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Pakistan Air Force to build new air base in Balochistan

File photo of the Pakistan Air Force at a march past (Photo: IANS)

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) plans to build a new air base in Balochistan, stepping up the militarisation of the restive province. The PAF has also identified a piece of land for the air base in Nasirabad district of Balochistan.

According to a press release, PAF officials inspected the site along with the district administration on Sunday. The Dawn newspaper quoted Nasirabad Deputy Commissioner Azhar Shezad that a delegation of the PAF proposed a tract of land to be acquired for establishing the air base.

Nasirabad district comes under the Notal area in Balochistan. Officials hope that the development of the air base in the Notal area will shift focus from Jacobabad, Sindh, to Nasirabad. This will also create opportunities for the locals and bring about development of Nasirabad district. Another news report says that the PAF is likely to acquire 26,000 acres of land in the Notal area, most of which is uncultivated land.

This will be the PAF's second air base in the conflict-torn and underdeveloped region of Balochistan. PAF already has one at Samungli, near Quetta. With this plan, Pakistan will successfully militarise its Balochistan region as it is also developing the Gwadar port, part commercial and part navy port, with Chinese help.

The sparsely-populated Balochistan region comprises almost 40 per cent of Pakistan but has the lowest human development indicators in the country. The Baloch people, who feel exploited at the hands of the Pakistani government and the military, have been seeking independence from Pakistan and leading a decades-old insurgency. They say that Pakistan has been sucking out Baloch resources like gold, copper and coal without making an effort to improve the social and economic conditions of the people.

In mid-March this year, Baloch political activists placed the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Rights activist Ali Akbar Mengal told the UN: "The people of Balochistan are seen living in a military garrison and facing elimination on a daily basis… Only for the sake of the land needed for CPEC projects, thousands of people have been removed from their houses by force, hundreds of houses were burned and many people have become victims of enforced disappearances or were eliminated."

This deeply-entrenched feeling among the Baloch that Pakistan has been exploiting its mineral riches in collaboration with China is fuelling the insurgency further.

The close-knit countries have together been working on the $64 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that seeks to connect different regions of the world through a network of rail, roads and ports.

A large part of the CPEC runs through Balochistan to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, where China is developing a port. Though Gwadar is being developed as a commercial port, it will also receive navy ships. In an exclusive interview to State-owned Global Times, Admiral M Amjad Khan Niazi, Chief of the Naval Staff of the Pakistan Navy, said that the Gwadar Port is a commercial port that may receive port calls by ships of different navies.

China has already placed a large number of troops in Balochistan to protect its prized economic asset in the form of the CPEC. With Pakistan's decision to build another air force base in Balochistan, it will militarise the region further. It is also likely to alienate the Baloch people further.