Since establishing the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan in 1970, a stark paradox has persisted: “Balochistan is rich in minerals” with the undeniable reality that “Balochistan is the least developed province of Pakistan.” Even after 53 years, this challenge remains as pertinent today as it was on the inaugural day of the Provincial Assembly. Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan by land area, which is 347,190 square kilometers.
Despite its land mass, it is a relatively scarcely populated province with a population of 21.7 million in 2023. Balochistan possesses immense natural resources, including mineral reserves estimated at USD1 trillion.
Despite the smaller population and rich natural resources, Balochistan still suffers from unbelievable underdevelopment. The developmental grievances of Balochs are aggravating day by day.
Poor Quality of life in Balochistan can be measured by inaccessibility to necessities of life. Regardless of producing natural gas and providing it to other provinces, Balochistan consumption was reported at 119,823.000 Cub ft mn in 2020, according to the Pakistan Natural Gas Consumption Report. According to the report on drinking water quality in 2021 in the capital of Balochistan, Quetta, 65% of water is unsafe, and only 35% is safe to drink. According to a document submitted to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2022, only 36% of Balochistan is electrified, while the remaining 64% still does not have access to energy. According to the Balochistan education statistics 2021-22total enrolments in the school were 111،9825. In the urban center (Quetta) of Balochistan, the poverty stands at 46%.
In 2021 the Balochistan government introduced the Balochistan Comprehensive Development and Growth Strategy (BCDGS) that was in coordination with the CPEC. It aims to achieve sustainable development and growth in all sectors of the provincial economy by creating opportunities for the people of Balochistan for livelihood and improved living standards. The major goals of BCDGS are regional connectivity, exploring mineral resources, industrial-based economy, urban development, job creation and poverty reduction, coastal development, and tourism.
In September 2023, the Balochistan Governor Malik Abdul Wali Khan Kakar criticized the government for allocating a huge amount for the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP); Kakar is of the view that instead of making people habitual of charity through the distribution of a few thousand rupees, the government should spend the funds on establishing job-oriented institutions. This reflects the stark difference in how the federal government perceives the issues in Balochistan and their solutions as a post of how locals feel.
There is also a popular narrative that tribal elders Sardars have resisted infrastructural development and the establishment of educational institutions to keep their fiefdoms intact. The internal security threats in Balochistan are also the major reason behind the instability and underdevelopment of the region. According to the report of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Balochistan, there were 110 terrorist attacks in 2022. This is despite the heavy militarization of the area.
The activation of Militant groups and their interests are also a barrier to social development as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) seeks to rid the region of foreign exploitation and intervention.
Similarly, the BNP (Balochistan National Party) considers that Balochi people have been denied their due rights within the Federation. They also believe that the system lacks accountability and needs reform. Baloch militant groups are using the underdevelopment and political deprivation in Balochistan to create political mobilization and violent militarization in Balochistan.
CPEC projects were one ray of hope for Balochs to have some due profits from the CPEC. In attempts to introduce development in Balochistan and the other provinces, the government tried to concentrate several developmental programs under CPEC. Some Social and Economic Development projects completed under the CPEC are Poverty Alleviation Training, Emergency relief supplies for enhancing NDMA, disaster preparedness capacity, Pakistan Vocational and Technical Education Capacity build-up project, Pakistan Vocational Schools Equipment Upgrading and Renovation Project.
The completed projects in Gwadar such as the Development of a Port and Free Zone, which an Estimated cost is 300 Million US $, the Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan which an Estimated cost is 4 Million US $, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar on which estimated cost is 10 Million US $, Gwadar Eastbay Expressway on which estimated cost is 179 Million US $.
The question remains Can these projects create jobs, access to clean drinking water, and improve the security conditions of Balochistan? The situation on the ground reflects otherwise.
The central government should focus on the authentic concerns of political parties and local communities for development strategies to make CPEC projects more comprehensive and less exploitative. The central government of Pakistan and Chinese corporations can identify the legitimate apprehensions of the Baloch locals and integrate them into the policy, planning, and execution framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There is a need for political stability and policy continuity for the success of economic initiatives such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).