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Chinese to Construct Civil-Military Airport at Gwadar

As appeared in www.saag.org

In my earlier article titled “Gwadar: Balochs Blast Deal With Singapore Company”, I had mentioned as follows: “The China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which is constructing the two phases of the Gwadar port, has also been given the contract for the construction ofa new airport at Gwadar in about 18 months at a cost of $40-50 million. Curiously, whereas the other commercial airports of Pakistan are run by the Civil Aviation Department, the Gwadar airport is proposed to be run by the army and the Air Force. According to Baloch sources, the Pakistani authorities have agreed to allow the Chinese Air Force to use this airport in an emergency.”

2. The following details of this project have since become available from an article titled “Militarisation of Balochistan” written by columnist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur in the “Post” of February 1, 2007:

The Chinese will be building the airport 26 km away to the north-east of the existing airport towards Pasni. Disregarding the normal procedure, a sum of Rs.1.05 billion for the acquisition of 6,500 acres of land has been released to the Military Estate Officer in Quetta instead of to the Civil Aviation Authority. The land for the airport has already been acquired by the Military Land and Cantonments Department. The JFK airport in New York, one of the largest in the world, covers an area of only 4,930 acres. The land on which the proposed new Gwadar airport will be located is much more than the land on which the JFK airport is located and twice the size of the land on which London’s Heathrow airport is located (2,965 acres). In Heathrow, one plane lands or takes off every 46 seconds. Such heavy commercial traffic is never visualied in any airport of Pakistan even in the medium and long terms. Such a huge airport near Gwadar would, therefore, have other objectives. It will serve as a mammoth airbase.

The total native population of Gwadar is 160,000. The construction of the airport and the deep-sea port will require many times more people. Sixty thousand people are employed to construct the fifth terminal of the Heathrow airport on 260 acres of land. The number of people required for the construction of the second phase of the Gwadar port and the new airport would be twice the native population of Gwadar. The military authorities had initially envisaged inducting 2.5 million people (non-Balochs) from the other parts of Pakistan into Balochistan to work in the various projects. The present estimate of the requirement of non-Balochs from other provinces has gone up to five million. This massive influx will deprive the Balochs of their rights. The Government’s promise that the non-Balochs settled in Balochistan will not have the right to vote in the local elections to the provincial or federal assembly is an eyewash. These projects are serving the two-fold objective of militarising the province and relegating the local population to a minority status.

The Federal Government has not only been indiscriminately militarising the province, but is also nuclearising it by establishing three nuclear testing sites and six missile testing ranges, without bothering to consult the local Government and people. New cantonments are planned at Kohlu, Khuzdar and Dera Bugti, although there are already four major cantonments and 56 mini cantonments along with about 600 check-posts. The Pakistan Air Force already has six bases and the Navy three.

3. In their statements on the subjugation of the Balochs, the Baloch nationalist leaders have drawn attention to the following additional factors, which are responsible for the increasing anger of the Balochs:

Natural gas was discovered in Balochistan in 1953 and 1954-55. Seventy per cent of Pakistan’s gas supply comes from Balochistan and 45 per cent of the gas supply from the Sui gas fields in the Dera Bugti area. The Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) produces 720 to 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from its 80 plus wells. The gas reserves discovered were estimated at 9,625 trillion cubic feet. Balochistan produces natural gas worth Rs.85 billion annually, but gets a mere Rs. seven billion as royalty from the Federal Government. The royalty is based on well-head value and not the market value whereas the Government of Punjab is paid royalty for the gas produced in its territory at market value.

The gas produced from Balochistan is high-heat as compared to the gas produced in the Panj Pir area of Punjab. Whreeas the Balochs are paid a royalty of a meagre Rs.47 per cubic foot for their superior quality gas, the Punjabis are paid Rs.222 per cubic foot for their gas of inferior quality. Even this meagre royalty is not being paid regularly. The Federation owes Balochistan a sum of Rs. one trillion on account of royalty since 1953. Whereas the Government has no difficulty in finding funds for the armed forces, it says it does not have funds to clear the past dues to the Baloch people, who are afraid that these dues may ultimately be written off.

The Sui gas is the single largest source of energy supply for industries, power generation, agriculture, commerce and domestic use all over Pakistan. It is also used for the manufacture of fertilisers and chemicals. While all the cities, towns and many of the villages in Pakistan enjoy the benefit of the gas produced in Balochistan, only the military cantonments, four of the 28 districts and 250 of the 28,000 villages of Balochistan enjoy the benefit.

Next to gas, Balochistan has the largest reserve of coal in Pakistan. All the mining and refining contracts have been awarded to Punjabi companies. Ninety per cent of the coal mine workers are from Punjab. China is participating with the Punjabis in the plundering of the natural resources of Balochistan. Chinese firms have been given the contracts for the exploitation of the coal reserves in Sandik. The Chinese firms transmit 50 per cent of their profits to China, give 48 per cent to the Federal Government and give only two per cent to the Balochs towards royalty.

The Ormara naval base in Balochistan employs 10,000 civilians of whom only 40 are locals. The remaining are from Punjab, many of them Punjabi ex-servicemen.When Balochistan agreed to join Pakistan at the time of its independence in 1947, the Pakistan Government agreed to pass a law laying down that only Balochs would be recruited to Government jobs in the provincial administration. This law has since been quitely annulled. However, the law fixing a quota for Baloch recruits in the Federal Government is still on the statute book, but only non-Balochs—mainly Punjabis—re-settled in Balochistan are recruited against this Federal quota. Of the 72 senior posts in the Balochistan Government, only eight are occupied by Balochs. The remaining are occupied by non-Balochs—mostly Punjabis. The Frontier Constabulary (FC) units deployed in Balochistan for maintaining internal security have a total strength of about 35,000. Not one of them is a Baloch. The FC makes recruitment only in the other provinces and from amongst the Punjabi settlers in Balochistan.

In addition to the FC, 44,000 Pakistan Army troops are deployed in Balochistan—thus making a total of 79,000 members of the security forces deployed in Balochistan to suppress the Balochs—- almost the same number as Gen. Pervez Musharraf claims to have deployed in the Federally-administered Tribal Areas (FATA) against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban. In Balochistan, there is one member of the Federal Security forces for every 36 civilian, which is much, much higher than the corresponding ratio in NATO-occupied Afghanistan and the US-occupied Iraq. Last year, the US reportedly objected to the Pakistan Army diverting some of the helicopter gunships given by it for use against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in the FATA to Balochistan for use against the Baloch nationalists. Following this, the Pakistan Army has received some helicopters from China for use in Balochistan.

Unless royalty is paid to the Balochs for every foot of their territory through which the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan will pass, the Baloch nationalists are determined to see that this pipeline does not become a reality. The Balochs allege that in the deal signed by a Singapore company with the military-dominated Federal Government for the management of the Gwadar port there is a secret clause under which the Singapore company has agreed not to recruit any Baloch, who is not approved by the Federal Government after security vetting. They have reiterated their determination to oppose the working of the Singapore company in every way they can.

4. According to the Reuters news agency, gas supply to parts of Quetta was disrupted for over 12 hours on February 10, 2007, after suspected militants blew up a major gas pipeline. The 16-inch diameter pipeline was ruptured in the Kili Kambarani locality on the outskirts of Quetta. The explosion caused a huge fire which forced the suspension of the main centre supplying gas to the city. Residents of the provincial capital had to make do without gas in extremely cold weather. The police and the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) authorities reached the spot soon after the explosion. The repair works started immediately. However, the supply of gas was restored only to some parts of the city through alternative arrangements. Supply to the remaining parts of Quetta was still suspended.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. e-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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