KHUZDAR, Pakistan – Surrounded by mountains and desert, with an airport that receives no flights and a university that is short of staff, the city of Khuzdar in central Pakistan awaits a millionaire Sino-Pakistani infrastructure project to bring progress.
It hopes it won’t be abandoned once again.
With a sense of historic neglect and having missed the boat, Balochistan province, of which Khuzdar is its second-largest city, is one of the least developed areas of Pakistan.
The city has no gas despite the discovery of that resource in the region in 1952. It is instead exported to other areas.
“We do not have good schools or hospitals, no one wants to come here,” the vice-rector of the University of Engineering and Technology of Khuzdar, Mohamed Amin, told EFE.
Amin explained the problems experienced to attract teachers, something that led to offering a car and double the usual salary to professors who accept to teach at the university.
The offer, however, has not achieved the expected results.
The hopes of many of the region’s inhabitants are set on being connected to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a trade route connecting the city of Kashgar in northwest China’s Xinjiang province with the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in southeastern Balochistan.
This offers China a gateway to the Arabian Sea.
The project, launched in 2015, provides an investment of $46 billion in infrastructure, especially in roads and power plants.
In Khuzdar, with about 300,000 inhabitants, they expect the city to become a logistics and commercial center thanks to its strategic location between the three routes that form the corridor.
Pakistan’s Minister of Ports, Hasil Khan Bizenjo, commented last week at a conference on CPEC in Khuzdar that so far progress has bypassed Balochistan, despite the area’s resources.
“We want to make sure that with CPEC we don’t suffer the same fate as in 1952, when gas was discovered in the region and in 2017 there is still no gas in Khuzdar,” said Bizenjo, who was born in the province.
Balochistan, the country’s largest province with 43 percent of the national territory and the lowest population density with just 7 percent of Pakistan’s estimated 200 million, has protested for decades because it considers its natural resources, including gold, natural gas and copper, go to other regions and receives little in return.
Authorities say this will change.
“Balochistan has been abandoned in the past for different reasons, but no longer,” said Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to the students, local authorities and civil society representatives attending a seminar.
For activist Salma Mohamed Hassni, whose father and brother were killed by pro-independence groups operating in the area, development will help end the insurgency.
“This is the first time we talk about development here,” the director of the NGO Devote, focused on helping victims of terrorism, told EFE.
Hassni said that until two or three years ago it was not possible to take to the streets in Khuzdar once the sun had set because of violence and a curfew and that many neighbors left the city for fear of killings and kidnappings.
“The most important thing is development; I believe that new opportunities could end up with independence and violence,” said the activist.
Some express aloud their fears that history will repeat itself again and Balochistan will be outside the promised progress of the hands of China.
“I want to know how many of the CPEC resources will be invested in Balochistan. We are always told that Balochistan is a backward province, it hurts us, and we would like to get rid of that label,” said a young student during the conference.