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CPEC’s territorial impact

Updated May 16, 2017 03:10am

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ON Nov 13, the military and civilian leaderships of Pakistan appeared on the same page during the operationalisation ceremony of Gwadar port and testing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s western route. An impressive array of development components related to road transportation, railways, port airport development (in Gwadar), energy and warehousing constitute the revealed dimensions of the corridor initiative. No doubt many more will follow.

Barring some dissenting voices, political forces and provincial administrations have generally welcomed CPEC and are working to connect with it to reap greater benefits for themselves and, perhaps, their people. However, there seems to be little effort vis-à-vis the general preparedness of the planning and implementation apparatus at the national, provincial and local levels to connect Pakistani people — especially the proletariat, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, traders and the like — with the project. While the corridors of movement and connectivity are discussed with much rigour and energy, the territorial and spatial impacts of CPEC are not being considered. Whether urban, sub-urban and logistic-based settlements shall be able to reconcile and adjust to these physical developments remains an unaddressed concern.

An immediate outcome of corridor-based developments is a rapid rise in land values along the arteries of movement in suburban and rural settings. Land and real-estate enterprises tend to cartelise to acquire land along strategic locations. Development of high-end neighbourhoods along the Super Highway between Karachi and Hyderabad is one example. All along the western and eastern routes, ruthless investment sharks are likely to expropriate land from existing owners. As a consequence, the working classes here will be pushed out and marginalised. Capitalists may also elbow out indigenous livelihoods in many parts of the alignments and corridors. Subsistence fishermen in Gwadar were concerned about the closure of the old fish harbour and shifting of the people to a new site. Farmers in Gilgit-Baltistan fear possible loss of cultivable land to non-agricultural uses for CPEC. Consultations with stakeholders can help evolve solutions to many such issues.


Working classes and indigenous livelihoods along the CPEC route are at risk of being marginalised.


The Gwadar-Kashgar route is to pass through Turbat, Panjgur, Besima, Surab, Kalat, Mastung, Quetta, Qilla Saifullah, Zhob, D.I. Khan, Mianwali, Balkasar, Hasan Abdal, Abbottabad and Gilgit. Once the work begins, speculators are certain to descend and begin acquiring strategic land and locations. This would adversely impact the many downtrodden in these areas. Also, these cities and settlements do not possess adequate warehousing or service delivery capacity to facilitate high-end trade. Basic urban infrastructure in these locations — Quetta and Gwadar included — is very deficient. Clean drinking water, sewerage and waste collection, modern livable housing, healthcare and educational facilities are either non-existent or primitive. In the aftermath of three recent terrorist attacks in Balochistan, the wounded had to be shifted to hospitals in Karachi. Ordinary residents in these areas will be deeply disappointed if CPEC fails to bring a positive change in their daily lives.

A key concern raised by some political groups is the possible in-migration of working-class people from KP, Punjab and Sindh to Balochistan. The prevailing demographics in Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar and Kalat show a low-population density. The existing population does not possess the necessary skill sets and diversity of occupational requirements essential to sustain a mega enterprise as demanding as CPEC. Hence the fear of becoming marginalised in the wake of newly arriving workers and investors is not unfounded. But intelligent and politically appropriate handling of this challenge can create an environment for healthy coexistence.

Strategic grant of amnesty to misguided Baloch youth, targeted subsidies in the form of skill development and employment, synergising commercial partnerships between locals and incoming investors are some options. These steps should be taken from a political platform with the establishment’s tacit support. If a stable Baloch middle class and local entrepreneurs evolve due to CPEC, it would be a huge service to the underdeveloped province.

It is well known that the first trading convoy was facilitated by the establishment as a test case, with extraordinary security and backup. Later, the dictates of the free market will prevail along CPEC routes. Business enterprises and transporters will decide the route and the port. With the Karachi-Peshawar Motorway moving towards completion and Karachi-Lahore railroad section getting revitalised, the importance of Karachi will become paramount again. Cities and settlements in the south and centre of Sindh — especially along the corridors of movement — will become re-strategised.

Hubs of business, warehousing and services will be needed all along the axial routes. Many branch routes will be required to connect the main CPEC corridors with existing towns, cities and upcoming energy projects. Enormous coordination will be required between the federal and Sindh governments.

Also, if Sindh wishes to benefit comprehensively from CPEC, it shall have to analyse how new centres of growth and investment could be generated in the province’s north to benefit the Hyderabad-Nawabshah-Sukkur loop and adjoining zones. Without self-managed cities, the fruits of development may remain elusive to the vast proletariat in Sindh’s secondary cities.

Many prerequisites are needed in CPEC’s planning, development and implementation. The Planning Commission must initiate a national spatial planning exercise to scientifically adjust CPEC and related activities in the country’s urban and regional geography. This plan, along with physical and operational details of logistics and services, may identify direct and indirect impacts of the proposed developments. Environmental damage and impact on livelihoods and indigenous modes of production must be minimised to make CPEC a sustainable and realistic intervention.

Proper institutional arrangements must be put in place to plan and execute CPEC-related development. A regulatory platform should be created where the physical development decisions and project proposals can be examined without fear or favour to any individual or group. The government may consider creating a CPEC land and transport authority to comprehensively plan and manage the corridor and allied locations and functions. Lessons can be drawn from the TEN-T programme across the European Union which is managed by an exclusively created Innovation and Networks Executive Agency.

The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.

Published in Dawn November 22nd, 2016

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



Comments (17) Closed



Sukhera Nov 22, 2016 07:39am

The Government is not forcing anyone to sell their land if they don't want to. Are you advocating that the investors can't buy any land along the CPEC route? These practices and laws are only allowed in communist/socialist countries. For a developing country , the government 's job is to maintain and order and let the people decide which business they want to start. The government should make easier for people to invest with minimum laws. Its better for economic forces to dictate the prices rather than the government.

Ali Raiz - Brisbane Nov 22, 2016 08:26am

Pakistani's are not suppose to think on these lines. Pakistani society is a primitive, feudalistic, labor intensive society surviving on very basis primary agriculture . The accident of birth determines the patriarch.

The questions raised in the article are good for industrial, urban, economies, where the people know how to increase the utility. The system offers people to participate, through a agreed upon process.

What about the role of the biggest real state developers in the CPEC? Can that be discussed?

Aly Alp-Ercelan Nov 22, 2016 08:34am

Should worry all of us

Shahjehan Nov 22, 2016 09:37am

In Order to gain u need to loose something, the looses mentioned by author might be real but again is so high with CPEC that looses will be shadowed. We need people to remain optimistically realistic.

RIZ Nov 22, 2016 09:52am

the bitter truth "In the aftermath of three recent terrorist attacks in Balochistan, the wounded had to be shifted to hospitals in Karachi. "

in CPEC route we don't have a single better city to cater the need to existing population, how can we imagine after fully functioning of CPEC these deficient cities will beer the load,, why we don't understand the need to better planned and managed cities and why don't start work on it,,,

we need to strengthen local govt to take charge of matters of cities and improve living conditions..

RIZ Nov 22, 2016 09:59am

first of all we need to build universities and technical colleges in Panjgo, turbat, kalat and at gawadar soon.. CPEC is long project and graduates from these colleges will surely take part in it.. this is very good suggestion to make CPEC land and transport authority , which assess the need to every city and town on the route and suggest the local city authorities to do the needful also can fund the projects..

here the role of city govt is very important. they need to ally with CPEC and have to participate the the CPEC land and transport authority ...

on Nov 22, 2016 10:44am

The author has some valid points. There is no miracle solution. India, for example has also experimented with mixed results on such huge developmental projects like SEZs, corridors, and State Industrial development zones. The results have varied depending upon many local factors and ground realities. A thorough study with small pilot projects in phases in each region would be better option.

citizen Nov 22, 2016 12:27pm

Not agree.. CPEC is a project which will propel Pakisthan in to one of the topmost economy next only to China in Asia.. Wait and see.. Billions and billions of generated income will usher Pakisthan in to top 10 economies of this planet..

Mujahid Hussain Nov 22, 2016 12:37pm

survey of pakistan should conduct survey with help of chinese experts from Gilgit to Gawader and from Gilgit to karachi and make consenses among the provences for better planning and implimantion and execution of CPEC.

AHA Nov 22, 2016 01:31pm

There is something called forward thinking which is missing. Ambanis build technical colleges and trained 300,000 youth before opening their refinery in Jamnagar.

Khalifa Nov 22, 2016 01:59pm

@Sukhera Please see how the many flashy land and real estate enterprises have cleverly usurped land along Super Highway in Karachi and in Gwadar, from those who were absolutely unwilling to sell it. A famous 'philanthropist' in the country is going around forcing people to submit to his plans or else...... ! There is a difference between a willing transaction between two parties and a clandestine maneuver to acquire land without any fairness. If you study Pakistan's history, it is replete with examples of the later kind. Please read investigative reports by Mr Fahim Zaman Khan and Ms Naziha Syed Ali in the same paper to get an idea of this situation.

Feroz Nov 22, 2016 04:01pm

Relevant issues have been raised and excellent solutions tendered to overcome possible hurdles in making the CPEC project a success. Request those tasked with implementation to please take note.

Pakistani Nov 22, 2016 04:17pm

It is a no brainer - is Pakistan and local communities better or worse off with the infuson of $51bn of infrastructure.

We all need to work for this projects success, and gear our selves up to compete in the global market place.

That means we need to educate ourselves, shun Mullahism, re learn ethics (ie stealing, jobbery, bribery, lying, littering, breaking traffic rules, honour killing women, discriminating against minorities...are wrong)

shah fahad baigal Nov 22, 2016 05:55pm

very disconcerted to read your article which didn't mention the name of Gilgit-Baltistan and the downtrodden and helpless people of GB. Don't you think that the in-migration of landlords and business community from Punjab and KPK to Gilgit-Baltistan and purchasing of very strategic lands from the peasants is threatening for the coming generations of GB? Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of land and can hold a big sum of migrants but where will the locals of GB will go when in-migration from different regions to GB is very high?

Jay Nov 23, 2016 06:00am

@shah fahad baigal - I know a couple belonging to a village in GB . They both are doctors and have excelled in their profession and they own a house in Islamabad. Some of their family members have shifted to Karachi. They all are contributing positively in our society. I hope people will see CPEC as an opportunity to lift themselves up and be part of a society as a whole.

kiamal Pasha Nov 23, 2016 01:57pm

Without Kalabagh and other dams, whole Pakistan has been marginalised.,

Port qaSim Nov 24, 2016 07:14am

CPEC is more Hype than any substance in it, We all know the future in coming years, Mark my words