Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the plan in Pakistan on Monday. It involves energy and infrastructure projects linking the neighbours’ economies and creating an “economic corridor” between Pakistan’s Gwadar port and China’s western Xinjiang region.
Gwadar is on the Arabian Sea in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s poorest and least populous province, where rebels have waged a separatist insurgency for decades, complaining that richer provinces unfairly exploit their mineral and gas resources.
The insurgency has raised doubts about the corridor, a network of roads, railways and pipelines. To minimise the risk, government planners have shifted its route east, to bypass as much of Baluchistan as possible.
Baluchistan politicians said that was unfair.
“We will not accept this decision and will resist this move very strongly,” provincial Minister for Planning and Development Hamid Khan Achakzai told Reuters. “It will be a big injustice.”
Jaffar Khan Mandokhel, a former provincial minister, said there would be a “strong reaction” to the change which would only benefit Pakistan’s richest province.
“The change is meant to give maximum benefit to Punjab, which is already considered the privileged province,” he said.
The route change would also mean the proposed corridor would largely bypass the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Imran Khan, whose party rules the province, also condemned any route change as an injustice to the people of both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan.
The complaints highlight the political risks for a plan China sees as a key part of its aim to forge “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.
The Pakistani army said it was tackling the security risks by setting up a special division for the corridor, including nine army battalions and paramilitary forces.
On Tuesday, six separatist militants and two soldiers were killed in clashes in Baluchistan, officials said.
Islamist militants have also attacked Chinese workers in Pakistan. And China worries about Muslim separatists from Xinjiang, whom it blames for a series of attacks across China over the past year, getting training from Pakistani militants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised Xi Pakistan would step up efforts to battle terrorism. The army said on Wednesday it had killed 22 militants in air strikes near the Afghan border. -Reuters