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‘One who pays the piper calls the tunes’: On China in Balochistan

Have you ever thought when and why an investor needs to have armed back-up for it to continue to develop, yes that is what they say to develop, a mine a port or power-station etc. They need to do have armed security when they are doing it without the consent of the people and need that armed security to keep their resentment in check and suppressed and this results in human rights violation which are explained away as deterring misguided people from putting up obstacles in way of development and progress.

Any development and progress which needs protection of guns is wrong from the word go even if there isn’t a history behind it; if there is a history behind it then it becomes absolutely criminal because where there is already a history of conflict between the exploiters and exploited then this armed back-up only means more brutal and widespread violence against the people. The already violated rights will be trampled upon more and more violently and severely. If the armed back-up is private as is the case in Barrick Gold’s protection of its mining interests as at Porgera Mines in Papua New Guinea and North Mara gold mine in Tanzania it can be challenged in courts though these powerful multi-nationals can get away with their crimes due to their financial clout. The situation becomes more desperate and critical if a state promises to provide the armed back-up to the investor. The higher the stakes the more intense the resentment and resistance is bound to be and consequently the repression too will assume horrific proportions.

This scenario is about to unfold in Balochistan as the Pakistani government has agreed to provide army protection to Chinese workers on different projects that Pakistan and China have agreed to launch there. A news report said that the government has decided to provide army-backed security to Chinese companies with deep pockets coming into the country. This means deeper the pockets the more brutal will be the security arrangements as the companies with deep pockets are very particular about security of their workers each of whom they prize much more than the hundreds who may have to be eliminated to secure their protection. Akbar Bugti, in an interview with Selig Harrison on April 16, 2004, remarked that, in 2001, a Chinese company was given permission by the Pakistani government to prospect and map Bugti area. The Chinese had express instructions not to talk to members of local tribes. Tribesmen killed two Chinese employees and one Pakistani, and the Chinese company was obliged to leave. Then this policy of security by army was not official.

The report also said that an aide to the prime minister said that security situation was the only hurdle in the way of foreign investment. He added that “In every meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had with Chinese businessmen and companies in both the private and public sectors during his visit to China last July, serious concerns were expressed about the fragile security situation.” Consequently during a cabinet meeting held on February 25th it was decided that the best possible security should be provided to Chinese investors and the only option left with the government was to assign this task to the army and the rest as they say will be history. Incidentally China is expected to invest 50 billion dollars, 38 per cent of the funds would be spent in Balochistan, of which 35 would be in the energy sector the establishment here would sell its soul even for a fraction of that amount. Pakistan is flouting even its own laws by awarding contracts directly in violation of rules prescribed by Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA), this they do because China demands that it be awarded contracts directly and as they say ‘one who pays the piper calls the tunes’.

The belligerent attitude of the government has never changed towards Baloch since August 11th 1947 and there has been aggression against them in different forms both physical and verbal. When General Musharraf inaugurated Gwadar Port along with Chinese Minister of Communications Li Shenglin on March 20th 2003 he had thundered: “Do not create hurdles in the development work. I warn you that you will be eliminated.” He added, “I warn them to surrender otherwise they will be eliminated and they will not be allowed to exist anymore. These ‘miscreants’ are minimal in number and we will deal with them. If they want to fight then I know to fight more than them.” This recent decision to use army for security of Chinese firms has always been on Pakistani agenda and the army is widely deployed in Balochistan to protect interests of investors. Musharraf is no longer there but those ‘minimal numbers’ do not seem to disappear as the establishment would want them to.

It should however be mentioned that the inauguration of the first phase expected in April 2006 by none other than the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, could not go ahead because of genuine security concerns as three Chinese engineers were killed in Hub in February 2006 and previously on May 4, 2004, three Chinese engineers were killed by a bomb in Gwadar. This is what they fear and do not want it to happen but when people resent something they can and will go to extremes.

China intends to spend a lot of money in Balochistan as under a long-term plan, it is expected to lay oil and gas pipelines through Gwadar Port to meet its energy needs. This Chinese investment will be a bane for the Baloch people as plans for the link from Gwadar to Kashgar will traverse a large swathe of Balochistan and at each mile of rail and road being built to provide China with its energy and mineral needs be at cost of Baloch blood and Baloch rights. China is not concerned about the Baloch rights and the brutalities they will have to face to satisfy its needs. But then it has never cared for the nationalities like Tibetans and Uyghur that it oppresses with impunity.

The consequences of the Pakistani government’s decision to provide security to the Chinese firms with its standing army doesn’t auger well for the Baloch people as this will result in even more curtailment of their rights. The Baloch are surely not going to accept the exploitation of their resources as fait accompli and knowing that there will be severe repercussions by the establishment to protect the Chinese investors yet they are bound to resist it. The Baloch are often accused of being adventurist because they resist the exploitation of their resources and fight for their rights I feel this accusation doesn’t hold water. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose political philosophy influenced the French Revolution, has rightly said that, “Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?” All that the Baloch are trying to do is to preserve their right to live with dignity in freedom.

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