like this article?

0 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500