Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Khush Hal Balochistan or Khush Hal China?

Recently the Pakistani army chief, during his visit to Quetta, said that the army would provide full support to the federal and provincial governments for the execution and success of ‘Khush Hal Balochistan’ (KHB) programme.

This initiative aimed at development of the province was discussed at a meeting presided over by the army chief during his visit to the headquarters of Southern Command.  One needs to remind the people that already once a similar farce was perpetrated against Baloch people and Balochistan during the PPP rule under the name of ‘Aghaz-e-Huqok-e-Balochistan’ whereby politicians and bureaucrats made hay; expecting this to be any different from the above mentioned is like living in fantasy land.

The finance to make Balochistan Khush Hal will be coming from China under the CPEC but will the Chinese money create conditions for a Khush Hal Balochistan or will it for a Khush Hal China?

Gwadar has been touted by the governments a provincial and federal level as the core project in Balochistan which would change its fortune and make prosperous Balochistan. However if anybody was under the illusion that the higher-than-mountains and the deeper-than-oceans friendship between China and Pakistan would stop China from doing anything like it did to Sri Lanka in Hambantota port case should now be cured because on 24th November 2017 the Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Bizenjo disclosed in the Senate that that 91 per cent, yes 91 per cent, of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar port as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would get only 9 per cent share in the income for the next 40 years.

This 91 per cent is for the starters only and to understand which way the benefits, will if any, from the CPEC go you can decide from some recent indications and past record.  There was a news report after the recent Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) of Chinese and Pakistani officials that Pakistan had again rejected the Chinese suggestion of use of Chinese currency in Gwadar because they want to avoid currency exchange risks attached with the use of the US dollar and the Pak rupee. However, this suggestion was shot down by the Pakistani side arguing any such move would compromise its ‘economic sovereignty’.

The question is that how long Pakistan will be able to resist this move for those who pay will always call the tune. Here is recent instance for you to ponder on:  a November 13 report said that a leading Chinese company had drastically slowed down or completely stopped work on the two converter stations, for converting alternating current (AC) to DC and DC to AC at Balloki, Bhaipheru (about 50km from Lahore), and near Matiari (near Hyderabad) for the $2 billion 660kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line from Lahore to Matiari due to various problems, it had even started sending back its engineers home from the project.

One issue was related to the size revolving fund and the other to operation and maintenance of the project. The revolving fund, according to the officials, is required to be set up for making payments to the Chinese company in case its bills are delayed.

The second major issue relates to the operation and maintenance of the project. The Chinese want the government [National Transmission and Despatcher Company or NTDC] to purchase spare parts from China on its own and supply it for the operation and maintenance of the project. This company also wanted an agreement over another HVDC transmission line of 660kV (between Port Qasim and Faisalabad) before completion of the project in hand but the government was reluctant.

Then four days later there was the report that the Chinese company had finally decided to resume work on the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Matiari-Lahore transmission line after the government assured it of resolving its issues related to operations and maintenance (O&M) cost, revolving fund etc. When you survive on dole you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. Sovereignty comes from self sufficiency; you cannot dictate terms to paymasters.

Two years back in November 2015 the Chinese government had to step in to save the $1.5-billion investment being made by Zonergy Company in developing a 900-megawatt solar power project because of a proposed downward revision in the tariff.

The government wanted to reduce the tariff from 14.15 cents to 9.25 cents per unit from January 2016. The Chinese Secretariat of CPEC intimated the Pakistani counterparts that “If the tariff is reduced anyhow, the project will not be implemented, which will have a disastrous impact on Chinese enterprises”.

It also said: “If the government of Pakistan insists on reducing the tariff, it will greatly affect investment confidence and enthusiasm of Chinese enterprises.”

The government conceded to their demand on tariff and in June this year 300MW was plugged in to the grid. So how long will they resist the use of Yuan in Gwadar? Remember the breast-beating about sovereignty when Raymond Davis was being held and how he was allowed to go. Paymasters decide who does what.

The luckless Gwadar and Baloch people not only have to fear from the Renminbi (RMB) i.e. the Yuan because there are more ominous things that worry them and endanger their liberty and with it their dignity. Plans to issue ‘residency cards’ to people there are on the anvil; in November 2015 in-charge of Gwadar Security force Brigadier Shahzad Iftikhar Bhatti said efforts were underway to make Gwadar a safe city and new resident cards would be issued to citizens of port city.

He had also said: “The responsibility to make Gwadar a safe city has been given to Pakistan Army regarding which new Army check-points had been established at the entrance of the port city to enhance the security for foreign investors and general masses”.

The residency card will ensure that they can shape the demography the way they want; who will hear the protests of the natives who are denied residency.

The relatives of the missing persons marched some 3,000 kilometers with Mama Qadeer Baloch from Quetta to Islamabad but not a single person was released.

Plans to fence Gwadar are not just rumors because the Chinese have been pushing for a 65-mile fence around the whole town along with a special permit required by all including locals.

The locals say that Chinese are given special escorts when they travel in Gwadar despite the fact that special security divisions have been created as in September 2015 Pakistan decided to raise two special security divisions for the protection of the CPEC; the then the army chief announced to set up a second Special Security Division, to be called South SSD that would provide security from Rawalpindi to Gwadar. The first North SSD would ensure CPEC security from Khunjerab to Rawalpindi besides assisting the stakeholders, including provinces, in matters relating to the CPEC.

The plight of the fishermen and locals is also compounded by security when important people come, the movement of locals is restricted and the jetty too is closed.

The problems of fishermen are not new: first they were shifted from the traditional jetty at ‘Mulla Bund’ and now fear they may yet be removed to a more fish-barren spot and topping it all is the specific schedules when they can go out to sea and come back. In January 2006 fishermen staged a sit-in protest against security forces for damaging dozens of their boats. Local officials said the administration had fixed a schedule for fishermen to catch fish but they had violated the rules so “the administration took action against them” by damaging their boats to penalize them. Incidentally the militants in retaliation had set fire to three launches of the Pakistan Navy’s submarine force at the Fish Harbour in Gwadar.

All know that China constructed the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka had taken other loans too and was deep in debt to China to tune of 8 billion dollars. Unable to pay back the loans Sri Lanka was forced to sign a deal with China through which Hambantota port has for all purposes become a Chinese port for 99 years as China Merchants Ports Holdings which is an arm of the Chinese government has 70 percent stake in this port.

China has also shown deep interest in agriculture here and a July 21st 2017 report by Khurram Husain in ‘Dawn’ tells that, “For agriculture, the plan outlines an engagement that runs from one end of the supply chain all the way to the other. From provision of seeds and other inputs, like fertiliser, credit and pesticides, Chinese enterprises will also operate their own farms, processing facilities for fruits and vegetables and grain. Logistics companies will operate a large storage and transportation system for agrarian produce”.

The Chinese with their investing power will control a lot of agriculture here to the detriment of the small farmers for it will be like a small stall owner competing with Wal Mart or someone like that.

The Chinese track record on agriculture in other countries is not something to write home about. In May 2017 Reuters reported that China entered northern Laos and took land on lease to plant banana and the people were delighted at the high price they were paid for leases but three years later, the Chinese-driven banana boom has left few locals untouched and not everyone is smiling because experts say the Chinese did bring jobs and higher wages to northern Laos but they also drenched plantations with pesticides and other chemicals. So in 2016 the Lao government banned the opening of new banana plantations after a state-backed institute reported that the intensive use of chemicals had sickened workers and polluted water sources. So those who would be anxious to lease land and facilitate China in agriculture should ask Laos.

China is supposed to be an all weather friend of Pakistan but it seems in winters its friendship cools down. The trade at the Khunjerab border usually continued till end of December but this year despite Pakistan Embassy requests they are refusing to budge from the November 30th date and consequently the goods lying on the both sides of border will not be picked and traders will suffer loss of billions. It needs to be mentioned that only Chinese transporters are allowed to ferry goods. So this all weather friend changes its attitude with its convenience.

It should be understood that those who lend money do so in hope of profiting and expecting them to be altruistic is sheer folly. The Gwadar Port is now, like Hambantota, a Chinese port what more will be taken of the resources and land that has been hocked in Balochistan, as Gwadar Port was, by Pakistan will only become apparent as Pakistan defaults on the loans it is so greedily devouring today. The end result for all purposes will be a more Khush Hal China and definitely not a Khush Hal Balochistan.


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Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur is a regular commenter on Balochistan. He has been associated with Baloch politics since 1970s.

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