Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Business Recorder editorial March 1, 2017

CPEC discontents Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, president of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), while addressing a meeting in Quetta on February 28, dwelt once again on his province’s discontents with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Mengal accused Islamabad of getting funds for the project from Beijing in the name of Gwadar but spending them all in one province. No prizes for guessing which province he was referring to. This is a recurring theme of the Baloch nationalists regarding CPEC. In this case of course, it is not one of the nationalist insurgent groups voicing such criticism but a mainstream party, whose president is an ex-chief minister of Balochistan, and which remains wedded to the parliamentary democratic process despite its grievances. Amongst other, historically rooted discontents, the grievances regarding the CPEC were summed up by Mengal arguing that the people of Balochistan, a province through which a major portion of the Corridor passes, and whose port of Gwadar is central to the rationale of the CPEC, have neither been consulted nor taken into confidence on CPEC projects. Of course this is a complaint shared by other provinces, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (on the western route of CPEC) and Gilgit-Baltistan (another province the Corridor will traverse). Even the Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development has expressed fears regarding the safeguarding of Pakistan’s interests under the CPEC. This chorus of critical voices from disparate regions and parliament reflects the failure of the government to convincingly persuade the sceptics and dissenters of the benefits of the CPEC for the country as a whole as much as its constituent parts. In the context of Balochistan, a sparsely populated province already under the demographic pressures of large numbers of Afghan refugees that has raised concerns about the forthcoming census permanently changing the ethnic balance of the province if these refugees are registered as citizens of the country, the discontent regarding the CPEC feeds into, and is strengthened by, the old complaints and grievances of the province regarding the deprivation of its rights and the step motherly treatment to which its denizens have been subjected repeatedly over the years. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that every generation of the Baloch since Independence has been in rebellion on the basis of these grievances. CPEC, despite its obvious, and some yet to be revealed benefits, is regarded by the Baloch as equivalent to salt being rubbed into their wounds, which former president Asif Zardari too regards as unhealed. And how could they be when the ‘dialogue’ between the Centre and Balochistan resembles nothing more than a dialogue of the deaf. Recurring insurgencies over the last 70 years in the province are the consequence of this lack of exchange. The previous National Party chief minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik, tried to hold talks with the insurgents and their leaders in exile during his half-tenure, but ran up constantly against his interlocutors’ questions about whether he could deliver any commitments he may make to them. Now even that faltering effort has been abandoned, raising the bar of desperation and hardening of attitudes amongst the dissidents and rebels. The real authors of the hardline approach to the Baloch and their grievances seem impervious to the long term consequences of their policy on the grounds that the nationalist insurgency is nothing but mischief stoked and backed by India. This homily has by now been repeated so often as to have assumed the mantle of self-evident truth, despite the fact that clinching evidence of this has yet to be revealed in the public domain. But even if it is so, can India or any other power intervene in our internal affairs without fertile soil for doing so? Our internal strife in Balochistan may be tempting such powers to take advantage of unsettled conditions. Difficult as the process is, given the long history of mistrust between the nationalists and our establishment, the logic of engagement and dialogue to settle the troubles in Balochistan, for the province’s, country’s and CPEC’s sake, remains unassailable though conspicuous by its absence.

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