CPEC projects risk widening social divides, heightening political tensions in Pak, says report

Brussels [Belgium], July 06 (ANI): The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in Balochistan is producing a heavily militarised zone, displacing locals and depriving them of economic lifelines, while in Sindh’s Tharparkar district, coal-based CPEC power projects are damaging the environment and displacing locals from their homes, said International Crisis Group (ICG) in its latest report.

ICG, an international think tank, in its report on ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor- Opportunities and Risks has said that the project has several issues that need to be addressed on priority by the Pakistani government to ensure that new areas of conflict do not emerge out of it. It also mentioned that Pakistan government should stop arrests, harassment and other coercion of critics of the project, and consult all stakeholders. It added that the CPEC has the potential to deepen friction between the federal centre and periphery, roil provinces, widen social divides, and create new sources of conflict in Pakistan.

“The province will receive no direct financial benefits from Gwadar Port, a key CPEC project, which means local anger at Islamabad is likely to intensify. Instead of developing a sleepy fishing village into a bustling commercial hub as pledged by Islamabad and Beijing, the project is producing a heavily militarised zone, displacing locals and depriving them of economic lifelines. In Sindh’s Tharparkar district, coal-based CPEC power projects are not only damaging the environment, but are also displacing locals from their homes and could destroy livelihoods,” the report said.

Keeping in view the protests by the locals, the report suggested that the Pakistani authorities should consult extensively with local communities about the potential costs and benefits of major development projects and devise an appropriate compensation and resettlement plan for all those displaced. This includes not just formal land owners but also those with the informal land ownership common across Pakistan. It said, if needed, Pakistani parliament should consider relevant reforms to its 1894 Land Acquisition Act. It suggested provisions should be made to hire local labour and ensure that CPEC projects apply labour protections and practices.

The report said that both Islamabad and Beijing should implement CPEC with considerably more sensitivity and consultation than they have displayed thus far, with provinces and the communities most affected given a greater voice in shaping CPEC projects.

Despite the successive Pakistani governments projecting CPEC as a leap forward both in relations with China and for the country’s economic development, some high-level officials and prominent voices in Pakistani business have expressed concerns about the failure to protect local economic interests, high guaranteed returns on equity to Chinese investors and unaffordable national debt, the ICG observed.

“While it is too early to assess if CPEC can deliver the economic gains Islamabad promises, the project risks inflaming longstanding tensions between the centre and smaller federal units and within provinces over inequitable economic development and resource distribution. Less-developed federal units such as Balochistan and Sindh contend that the corridor’s route, infrastructure, and industrial projects will mostly benefit Punjab,” the report said. (ANI)