The dusty desert city of Khuzdar in southwestern Pakistan has no hospital and no commercial flights into its tiny airport, but government officials who visited recently spoke in glowing terms of its future as a hub of commerce.
Pakistan’s new army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was among a flock of dignitaries who descended upon Khuzdar, a city of 400,000, to tout the benefits of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
How much the $57 billion network of energy projects, roads and a deep-water port linking western China with Pakistan’s southwestern coast will benefit ordinary Pakistanis has been debated in recent months, with critics saying Chinese banks and companies will gain most.
Pakistani officials, however, assured students, officials and citizens at a seminar in Khuzdar that CPEC would bring new prosperity to Pakistan’s largest, least-populous and poverty-plagued province. “Baluchistan unfortunately had been neglected in the past, for a host of reasons, but not anymore,” Bajwa told the gathering at Khuzdar’s Baluchistan University of Engineering and Technology.
The head of the army is one of the most powerful positions in Pakistan, where the military not only controls security but also operates a vast business empire and often dictates key areas of foreign policy. Students in the audience were skeptical about whether CPEC would benefit the province.