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CPEC’s Karachi project offers no relocation to Bengali migrants. Imran Khan’s not complaining

The inclusion of the project into the CPEC moves focus away from Gwadar — another site where Chinese presence is less welcome, said an article in Nikkei Asia.

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New Delhi: Karachi is set to get a brand new coastline with help from China, which is sinking $3.5 billion into the project involving “new berths to Karachi port, developing a new fisheries port and a 640-hectare trade zone on the western backwater marshland of the Karachi Port Trust,” according to the portal Nikkei Asia. The project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or the CPEC.

This is how one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers described one of the colonies along the coastline, the Machar colony, which also happens to be Karachi’s biggest slum: “The narrow streets are carpeted with garbage, rotting fruit, and animal carcasses which are left open, only to be covered with a thick blanket of flies and mosquitoes. The overwhelming stench of garbage, rotting fish and animal feces, is, thus, hardly surprising. What is surprising is that people reside in what is clearly an uninhabitable environment.”

Residents of Karachi should be rejoicing for the investments the ‘iron brother’ is about to make, right? But it’s a little more complicated.

Journalists, and experts in urban planning and social development have pointed out that the $3.5 billion project doesn’t include a comprehensive plan to relocate those living in the colony, which is populated by thousands of Bengali and Myanmarese migrants.

An editorial in The Express Tribune is equal parts hopeful and skeptical of the project, saying that the announcement of the project “would normally be welcome news, if not for the fact that we are still awaiting the nitty-gritty of the project, such as how ownership and control of the new zone will be split.”

Chairman of the Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party (STP) called for greater transparency, saying that while he did not oppose the project, the “occupation of Sindh’s land could not be tolerated or allowed.”

The government, meanwhile, couldn’t be happier. Pakistan’s minister for mar­i­time affairs, Syed Ali Zaidi, told Dawn last month, “The Chinese work so fast and I guess that it would not take more than five or six years to complete the project. Under the agreed plan, we would relocate some 20,000 to 25,000 families from Machhar Colony. Believe me it’s a huge thing for Pakistan. It’s something massive. It would bring multifold advantages to Pakistan’s maritime economy and further strengthen our coastal development.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan has called the project a “game changer,” which would put Karachi “at par with developed port cities.”

What the project means for Pakistan

The inclusion of the coastal project, the Karachi Comprehensive Coastal Development Zone (KCCDZ), into the CPEC moves focus away from Gwadar — another site where Chinese presence is less welcome, the article in Nikkei Asia says.

The project, spread over 650 hectares of land, will also connect “with the rest of Karachi through a majestic harbour bridge rising from behind Pakistan’s Deepwater Port, with exit ramps for Manora Islands and Sandspit beach,” a statement announcing the plan read, adding that it would unlock, “Pakistan’s unexplored Blue Economy and significantly enhance development and industrial cooperation between the two brotherly countries.”

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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