Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the people of Gwadar in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan to ensure security of “friendly” foreign investors, including from China, who are making huge investments for the development of the impoverished but resource-rich province.
Gwadar is known for its strategic seaport developed and operated by China where recently foreigners including Chinese workers were attacked by militants.
Shehbaz visited the key area for the second time since coming to power in April and addressed a gathering of fishermen and others at the Gwadar Business Centre on Friday.
He said that friendly countries wanted to help Pakistan and it was a responsibility to provide them security, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.
“China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Qatar and other countries have been extending financial and diplomatic help and cooperation to Pakistan for 75 years and bailing the country out in difficult times.
“If we do not fulfil our responsibility for ensuring security of their investors, engineers and workers, they will go back,” he said.
The prime minister said that during his visit to Beijing, China’s premier Li Keqiang had assured him of financial help and cooperation and an agreement was signed the other day under which China would provide USD 2.3 billion in soft loan to Pakistan, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE also extended help.
He said that these countries had not put any conditions for investment in Pakistan and for developing “our agriculture, industry, energy sector”.
“Unfortunately, their engineers, workers and other people, who are helping us in development, are being targeted,” he said.
Sharif also expressed displeasure over the delay in completing the development projects initiated five years ago in Gwadar.
Referring to the demands of fishermen, he said that steps were being taken to resolve the issues of displacement and difficulty in access to the sea that was affecting the fisheries sector.
He said the establishment of Gwadar University had been included in the Public Sector Development Programme.
Earlier, Sharif witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) and Indus Hospital for the establishment of a 100-bed hospital in Gwadar.
Meanwhile, a key local leader organised a protest on the occasion for the rights of the people, especially those who went missing over the years.
The Gwadar rights movement, led by Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, and family members of forcibly-disappeared people, staged protest rallies in Gwadar when Prime Minister Sharif was in the port city.
Hundreds of people belonging to the “Gwadar Ko Haq Do” (give rights to Gwadar) movement and different political parties and members of the civil society gathered at the Y-Chowk carrying placards and banners inscribed with their demands.
Marching on various roads of the city despite tight security, they chanted slogans against the federal and Balochistan governments and in support of their demands. Another rally was also taken out by the heirs of missing persons, according to the Dawn report.
Balochistan is a mineral-rich and volatile region of Pakistan where a low-level insurgency has been going on for years. The Baloch nationalists frequently attack the security forces and the Chinese workers, warning Beijing to stop its investment activities.
There have been targeted attacks against Chinese citizens in Pakistan in the recent months.
Three Chinese teachers were killed when an explosion triggered by a burqa-clad woman suicide bomber from the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) ripped through a van of the Confucius Institute at the prestigious University of Karachi on April 26.
Last month, senior Pakistani lawmaker, Senator Mushahid Hussain, said that the Chinese confidence in Pakistan’s security system’s ability to protect its citizens and projects was seriously shaken after the Karachi University attack.
There were reports on social media of Chinese workers leaving Pakistan in large numbers after the attack.
China has invested billions of dollars in multiple development projects in its “all-weather ally” Pakistan. The ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of China’s ambitious multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The CPEC is a collection of infrastructure and other projects under construction throughout Pakistan since 2013. Originally valued at USD 46 billion, the projects were worth USD 62 billion as of 2017.