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Gwadar: the future of Pakistan – 1

Mukaram Khan
Gwadar deep seaport undoubtedly retains a significant role in the future economic boom of Pakistan, particularly in the wake of the trade potentials of the Central Asian Republics. The foreseeable rapid development of western China will create tremendous economic and trade enterprises. Gwadar was selected as an alternative seaport, since port Qasim did not have the capacity to accommodate the expected load.

Gwadar’s location, at the entrance of Strait of Hormuz, provides enormous economic opportunities not only to Pakistan but to other regions also, like the Central Asian Republics, Middle East, South Asia and Gulf States. However, the prevailing non-conducive security environments and instable political situation in Pakistan are of grave concern to the project’s completion. The implications erupting for regional and outer powers are fragile and need to be handled carefully, owing to its immense geo-strategic significance. Albeit, the site of Gwadar was identified in 1964, however, technical and financial feasibilities that commenced as late as 8th five year plan (1993 – 97) included the development of Gwadar port. In 2001, the proposal turned to a miraculous realty when China finally agreed to undertake the onerous project of construction and development of Gwadar project. Resultantly, in March 2002, the Chinese Vice Premier Wu Bangguo laid the foundation stone of the deep seaport. As envisaged in the master plan, it was to be undertaken in two phases. Phase one includes three multi purpose berths which have the length of 600 meters, 4.5 kilometers long approach channel dredged to 12.5 meters, turning basin of 450 meters diameter, one service berth of 100 meter length and related port infrastructure and equipment etc. It is pertinent to mention that the port shall operate smoothly, just like a modern port. The ports having completed phase one can handle bulk carriers of 30,000 dead weight tons (DWT) and container vessels of 25,000 DWT. Phase two of the project will comprise of nine additional berths which include four container berths, one bulk cargo terminal capable of handling 100,000 DWT ships one grain terminal and two oil terminals to handle 200,000 DWT ships.

This reflects that a revolutionary economic sector growth in the country is in the offing as the project is not only related to the shipping sector, but would also entail multidirectional networks of motorways and rail communication. The evident international economic prospects include trade opportunities with the Central Asia and Gulf and trans-shipment of containerised cargo. The economic uplift of Balochistan is not too far off either as the influx of human resources would be directed to Gwadar instead of Karachi. The ship related industries would spring up and export processing and industrial zones would be established. The oil storage, refinery and petrochemicals would be an obvious functionary. The allied infrastructure would involve internal roads, hospitals, education institutions, warehouses, commercial and residential areas and office buildings. The corporate infrastructure would include hotels and motels, cargo and trucking yards, shipyards, dry docks and bunkers for ships. Above all, labour related opportunities for thousands of skilled and non-skilled workers would reduce unemployment in the country in general and Balochistan in particular, to a reasonable extent.

The oil reserves and natural recourses of the Central Asian states have become the focus of world’s attention; our geographical location in the proximity of Central Asia gives us the opportunity to become one of the vital export corridors in the region. Our western coastline is at the crossroads of international sea lines of communication; in addition we have other potential port sites along our coast. In the absence of visionary planning to develop Gwadar earlier or owing to other un-avoidable reasons, Pakistan missed the scope of an international harbour. The major commercial centres with bulk port facilities came up in the region elsewhere; however, the gulf had the added advantage of the discovery of oil. The Central Asian states would definitely prefer the Pakistani port because except the Iranian ports, specifically the Chah Bahar, other gulf ports are on the opposite side. The Central Asian states should opt for the economically viable, cost effective and shortest route to the Arabian Sea for transit and pipe line routes. Pakistan is situated at the interface of Central Asia and South Asia thus provides the shortest route to the land locked states. India too announced to construct railway lines connecting Central Asia, however for geographical reasons the proposal could not materialise, hence the possibility of any secured transit route is through Pakistan. The sea lanes from the Persian Gulf could be monitored from a strategic point of view, as Gwadar lies astride the sea lanes originating from the strategic choke point of Hormuz. The Indian Ocean trade routes of far eastern countries could be overseen as well. Pakistan could utilise Gwadar as an alternative Naval base to prevent any blockade by the Indian Navy, as experienced in the 1971 war and the Kargil crisis. The strategic depth to Pakistan maritime assets commercially and militarily would be an additional benefit.

Now, the question arises that whether the prevailing environment in Pakistan is conducive for the mega project. The vast expanse of tribal land, inadequate security, sardars and nawabs oriented tribal clans, rampant smuggling of narcotics and weapons and nationalist activists have weakened the government’s writ in Balochistan. The law and order situation worsens intermittently; the foreign elements covert intervention is another contributory factor. These factors are likely to grow, if economic affluence of Gwadar is not shared visibly with locals as the province suffers from socio-economic backwardness. The government’s neglect and exploitations have diminished the national sprits of the inhabitants of Balochistan, harbouring ill feelings particularly against Punjab. The educated youth is unemployed, rather are hostages at the hands of sub-nationalists. Job opportunities in the province are otherwise bleak owing to numerous reasons, yet the Frontier Corps Balochistan (Civil Armed Force) is amazingly devoid of local recruitment. The enrolment in Frontier Corps alone could get thousands of jobs. Gwadar promises new jobs, but are the young Balochis skilled enough to seek employment and have the requisite know how? As compared to the other provinces of Pakistan, the Balochis feel caste away, neglected and deprived. They opine that they do not get their due share of socioeconomic benefits in the backdrop of rich national resources. The rifts between Federal and Provincial governments have aggravated the situation in the past. Military actions in the provinces also have had repercussions. The killings of Nawab Akbar Bugti and other young Mari tribal chiefs will not be forgotten easily nor will the situation return to normalcy soon. The centuries old sardari and nawabi system is indeed a major hurdle in the prosperity and well being of the common populace, who are exploited by sardars. The allegiance of tribesmen to their tribal chiefs would always resist any attempt to abolish this system. The establishment of cantonments is seen as attempts to eliminate the sardars, hence is opposed and widely criticised. The natural gas issue and its royalty issue have further added to the sense of deprivation of the masses.

To be continued…

Source: The Post 1st January, 2009

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