For a non-Punjabi Pakistani, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is merely a mirage, an alluring deception created by successive governments that the project will be a miracle which will give them jobs, better living conditions and economic freedom. In reality, a majority of Pakistanis are now beginning to realise that the project would benefit only the rich industrialists and the Generals, and those who happen to live in Punjab. For them, CPEC has become China-Punjab Economic Corridor.
What has riled the people most is that the promised jobs, if any, are all going to Punjabis while the unemployed in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan are still awaiting their turn. Even in Punjab, where most of the jobs have been created, people are miffed at the slow pace of progress on the job front. It is therefore important first to look at the jobs created by CPEC for Pakistanis on the whole, and then examine where these jobs are created.
The official figures give a clear and depressing picture of the job situation. There are of course several `official` figures---one is the Chinese version and others are from different sources, both official and otherwise, from Pakistan. But all these figures show a creation of over two million jobs in the next year or two from the CPEC project.So far, and this is both the Chinese and Pakistani official figure, the project has given employment to 70,000-odd Pakistanis.
Most of these jobs have been created in infrastructure projects, relate to construction and operationalisation of these projects and hence temporary in nature. Media reports suggest that early harvest CPEC projects have already created 30,000 to 70,000 jobs for Pakistanis--these include 16,000 labourer and engineers in CPEC energy projects and 13,000 in transport and road sector. With other infrastructure projects in the pipeline like Gwadar Airport, Eastbay Expressway and railway ML-1 upgradation, this number is likely to increase by another 10,000 to 15,000. In addition, about 18000 students (as of 2017) have been sent to China for higher studies, sponsored by the Chinese companies. They are likely to be absorbed into the job stream on their return.
Similarly, the new security set-up for the project will involve creation of new jobs---the army's Special Security Division, set up in 2015, already employ more than 15000 personnel and is likely to have a strength of over 30000 in the coming years. Similar number of personnel are to be employed in provincial police and para-military units as well as in maritime forces.
These projections must be weighed with five distinct factors which are rarely discussed either in the media or at the policy levels. These are: absence of skilled manpower, loss of livelihoods caused by acquisition of large tracts of arable land in Punjab and other provinces, havoc caused by infrastructure projects on fisheries, decline of small-scale and medium-scale industrial and commercial establishments due to the flooding of cheap Chinese products, and migration of jobs from Pakistani units to Chinese-run industries. For instance, a Pakistanimedia report had pointed out that close to 20000 jobs in the shoe-manufacturing sector alone have moved from Pakistan to China. A quick calculation of these figures show that the estimated job creation by CPEC in the near future would remain far less than what had been projected.
With the job creation capability of CPEC highly overestimated, the question of who are the real beneficiaries of the project becomes critical. In other words, where are the jobs being created and who are the people to benefit most from the project? The answer to this question can be found in the way the project has been structured.
The entire edifice of CPEC rests on two highways---the eastern alignment passing mainly through central Punjab and Sindh and the western alignment passing through the relatively backward areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Both these road-rail networks enter Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan and exit at Gwadar Port. The Pakistan government, dominated by Punjabi-Sindhi politicians and bureaucrats, have paid more attention to the eastern alignment since it created more jobs and economic opportunities for Punjab and Sindh. The Generals, the real mentors of the project, too have a larger stake in Punjab than other provinces. The result has been the neglect of other provinces and areas, especially those which have historically been neglected.
Ironically, the regions falling at the entry and exit points of the project are the ones to suffer the most---Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Balochistan.
In terms of jobs, GB is projected to get some 1.8 million jobs from the project which has already ruined much of its pristine pastures, mountains, farms and waterways. The area has one of the highest literacy rates in the country and therefore should have benefited more from the project.But it is not so. A political analyst form the Lower Hunza part of the region, told a newspaper that `` the Chinese bring their own manpower wherever they go. For CPEC, they are likely to bring seven million Chinese workers to Pakistan. Around 400,000 of them will be working in Gilgit-Baltistan. How will the locals get jobs? `` He pointed out that instead of new jobs, the local people were in fact losing their livelihood because of the cheap Chinese goods flooding the market and destroying the businesses of small-scale manufacturers and shopkeepers. The mining licences in the area have also been handed over to outsiders, including Chinese companies, which is another source of anger among the people towards the CPEC project.
In Balochistan, the anger against the CPEC project is even more palpable. In fact, in April this year, the Balochistan Chief Minister, Mir Abdul QuddusBizenjo, had told journalists that Balochistan was being neglected in the CPEC project. He said his province was not even getting one per cent of the projects. Although Mr Bizenjo backtracked later, under pressure from the Generals, an earlier (2015) Balochistan government commissioned study had pointed out that the province was losing out on the benefits of the project, mainly because the federal government was keen on developing the eastern alignment at the cost of the western highway.
The report, with considerable evidence, argued that it would be cheaper to develop the western alignment rather than the eastern one since the latter passed through the most densely populated area with large arable land which was the source of four major crops. Developing the western alignment would require lesser relocation of population and lesser acquisition of arable land, and therefore less expensive. The move was also, the report pointed out, against the letter and spirit of agreement arrived at an all-party meeting, convened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in January 2016.
Will Balochistan benefit from CPEC? This question can be answered by looking at what was likely to happen at Gwadar, which is the cornerstone of the project. In Gwadar, 80 per cent of its 185000 population subsist on fishing. The fishing industry is under severe threat due to excessive infrastructure development along the coastal lines. Most of the traditional fishing areas are already out of bounds for fishing; these no-go areas likely to expand in the near future. The new Deep Sea Policy, which favours large fishing corporations, is likely to further erode the livelihood of small and medium fishermen. As a result, more fishermen are likely to lose their source of incomes as the CPEC project comes to fruit.
As against this, the official sources in 2017 claimed that the project had created 404 direct, and 2,000 indirect jobs for locals in the area. These indirect jobs are in the construction sector and are temporary in nature. Officials claim that the total number of jobs in Gwadar, once all the projects are completed, would be close to 38000. Even these jobs, smaller in comparison to the livelihoods lost, would go to educated and trained manpowerfrom other provinces, mostly Punjab and Sindh, besides China. A report by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry had predicted that the Chinese population would outnumber natives of Balochistan by 2048. The influx of Punjabis and Sindhis is already a reality.
So instead of new jobs, the CPEC project will indigenous communities of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan minorities in their homes.