Pakistan President Arif Alvi recently signed the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance to facilitate reclamation and urban planning on Bundal and Bhuddo islands, which are located south of Karachi.
But Opposition parties allege the two islands will be handed over to China as another wing of CPEC, ET has learnt. The Opposition has also alleged that the Ordinance is part of a bigger plan to bring the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan provinces under Islamabad’s control, according to politics watchers in Pakistan affairs.
CPEC, financed by China, begins from the Gwadar port in Balochistan province.
Pakistan government officials claimed that PIDA has been created to develop the islands as commercial zones. Imran Ismail, the governor of Sindh, has claimed that Bundal on its own can take on Dubai and attract investments worth up to $50 billion.
The Ordinance gained public attention this month in Sindh and Balochistan provinces as protests intensified. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of Sindh’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, called the Ordinance an illegal annexation, according to reports.
There was a stronger reaction from Sindhi ethnic nationalist politicians, who oppose PIDA because they believe the islands could be handed to China as another CPEC component. “We will not allow you to sell our lands to China Communist Party,” tweeted Zafar Sahito, vice president of the Jeay Sindh Thinkers Forum, which advocates Sindh’s independence from Pakistan.
In May, the Imran Khan government had banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar–a party with a similar ideology to the Jeay Sindh Thinkers Forum. Pakistan watchers alleged that the party’s hostility to CPEC was one of the reasons for the ban.
The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), the largest union of fishermen in Pakistan, has launched the Save Sea Islands Movement, and is organizing a flotilla off Bundal on Thursday to protest the Ordinance.
PFF also protested the arrival of Chinese deep-sea fishing vessels last month, and claimed that 800,000 fishing jobs could be in jeopardy if the federal government persists with its island development plans.
Senator Kabir Muhammad Shahi, a member of the opposition National Party based in the southern province of Balochistan, told local media that the federal government is encroaching into political landscape in Sindh and Balochistan. The National Party “will start demonstrations all over the country against this Ordinance”, he said.
The Ordinance is helpful to Beijing’s expanding economic ambitions in Pakistan. Last month, China nominated Nong Rang as its ambassador to Pakistan. He is a political appointee well versed in commerce and trade and his mandate could be to push China’s belt and road initiative (BRI) activities.
Another senator, Muhammad Shahi, believes the Ordinance is part of a bigger scheme to bring the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan under federal control. Gwadar port and other key components of CPEC are in the coastal belt, and by putting them under federal control, provincial governments will have limited say, said Shahi.
Jahangir Durrani, a Pakistani nature conservationist, told local media that disappearing mangroves and growing pollution have caused severe environmental damage that limits development potential of these two islands.