China's acquisition of Gwadar port, a linchpin of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, has instigated an insurgency as local Baloch firms and labour are excluded in favour of Chinese companies and workers.
This has heightened pre-existing feelings of marginalisation in Pakistan's underdeveloped Balochistan region, with Baloch nationalist forces either wholly rejecting the project or voicing for greater share in these projects.
In response, tribal forces in Balochistan have opposed CPEC and nationalist groups have been involved in acts against the project.
CPEC, just one part of China's global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has served to further exacerbate the divide between state and regionalist forces due to the exclusionary and Punjab-centric planning.
In fact, Gwadar has seen protests against CPEC in the specific context of fish resource exploitation by Chinese trawlers despite China's coastline being thousands of miles away from Pakistan.
According to ANI, many of the local fishermen vacated their fishing spots due to the construction of Gwadar port in hope of a better future. However, the federal government granting fishing permission to the Chinese fishermen ignited widespread unrest.
This unrest culminated in a 28-day sit-in in 2021, led by Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), in which a massive number of people, including men, women, and children, participated. The protesters ended the sit-in after an agreement with the federal government.
The government accepted all the demands of the protesters, calling these demands legitimate.
However, many Balochs fear that these demands would not be fulfilled by the government. A recent bomb blast on a Chinese convoy symbolizes the deep distrust of regionalist forces against China-led development, which they view as extractive and exploitative.
CPEC is adding to accumulated separatist feelings among the Baloch population.
While Pakistan now sees the CPEC as the key to “lifting” millions of Pakistanis out of poverty, at the same time controversy will continue to hound the ambitious infrastructure-building project.
In the past, China has pressured Pakistan to review its 18th constitutional amendment (2010) – in particular, its transfer of powers and resources to the provinces – so that CPEC projects could be advanced without “provincial hurdles.”
Ever since the CPEC’s inauguration, there has been controversy about the eastern and western routes of the scheme’s projects.
Provincial and nationalist forces have highlighted what they see as the deliberate neglect of the western route, which lies along more underdeveloped regions of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan provinces without intersecting the more developed Punjab provinces, which is on the CPEC’s eastern route.
The original route-planning was altered in ways that only benefit central Punjab.