Balochistan poises together as much significance for Pakistan as much as it does for China. It is the dry as well as the wet interest core of China Pakistan Economic Corridor as it offers the longest land ride of the corridor and culminates on offering the wet juncture in the form of Gwadar Deep Sea Port which is the key to the Oceanic grand diplomacy of Belt & Road.
The timely and exclusive Chinese attention on Balochistan around current pandemic times in principal spirit is what is required. If Balochistan is hit, as it is on its way, by the pandemic, it would not be able to recollect its socio-economic fragments for long which will halt the CPEC in practical form and this could have significant strategic impact on China’s post pandemic global politics in terms of South Asia.
Balochistan is the Mineral depository of the Country and has the hugest deposits in the region like Copper and Gold, Iron, Chromite just to name a few. Much of these reserves remain untapped and a large scale remains to be surveyed and investigated as Geo-Mineralogical data shows potential of other stockpiles in all parts of the province.
In mineral sector, the production has been on small scale basis and the industrial approach could not be so far put in place except for few projects which are also Chinese operated and owned such as the Copper and Gold Project at Saindek and the Lead and Zinc Project at Duddar. The mineral potential of the province outmatches any of the provinces in the country and has significant regional worth.
Secondly, the province has geostrategic significance as it harbours borders with two countries which on their own have sub regional geo-strategic repercussions. Balochistan by nature offers a key line to connect the landlocked Central Asian Republics to the warm waters of Indian Ocean.
The Belt & Road Arc which goes around the essential CARs comes in jotting through Balochistan. The Gwadar Sea Port where the Belt & Road finally culminates in its southern episode is the prospective epicentre of geo-politics with regional influence and international economic value.
Another significant feature of Balochistan is its sparse population which is comprised of 12 million people only over an area of more than three and half hundred thousand sq kms. The population is almost entirely rural and scattered around the province.
Lesser population offers more room and space for industrial occupancy and expansion with more environmental space to boom out of equation of limitations imposed by environmental hazards and demographic densities.
Another elemental feature of CPEC is that as it runs through the entire strip of Balochistan, it is being populated on its banks by all ethnic communities along the line. The CPEC is therefore not just economic flow line but is one which cements together the socio-cultural terrain of the province too.
Now, as the pandemic advances its attack on Balochistan, there is everything which is put at stake for the survival of the province. The province has the weakest economic mobility to withstand any challenge posed by the pandemic.
The institutional preparedness to witness such sudden and emergent outbreaks is also nonexistent. When compared to other provinces, there are humble to no chances of surviving the pandemic for the province on its own.
The current COVID-19 statistics are terrifying. The total number of tests so far conducted in Balochistan is just around 3000 of which a staggering 228 are confirmed cases setting a COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.29% which further means we are looking at confirmed corona cases of more than 87000 people in the weeks or days to come in Balochistan demanding us contingency planning for nearly one lac infected people.
The so far established quarantine centres are only able to accommodate 14000 people. The need for establishing more quarantine centres is evident with all state of the art medical input which needs to be immediately put in place to fight the pandemic such as safety gadgets for the medical experts, testing kits, medical equipment’s such a ventilators and other medicinal supplies. The testing frequency is very low in Balochistan which needs a rapid increase. This will require more testing kits which are not sufficiently available at the moment.
Holding any bold expectations from the health system in the province will be a fatal mistake given to meet emergencies and crisis of such magnanimity and sudden scale as is COVID-19. The scarcity of resources never allowed for enhanced spending on this sector as the prime question has always been connectivity issues in such large province due to which major portion of provincial funds had always to be spent on building roads.
If there is any COVID-19 cure till yet, it is isolation, social distancing and lockdowns the triplets of which have similar adverse socio-economic effects but the only ones working in prevention and containment regimes.
The already impoverished people are in no way ready to withstand the lockdowns as these may cost their lives. The Government is providing the subsistence packages but which are too limited. The special Chinese stepping in over this point will save many small and large business units in Balochistan from collapsing. This will save many lives and it will win the hearts and minds of the people of Balochistan for ever on the Chinese side.
The Chinese interaction and presence in Balochistan is not a new experience to get jotted down as their affinity is decades old where Chinese already have good enough experience stretching for more than three decades now at Saindek and along the coastline at Duddar in their two mega mineral projects.
The immediate Chinese intervention in withholding the Socio-Economic rupture of the province by assisting the businesses not to fall, and the people not to die in exponential numbers by timely providing medical expertise & equipment’s will save not only the poor people of the province but would also enable the bolstering of the Belt & Road Initiative and setting the tone for international humanism of Chinese Uniqueness in the neo post pandemic world.