January 12, 2016
The smaller provinces concerns over the implementation of China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) are beginning to spill over into the broader political arena, bringing into question even settled constitutional issues. As expected, Sunday's All-Party Conference in Islamabad, convened by Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal, expressed serious reservations about what is widely seen as lack of transparency and fair play regarding CPEC-related energy and development projects. The participants urged the federal government to first start work on the corridor's western route in line with the decisions made at the May 2015 APC. All these issues are already generating heated public discussion and disputation. In a startling new development, the conference also went on to demand that the Balochistan government be given control over the Gwadar port and rights over natural resources.
Considering the event was organised by a Baloch nationalist and that there is an unsavoury history of economic and political grievances in the province, it was quite predictable for the conference declaration to call for various measures to improve the quality of life for the people of Balochistan in general and Gwadar in particular. But the demand for handing control of the seaport to the provincial government was astonishing, indeed. It cannot be taken as a mere rhetorical plea on the part of Baloch nationalists since the conference participants included leaders of almost all major mainstream parties like PPP's Farhatullah Babar, PTI's KPK Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, ANP's Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Afrasiab Khattak, PK-MAP's Mahmood Khan Achakzai, NP's former Balochistan chief minister Abdul Malik Baloch, Qaumi Watan Party's Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, and JI's Liaqat Baloch as well as three important figures from the Nawaz League (for the latter, it might have been a case of minority against majority view).
These leaders, of course, are aware that the subjects of ownership rights of natural resources and control over ports are already settled under the Constitution. It contains explicit provisions for sharing jointly and equally of mineral, oil and natural gas resources by a province and the federal government. There though are some implementation issues that need to be resolved. But as regards the other demand, it amounts to calling into question the existing Federal Legislative list. The Constitution clearly stipulates that seaports, airports and all related facilities fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Gwadar port therefore cannot be handed over to the provincial government unless and until the Constitution is amended to provide for the same. If Balochistan gets that right, Sindh naturally would be within its rights to seek the same for its seaport. The participants of the APC need to clarify whether the demand is the result of earnest contemplation. If it is, how do they intend to proceed forward?