While China is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, it is important to remember that Shenzhen’s success greatly resulted from its strategic location. Close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, Shenzhen also benefited from Guangdong’s innovative and vivid urban network. Before becoming an international hub connecting world cities such as Los Angeles, Paris or London to China, Shenzhen was also a provincial or regional hub where Guangdong’s companies could meet investors from Hong Kong. To support the development of Shenzhen, China constructed many infrastructures to ease transportation around Shenzhen in the province of Guangdong. Shenzhen’s success is intricately linked with Guangdong’s economic rise.
As a result, if Pakistan wants to replicate Shenzhen’s experience and success in Gwadar, it is necessary to closely associate Balochistan province with Gwadar development strategy.
This opinion is shared by CEO Balochistan’s Board of Investment Farman Zarkoon.
Balochistan in the CPEC
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, but also the least populated one with only 12 million inhabitants. It is also one of the poorest regions of Pakistan, and is economy is still underdeveloped in spite of large mineral deposits (mainly copper). However it offers many opportunities in agriculture, clean energy (wind and solar power), tourism, and connectivity (with Iran and Afghanistan).
In Balochistan, CPEC projects are not restricted to Gwadar. Although the Southern port receives much attention from both Pakistani and Chinese governments, local and national authorities are also conducting CPEC-related projects in Balochistan, 1) to better connect Gwadar to other Pakistani provinces and neighbours countries , 2) to make it region more attractive, and 3) to reduce poverty.
Business opportunities in Balochistan
Although Gwadar is to become a major industrial hub, every industry may no be located within the city; some supply chains also need to be constructed at the regional level. That is why several SEZs are planned in Balochistan.
Near Quetta, the provincial capital, will be established the Bostan Special Economic Zone. This industrial park will host companies working in agrobusiness and food processing, but also in pharmaceuticals and ceramic production. The main objective of this SEZ is to exploit and transform local resources to be consumed in Balochistan, but also in other provinces and abroad.
The second SEZ is located in Hub, near Karachi. This city already hosts several industries and one coal fired power plant. In Hub SEZ, Balochistan authorities hope to attract several industrial activities including construction materials production.
These two SEZs must 100,000 local jobs to the population.
Other projects include the construciton of roads and energy facilities.
To develop Balochistan, provincial authorities have started to promote local opportunities abroad. Despite the Covid19 pandemic, the Balochistan Board of Investment & Trade has conducted several actions including webinars to increase international awareness about Balochistan.
Balochistan maintains strong relations with regional neighbours and the Gulf region, but efforts need to be made to promote the region in China, Japan, North America and the European Union, as Balochistan is still rather unknown in these countries.
Education, social programmes, and local empowerment
In addiction to infrastructure building and international promotion, Balochistan authorities will have to conitnue to conduct social projects to improve access to education so that local workforce may take part in the planned industrial development of Balochistan.
Most Chinese funded projects in Gwadar offer a social dimension (construction of schools and hospitals). Similar actions are planned in other cities in Balochistan.
The CPEC is a great opportunity for Balochistan to achieve economic and human development. Stronger cooperation between Pakistan and Europe will help reach this goal.