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Senate panel pours cold water on Gwadar port. Is China Pakistan Economic Corridor unravelling?

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Landing a blow to the ambitious Gwadar port project, a part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a special committee of Pakistan's Senate has termed it as a non-starter.

This despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insisting early this month - at the inauguration of CPEC-linked projects in Gwadar, the south-western port city of Balochistan - that "Gwadar is Pakistan, Pakistan is Gwadar". He claimed CPEC would change Gwadar's fate. "It used to be one of the most backward regions of Pakistan, but now it is going to be one of the most prosperous."

Gwadar, among other problems, suffers from severe scarcity of water. Both Pakistan and China have attached immense strategic importance to the deep sea port project, especially after India and Iran signed an agreement to jointly develop the Chabahar port on the Persian Gulf.

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CPEC has fallen foul of activists in Balochistan, who have termed China as the 21st century East India Company. At a recent protest outside the Chinese Embassy in London, the activists said the project was a conspiracy to loot the resources of the Baloch people.

The Baloch fear that CPEC would harm their livelihoods as it would attract an estimated 3-4 million people - Punjabis, Pashtun, and Chinese workers - to Balochistan.

It would also mean the deployment of a special Pakistan Army unit to guard Chinese economic interests, which, given the history of the Pakistani forces' human rights abuses in the province, is quite worrying for the Baloch people.

Religious groups at some places outside Balochistan that have been affected by CPEC, such as in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, have also protested against it.

India too has expressed unease over the corridor, not least because it passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir, which New Delhi claims as its own.

Falling apart?

CPEC is China's biggest investment abroad, said to total over $50 billion now. The senate committee has raised serious concerns about it, particularly about the planning and implementation of the projects in Balochistan.

Senator Taj Haider, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party who heads the committee, told the Dawn newspaper that "the government's claim regarding completion of the Gwadar port is mere eyewash".

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The newspaper reported that Haider's committee has, in its third report on CPEC, termed the Gwadar project as a "non-starter" and "claimed that the corridor's 1,674-km long western portion, covering Burhan Hakla, DI Khan, Zhob, Quetta, Sohrab, Bisma, Panjgur, Turbat and Gwadar was the least priority for the government".

"The agreed western route with its narrow two-lane road and the Gwadar port where construction of deep sea berths is presently only at pre-feasibility stage remains a non-starter," the report stated, according to Dawn. It also charged that instead of developing the Gwadar port, the government was utilising its resources to expand the Karachi port.

The committee was concerned that "a shroud of secrecy hangs over major decisions taken by the Joint Coordination Committee of China and Pakistan". "There are reports that the JCC has excluded the agreed western route from its programme. The ground facts brought before the committee strengthen this apprehension," the report added.

In July, according to Dawn, the National Assembly had been informed that "non provision of electricity was hitting the Gwadar project".

The Pakistani government has claimed that CPEC, with its multiple power projects, would solve the issue of "load shedding". But the senate committee has learnt that transmission lines for the power projects being built in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are yet to be laid. This means is that even if these projects are completed on time, they wont be able to feed the main grid.

Among other problems besetting CPEC are questions about land acquisition in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for Port Qasim and Sukki Kenari projects, respectively.

Also Read: Chabahar port: Pakistan has only itself to blame for its isolation

First published: 30 September 2016, 11:00 IST