CPEC transforming poverty-stricken Balochistan
Editor's Note: The author is President of the Institute of International Relations and Media Research (IIRMR). The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.
Over the past 10 years, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under BRI, has ushered in a new era of game-changing transformation for Balochistan. Once plagued by challenges, Pakistan's largest province by land has embarked on a long journey to liberate itself from impoverishment and deprivation.
From 2013-2023, a decade of collaborative efforts between Pakistan and China have steadily improved Balochistan's development outlook, road network, energy infrastructure, socio-economic progress, industrial and technological advancements, and living standards.
Road Infrastructure (Western Alignment)
Under CPEC, the construction of road infrastructure (known as the Western Route) is progressing rapidly. The National Highway Authority (NHA) has completed a key 106-km link road called the Basima-Khuzdar Road (N-30) at a cost of Rs11.7 billion. This road reduces the distance to Gwadar from northern Pakistan by over 100 km, connecting the Hoshab-Sorab Highway (N-85) in Basima to the Ratodero-Gwadar Motorway (M-8) near Khuzdar. The M-8 motorway, currently under construction between Hoshab and Khuzdar, will connect Gwadar with Ratodero in Sindh.
Other completed CPEC Western Routes include the 297 km Hakla-D I Khan Motorway, the 235 km Quetta-Sohrab road, the 449 km Surab-Hoshab road, and the 193 km Hoshab-Gwadar road etc. Planned ones include the 360 km Peshawar-D I Khan motorway, the 460 km Karachi-Quetta-Chaman road, the 200 km Mashkhel-Panjgur road, the 163 km Awaran-Khuzdar road, the 228 km Panjgur-Awaran road, and the 136 km Awaran-Jhal Jao-Bela road etc.
All western alignment routes pass through underdeveloped areas of Balochistan with high poverty, scarce jobs and lack of infrastructure. Completing these projects will bring prosperity to these regions.
Energy Projects: Powering the Future
To address its lack of development, Balochistan desperately needed energy projects to spur economic and industrial growth. Under CPEC, the China Power Hub Generation Company (CPHGC) completed a 2x660-MW coal fired power plant in Hub, Balochistan, equipped with a dedicated coal import jetty. This $2 billion independent power project, a CPEC priority, now supplies electricity to millions in Balochistan and across Pakistan.
Additionally, a 300MW coal-fired power plant in Gwadar was approved in January 2023 to meet the port city's rising energy demand for business and industrialization. The Gwadar plant will provide low-cost, base load power with no capacity charges. China will fund construction costs. Work will start within six months, with project completion expected in 30 months. The government projected Gwadar's demand could reach 800MW in 5 years, prompting approval of the 300MW coal plant.
Apart from large projects, the Chinese government is also helping meet Gwadar's local electricity needs. The Chinese Embassy and Ministry of Ecology and Environment donated 4,000 solar photovoltaic systems and LEDs to Gwadar's poor.
Inspired by CPEC power initiatives, Pakistan approved 20 electricity projects in Balochistan to efficiently meet the province's energy needs. The Quetta Electric Supply Company will execute 15 projects. The National Transmission and Despatch Company will build 4 projects.
Socioeconomic Development: Improving Lives
Balochistan has benefited from various completed and ongoing CPEC social and economic development projects uplifting the province.
Completed projects like vaccine storage equipment, poverty alleviation training, emergency relief supplies, and vocational education capacity building have positively impacted lives in Balochistan already. These initiatives strengthened healthcare access, disaster response, and skill development opportunities.
More CPEC socioeconomic projects under construction will further uplift Balochistan by developing human capital. The China-Pakistan Joint Agricultural Technology Laboratory will enable agricultural research and modern farming techniques for local farmers. Smart Classrooms with state-of-the-art IT labs and video conferencing will improve access to quality higher education across the province. The 300-bed Gwadar Hospital equipped with advanced medical technology will provide international standard healthcare.
Additionally, CPEC vocational training institutes are empowering Balochistan women with marketable skills, driving financial inclusion. CPEC scholarships have enabled hundreds of talented Baloch students to pursue higher education at top Pakistani and Chinese universities.
Such initiatives build indigenous capacity in Balochistan, create gainful employment, raise income levels and gradually mainstream the province with the rest of Pakistan.
Gwadar Development: A Game-Changer
Gwadar, the crown jewel of CPEC, has seen major development projects to harness its strategic deep-sea port location on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast.
Completed projects like the Port and Free Zone Development, Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan, and Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute have been crucial in establishing Gwadar as a thriving regional economic hub.
The Port of Gwadar was upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment and technology to handle bulk cargo shipment and processing. The Free Zone was established as a 923 hectare tax-free investment haven to attract foreign investors. The Smart Port City Master Plan provides a 25-year blueprint to develop a sustainable Gwadar metropolis. The technical institute produces skilled workers needed to operate Gwadar Port and associated industries. More mega-projects under construction will further propel Gwadar's growth.
The Bostan Industrial Zone is a major under-construction project covering 1000 acres in Pishin district, bordering Quetta, Qila Saifullah, Ziarat, and Qila Abdullah. The zone's strategic location provides skilled labor access and connectivity via the Quetta Airport, Karachi seaport, and Quetta dry port. It is also situated near the vital N-50 national highway, enabling access across Pakistan.
The Bostan Industrial Zone is envisioned to house clusters and sectors like fruit processing, agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals, motorbike assembly, chromite, ceramics, cold storage, appliances, and halal food. This diverse industrial zone is expected to stimulate economic growth, attract investment, and create employment opportunities for locals, significantly contributing to Balochistan’s socioeconomic development.
Early projects like Gwadar goat farms, King grass cultivation, modern farming techniques, women's factories and vocational training institutes have increased income for marginalized groups. To further uplift Balochistan, the next focus should be on livestock, dairy, fish farming, tourism, logistics infrastructure and high-standard export-oriented industries.