BY RAIS AHMAD KHAN
Gwadar Port Project is beset by a ‘comedy’ of errors (or is it a “tragedy of errors”)? A press report says, “Gwadar Port finally made history by beginning its cargo handling from March 15, 2008.”
Once it is fully operational, and all its facilities and infra-structure in place(in complete working order after due testing and trial runs), Gwadar has the potential to be a much more lucrative port than Karachi or Port Qassim, for several reasons:
1) Its geographical and strategic location at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz, and as a deep water open sea port, an advantage not enjoyed by Dubai, Khark Island or Kish (in the Gulf) for instance. There may be competition with Chahbahar port in Iran, but certain political and economic constraints of Iran tend to negate the prospects of Chahbahar in comparison with Gwadar. As a gateway to the landlocked states in Central Asia, and China, Gwadar has no peer.
The advantages of Dubai as a free port, and a tax-free regime, can be overcome by declaring Gwadar also, as a free port for entrepot trade.
2) Climate: Though Gwadar is terribly hot during summer, it does not suffer from the “boiler-room” humidity of the ports in the Gulf, so comparatively, it is a more salubrious place for its inhabitants. Of course, Dubai is far more developed as a really cosmopolitan city and international trade centre, with a fairly long history of trade relations. It is more so because of oil, and the ostentatious display of immense wealth, which Pakistan will take years to emulate. Probably this factor can also work into Gwadar’s favour as a much cheaper place and a better locale for cost of doing business, as well as a much better educated and sophisticated human resource powerhouse.
3) It is true that Pakistan is no match for UAE or Iran or other Gulf States in terms of financial strength. However, the backing it receives from China, and the in-built advantage of direct access to nd from Central Asian States (and through them by overland routes to Russia and Europe on one hand, and Korea and Japan on the other), offers to Pakistan a unique opportunity to cash in on its fortunate geo-strategic locale. In years to come, particularly when Balochistan is fully developed and its natural resources harnessed to the optimum, there are good chances, in the not too distant future, to achieve a degree of prosperity rivalling the oil producers.
4) It is obvious that development of Gwadar as a thriving port, depends on adequate and modern infra-structure in its hinterland, and it is assumed that the authorities are alive to the dire necessity of immediate attention to this aspect.
5) The emerging new oil and gas centres around the Caspian seek outlets for their products and Gwadar offers a two-way outlet to markets East and West, North and South, unhampered by the conflicts in much of the region.
6) Initially some dissuasion is to be expected from the existing port facilities in the region, who would naturally be miffed at emergence of a strong contender, but that will gradually subside when they realise the potential of expanding their own business through these new facilities.
7) One big constraint is financing the project with all its paraphernalia and infra-structure, but the future revenue generation potential of the new port will soon recoup the initial outlay, and much more besides.
8) The boon to employment opportunities and social uplift it will bring about will solve the age-old problems faced by the so-far most neglected province of Pakistan, although it has the largest landmass among all the provinces. The fillip to industries, mining, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, trade and commerce in Balochistan will have a domino-effect on other regions as well, all for the better.
9) The cumulative effect of all the above and other factors too numerous to mention will be the gateway for a prosperous and powerful Pakistan, God willing.
Source: Business Recorder, 15/4/2008