Balochistan's path to prosperity: Empowering youth through development initiatives

Over the stretch of several decades, the youth of province have been marginalized, yet such initiatives spearheaded under CPEC promise to harness the demographics constructively

“We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

In the contemporary development initiatives, the engagement of populace especially youth has emerged as a pivotal factor aimed at fostering community engagement, ownership, and the long-term sustainability of projects. Development fundamentally involves human progress, therefore the active involvement of the populace in shaping their own course of development is crucial. The findings of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) depicts that 64% of the country's total population falls below the age of 30, with 29% aged between 15 and 29 years. The phenomenon of youth bulge is two-fold, either an asset or a potential risk for societal stability. Unfortunately, number of unemployed individuals in Pakistan has reached 5.6 million, as per International Labor Organization (ILO), which is a sizeable figure. This high level of unemployment exacerbates the grievances within certain segments of the population, adding further strain to an already challenging labor market situation.

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan by land area, and due to its strategic location it has always remained vital for Pakistan’s economic development. Securing the future of Balochistan is of paramount importance. A socio-politically stable Balochistan can mitigate the persisting conflicts in the province.  Balochistan, like many other regions, faces challenges such as high unemployment rates and limited access to quality education. Vocational training programs tailored to the needs of Balochistan's youth can address these challenges by equipping them with practical skills that are in demand in local as well as industries on a global scale. 

To overcome the challenge, in 2014, the Government of Balochistan in collaboration with the Pakistan Army achieved a significant milestone by establishing the Gwadar Institute of Technology (GIT). The institute specialized in technical curriculum and facilitates its graduates by sending them to China for a one-year Scholarship program. The primary objective behind setting-up of GIT was to equip the youth of province with practical skills necessary to actively participate in ongoing developmental projects across the surrounding areas. GIT provides a diverse range of courses, including computer operations, office management, automation, carpentry, and boat engine repair, catering to the educational needs of Balochistan's youth. Also, GIT plays a crucial role in not only imparting skill-based education but also in preparing individuals to collaborate effectively with the international workforce engaged in projects within Gwadar and the broader framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Investing in education (literacy, skill development or critical thinking) by administrative authorities can lay a groundwork for transformative change, ultimately leading to a more inclusive and peaceful societies.

The first cohort of 10 students have successfully concluded a two-year program at GIT. The significance of this achievement is akin to an oasis, offering sustenance and optimism amidst challenging environment. It symbolizes overcoming obstacles and serves as evidence of the resilience and perseverance of all the stakeholders. 

Moreover, the diverse population of Balochistan holds a spectrum of opinions regarding CPEC. Some perceive it as an opportunity for socio-economic development, however, some are apprehensive about its impact and implications. The Chinese engagement in the province and BRI-linked projects have fueled suspicion among the Baloch population but projects like these foster an essence of goodwill and trust-building within the Baloch community. Overall, CPEC is seen predominately through the prism of infrastructure development. Such programs reflect a comprehensive approach to stimulate economic development, encourage youth empowerment, and promoting community participation in Gwadar. 

Furthermore, these type of development endeavors possess the capacity to prevent youth from succumbing to the influence of insurgency, militancy and drug addiction. Also, with the establishment of technical and vocational training institutes, the government is laying a strong foundation for skills development in the region. This also inculcate the sense of entrepreneurship among the youth by motivating them to create positive change within the community.  Besides, this is the pathway to empower the local community through skill development and job opportunities, aiming to create a sustainable and prosperous future for Gwadar.

Over the stretch of several decades, the youth of province have been marginalized, yet such initiatives spearheaded under CPEC promise to harness the demographics constructively. Over and above, such efforts constitute as the cornerstone towards a path towards prosperity in the region, and shall be replicated in various other parts of the province for equitable development. As Balochistan prospers, so does the assurance of prosperity in Pakistan increases. In essence, CPEC embodies as a beacon of hope for Balochistan in its quest to address grievances and mitigate socio-economic deprivation.

Author is a researcher and holds a degree in Public Policy. She can be reached at saraaleem610@gmail.com

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