The CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, defines itself as ‘a framework of regional connectivity,’ and hopes to provide a ‘better region of the future, with peace, development and growth of the economy.’ sic.
Let’s hope this is so, that CPEC does improve relations and conditions all around. For now, there is an objection from our neighbour to the east, which says that CPEC passes through disputed territory, with the US backing that claim.
There are also other matter that have to do with Pakistan’s past; CPEC tends to raise spectres of the East India Trading Company, and rulers now are no wiser than they were then.
Despite all this it is hoped that the culmination will be somewhat different this time around when once again, another country is allowed in with special concessions. Such tussles are likely to be a feature of this project, and the government would do well to deal with them as carefully and diplomatically as possible. It remains up to Pakistan to steer this venture into safe waters and to use it wisely so it can bring prosperity to its people and the region. Whether or not the government is likely to be able to do this remains to be seen.
Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be. Thar has, as a result, the lowest Human Development Index in all of Sindh. Yet the coalfields of Thar are said to contain the sixteenth largest coal reserves in the world. According to Wiki ‘a total of 175 billion tons of coal resource potential has been assessed, equivalent to total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran combined and can be used to produce 100,000 MW for 300 years.’ Thar is therefore now the site of one of CEPEC’s energy priority projects which involves the establishment of coal fired power plants. It is here in Thar, that some women have made up their minds to use CEPEC to better the lot of their families. Otherwise, women in Pakistan have a tough time, particularly those living in less developed areas.
Pakistan trails behind the world where women’s rights are concerned, with the exception of Saudi Arabia where women have just been ‘allowed’ to get behind the wheel – an infuriating choice of words. Women in Pakistan have never been barred from driving on a national, official scale. Pakistan possesses women’s sports teams, and women are not restricted to a few jobs. Yet there are huge social problems facing women in this country, some of which were very much highlighted by the reaction to Qandeel Baloch, and her murder, by her own brother. The antagonism for the murdered woman from a sizeable chunk of the population speaks volumes for the attitude towards determined women who take their lives into their own hands.
It has been estimated that hundreds of trucks will be needed to service the coal mines once they are established. These are not your ordinary little trucks, but large sixty tonne monsters and Reuters reports that each driver may earn up to Rs.40,000 a month. At present, for the coal mine that is now functioning the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is already running some trucks, and among the drivers being trained to drive these trucks are thirty female drivers taken from amongst the local population of Thar.
You have to be a woman to fully appreciate the cultural barriers these women are breaking. They are stepping into these jobs in a country where female drivers even on crowded urban streets although they are allowed to drive are invariably harassed. It is a hugely admirable achievement, equal to the conquest of Everest to drive such a large vehicle, in this inhospitable, terrain containing people holding prohibitively conservative views as people do in such uneducated regions. It goes to show the will to survive, and the courage of the people of this country, a will and courage that deserves a leg up.
Pakistan has a lot of catching up to do. The government serves its people only so far. The people go much further to make up the shortfall. There are hospitals in this country run entirely on donations, schools, training institutes and other services. With something like CEPEC coming up, although it lays the country open to many issues, also holds the potential for prosperity. If only those involved are able to bring themselves to look beyond their personal interests and bank accounts, this might be achieved.