Much has been said of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) role in boosting the country’s economy. While provinces have tried to grasp the opportunity to use the huge Chinese investment to develop their own industrial zones and enhance sectoral capacity, Balochistan, apart from Gwadar, has been slow on the uptake.

With the seventh Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meetings coming up, the province aims to propose six new projects, according to official information provided. A look at these shows a rigorous focus on progressing Gwadar’s development along with further logistic advancements.

The six projects that the province will present in the JCC are: Financial assistance from EXIM Bank for Gwadar; Construction of alternate harbour with allied facilities and establishment of necessary facilities for boat building industry on West-bay of Gwadar; Model Fisherman Residential village; Northern bypass (77 KM); Extension of airport road to New Gwadar International Airport; and Extension of Jinnah Avenue towards Koh-e-Batil and Northern bypass.

For work on CPEC projects to continue smoothly, the belief that the initiative is benefiting only a select few areas needs to be combated

Even though Balochistan led the way with 13 projects that were approved in the sixth JCC meetings in December last year, there has been criticism from various quarters that the thrust of the development has been focused on Gwadar leading to unequal growth in the province.

Some officials spoken to were of the opinion that, along with Gwadar, until and unless the rest of the provincial economy was not integrated within the CPEC project, sustainable progress would not take place. There were multiple mentions of Lahore’s Rapid Mass transit projects as a first step towards this holistic growth.

When pointed out by this writer that the provinces were free to put forth plans that would bring about this integration, they lamented the fact that projects related to the socio-economic development of the province were not really of interest to the Chinese and were, therefore, rejected.

Projects focused on the afore-mentioned socio economic development, and which were supposed to be presented in the upcoming JCC, were the Quetta Mass Transit projects, the transportation of water from Pat-Feeder to Quetta project and the Bostan Special Economic Zone. All of these will now be postponed as the initial work for their presentation has not been completed.

On an enquiry into the reasons why the initial work had not been completed an official made a case for the province’s capacity constraints. He was of the opinion that the federal government should support the province by providing technical assistance and bemoaned the federal departments’ indifference.

When asked, Additional Chief Secretary (Dev), planning and development, Mr Qamar Masood stated that the government’s current focus in Balochistan was on Gwadar and developing communications channels.

Stating his point of view regarding the criticism that all development was Gwadar-centric with the rest of the province being neglected, he sounded weary, like a man tired of explaining the same thing multiple times to not very bright children “This is a misunderstanding. While port development and connectivity is the current focus, things are going step by step and development is taking place side by side.”

He said where economic expansion was concerned, it was a part of the CPEC and Balochistan was not going to be left behind; all investors wanted good labour, water and electricity but providing them was not a six or 10 month long issue. It would take time.

He referenced the Bostan Special Economic Zone as an example of simultaneous projects from which the entire province would benefit, stating that “while it has a lot of issues, consultants are working on the feasibility which will be completed around March. It is the most feasible project. Projects take different time frames for completion; this is not about politics but the nature of the project”.

Mr Masood also dismissed the case regarding the lack of aid from the federal government. He vociferously stated that this was “not true. The federal government has increased support, look at the figures, it has been very generous.”

Planning and Development Secretary Asfandyar Kakar, addressing the Quetta Mass Transit Project said “My department has taken up the task of hiring a consultant to complete the groundwork. Now we’re trying to increase our capacity and step up our game”.

Irrespective of everything Mr Kakar went on to say that in his opinion the CPEC “will definitely be a game changer if we keep the province’s interest in the forefront”.

Be it capacity constraints or a lack of a proactive approach one thing is certain, for work on CPEC projects to continue smoothly and for a semblance of equivalent development to be put forth, the belief that the project is benefitting only a select few areas needs to be combated.

A major step in this direction would be the approval of projects like the Quetta mass transit, Quetta water and to an extent the Bostan SEZ; all three of which have been postponed for another year that too based on their feasibility studies.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 20th, 2017

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