China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), dubbed as the game changer not only for Pakistan but also for the entire region, has been a source of controversy from the outset. The main reason was the alleged change in route alignment of the corridor.
Politicians in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa blame the PML-N government for diverting the CPEC route from west to east in an attempt to benefit their support base of Punjab.
In Balochistan, a major concern of the Baloch population is that the people of Gwadar will turn into a minority when the port city becomes a commercial centre.
At the moment, the estimated population of Gwadar district is a little over 200,000 and of the Gwadar city is 85,000. It’s expected to rise to half a million in the next five years when the port becomes functional.
The solution for the demographic upsurge perhaps rests in legislation. Both federal and provincial government, through legislation, may prevent the people settling in Gwadar from acquiring voting rights and domicile documents.
A seminar was held in Gwadar on the prospects of peace and development in Balochistan on April 12 that was attended by Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri and other dignitaries. Most of the high-level participants agreed that carrying out the required legislation is unavoidable.
Deputy ambassador of China observed this fact in his speech. “It is Important for success of CPEC that benefits of the project trickle down to local people”. He also emphasised on the need to address the concerns of local people regarding the demographic changes.
CM Balochistan, Sanaullah Zehri, said, “The government of Balochistan and the current ruling coalition will leave no stone unturned to address this genuine concern of the people of Gwadar.”
Hammal Kalmati, a member of the Balochistan assembly, representing Gwadar, says, addressing the concerns of his constituents related to demographic changes should be the first priority.
Qamar uz Zaman Kaira, Secretary Information PPP, argued that just like people of Balochistan can’t be stopped from settling in Lahore and Karachi, in the same way people of Punjab and Sindh cannot be prevented from settling in Gwadar.
Independent analysts who keenly observe the issues pertaining to Balochistan have their own take on the matter. Jan Achakzai, a senior analyst and former spokesperson of the JUI-F says, “Any legislation is a short-term solution. It will put off the time bomb of social disharmony, ethnic tension and unintended repercussions of social and economic change.”
He further argues that the Arab model of Kafeel and leased rights has never been a standard for Pakistan, given its legacy of constitutionalism, and cannot be implemented in the case of Gwadar.
Achakzai suggested that Gwadar may be transformed into a special economic zone, like Macao in China, to circumvent any demographic change, provided Pakistani courts agree to any such amendment, and it’s not against the spirit of the constitution.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst based in Quetta, says a Dubai like model maybe put in practice to prevent demographic changes in Gwadar. He rejects the argument that a Dubai-like approach cannot be used in Pakistan. “The people’s concerns can be addressed with resolve and determination, and that’s the need of the hour”.
Zulfiqar alleges a narrative is being built that Gwadar was bought from the Sultanate of Oman in 1958 and hence it is not a part of Balochistan. He warns that this narrative will be destructive and will not solve Balochistan’s problems.
Fears of people of Gwadar about demographic changes are not unfounded. There are cases where economic development turned the local population into a minority. Karachi is a prime example in case of Pakistan, where the native citizens turned into a minority when the city expanded. Same happened in the UAE but the rights of native population were protected using legislation.
This issue is too complicated for Balochistan government to solve alone. An All Parties Conference (APC) should be convened at the national level comprising of all major political parties of Pakistan. Not addressing the issue on urgent basis will be tantamount to sabotaging prospects of the CPEC success.