Why is there such slow progress of Chinese projects in Balochistan? South Asia Press investigates.

China in the past 10 years has announced many China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related infrastructural projects in Gwadar, Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The announced Chinese projects at Gwadar in Balochistan province include Gwadar Port Free Zone, 18.9 km Gwadar Eastbay Expressway, new Gwadar International Airport, 300 MW coal project, 300-bed Friendship hospital, 1.2 MGD desalination plant, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar, expansion of multipurpose terminal & dredging of berthing areas & channels and construction of breakwaters. 

Chinese projects in Balochistan have not gained much tangible progress and slow momentum remains a constant concern for the Chinese in wake of lack of support from local population.

Among announced projects, China has merely been able to complete some of the projects namely development of Port and Free Zone, Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar & Gwadar Eastbay Expressway, while rest of the above-mentioned projects is delayed.

Progress on social sector priority projects remains mixed. The 300-bed Friendship hospital remains stuck in procedural delays. Port and surrounding areas in Gwadar continue to face acute water and electricity shortages.

Chinese investments in a plethora of infrastructure projects in Balochistan overwhelmingly benefiting China, is facing a lot of resistance from the local Baloch population. The construction of the Gwadar port caused restrictions on local fishing near Gwadar area and mass displacement of the local population from resource-rich Balochistan.

In Nov. 2021, under ‘Gwadar ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar movement)’, Gwadar fishermen took to the streets to press the government for their demands including halt to illegal fishing and voiced concerns against the hegemonic designs of the Pakistani government in allowing Chinese trawlers to exploit fish resources at the expense of local fishermen. 

The attacks on Chinese personnel by Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and several armed groups of Baloch freedom fighters are also making it untenable for Chinese to continue and complete the projects in Balochistan. BLA under freedom movement in Pakistan’s South-Western Balochistan province has stepped up attacks, targeting the Chinese personnel/engineers working in infrastructure projects being developed by China as part of Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

The BLA active for decades in Balochistan, carried out various attacks on Chinese engineers. The major attacks include: (i) recent attack (Aug. 13, 2023) by Majeed Brigade, an elite unit within the BLA, on a Chinese convoy near Gwadar port, (ii) Baloch separatists attacked (May 12, 2019) the Pearl Continental hotel at Gwadar; and (iii) a Baloch insurgent group attacked (Nov. 23, 2018) on the Chinese consulate in Southern Karachi city and (iv) a suicide bomber targeted (Aug. 30, 2018) a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbadin, Balochistan. 

There is growing discontent among local Baloch population deprived of socio-economic benefits against Chinese projects in Balochistan, are seeking their share and participation in these projects besides demanding healthcare, electricity and educational facilities. The acquisition of Gwadar port, exclusion of Baloch firms and hiring of non-Baloch labor in Gwadar associated CPEC projects have manifested Baloch nationalist forces either wholly rejecting the Chinese projects or voicing for greater share in these projects. The BLA also often conveyed a clear message to China, emphasizing their view of Balochistan as an “occupied territory” and voicing their opposition to Beijing’s projects in the region. The resurgence of Baloch militant groups as a result of reorganization and expanded capabilities fortified through new alliances, continued attacks on Chinese personnel and security forces impacting progress of Chinese projects in Balochistan.

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