The nationalists of the province have shown serious reservations on the Gwadar project and the proposed construction of military installations at the behest of foreign elements whose interests are visible. Their misconceptions that the employment of people from other parts of the country would turn the Baloch into a minority and usurp the natural resources of the area are dichotomies. Their other political concerns encompass the construction of cantonments that perhaps in their opinion would control the wealth of the province.
The provincial authorities should be authorised to have direct economic ventures with the foreign investors. These demands envisage maximum benefits to Balochistan but these have to be viewed from a different perspective and need to be resolved accordingly, as the clandestine motives of foreign players are no more a secret.
Despite the negative propaganda and the killing of three Chinese engineers in May 2004, the project seems to have progressed steadily.
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility of this heinous incident. In case more Chinese are targeted in future, China might abandon the project and that would cause inexorable burden on Pakistan’s economy. The nationalist activists intimidate the non-Baloch workers in an attempt to scare them away and force the government to employ only locals. To hamper the project and to coerce the investors, bomb and rocket attacks are used; as this is a common phenomenon resorted to by the insurgents.
The dissident tribal men can create law and order situation to undermine the writ of the government. Resultantly, local and foreign companies would go away. The elements with vested interests can resort to strikes and create a situation of unrest, as has been witnessed on countless occasions in the past. The political parties can stage anti-project rallies and agitation on account of the so-called subjugation of the rights of the Baloch. Political unrest shall have devastating effects on the ongoing project.
Countries like Iran and India have their economic interests associated with the Gwadar port; especially India, as it is exploiting the dissident elements and nationalist leaders of Balochistan to impede the project through acts of terrorism. Similarly, the Kalabagh Dam project had been maligned by India through malicious designs and has finally succeeded in strangulating the energy and agriculture sectors of Pakistan. Dwelling on the global interests, concerns of regional and extra regional powers and their implications, despite all accruing advantages, Gwadar may not auger well in the economic, military, and political interests of many countries.
China’s overwhelming involvement in the mega project and the possibility of Chinese naval presence would not be liked by the US. A protracted resistance is, therefore, increasing the security concerns of Pakistan, relating to the Gwadar Port project. The foreseeable foothold of China in the Arabian Sea is a source of concern for the US because Malacca Strait, through which the Chinese oil vessels pass, is already controlled by the US, owing to her presence in the Gulf.
In case of any conflict in the future, China fears that the US would choke off its supplies. The US desires to be involved in Gwadar because a short route being developed towards the Arabian Sea would consolidate its hold over Afghanistan; therefore, Balochistan is being focused on by the US. Pak-China collaboration has endangered Indian interests in the region, as any economic or military development of Pakistan causes inexplicable annoyance to India. She has, therefore, formed a strategic alliance with Afghanistan and Iran as a counter measure. India is anxiously looking forward to a shorter transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asian states through Iran.
Indian efforts to keep Balochistan simmering with law and order problems are evident from her patronage of exiled dissidents and in home nationalists. Iran would not like monopoly of Gwadar as the main route to sea from Central Asia via Afghanistan, since Iranian port Chah Bahar is also equally viable; the project is likely to confront competition from Iran. Iran and Turkey are interested in railway line connection from Almaty (Kazakhstan) via Tashkent (Uzbekistan) to Tehran and Istanbul, which would be further extended to Europe.
Iran’s future position by establishing a rail and road route to Central Asia cannot be ignored as she is not facing any turbulence in its immediate neighbours – Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The Pakistani leadership ought to exercise extreme care and sagacity in Pak-Iran ties in view of her role in the region. China’s export origination from western region would proffer her an option to avoid eastern coasts which entail extra distance of 10,000 kilometers.
China, being a strong regional power, has undertaken the mega project which would be an integral part of the China foreign trade route in the foreseeable future. It is conjectured that the entire Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia could utilise the Gwadar deep sea port, which has to be from and to Afghanistan. It would be an opportunity and threat to the adjoining sea ports. Russia has endeavoured to form axis with Iran to counter the influence of the NATO forces present in the region.
Russia opposes any economic cooperation between Pakistan and Central Asia. The most sizzling is Afghanistan, being the middle ground between the Central Asia and Pakistan. The US military and economic interests in the garb of pursuance of the al Qaeda have been unveiled ever since the invasion of Afghanistan. Should we wait for the US to fall back home or have equally impartial bilateral relations with the Afghan government, the Northern Alliance and Taliban, is a million dollar question.
Let us wait and see the fate of Afghanistan and our tribal areas. In the meantime, we should obliterate the apprehensions of the Baloch and address their genuine grievances which would help create political harmony and national cohesion. The federal government is indeed endeavouring a little for building confidence of locals and nationalists, but is the provincial government putting in its effort or it is still subservient to ethnic groups, sub nationalist political factions and pressure tactics of the so-called separatists?
Bilateral ties between the federal and provincial governments should have no disputes on board. The hostile designs of foreign exploiters need to be thwarted by pro-active diplomatic measures by the ministry of foreign affairs. The city of opportunity should be promoted akin to attract foreign investment. The deep sea port is not specific to China alone, international community may have conceived what India is propagating through their diplomatic means. Our media should target national and international audience by portraying the Gwadar as the future of Pakistan and the region.
The development of this mega project will be completed in a decade or so and would serve the country for a century. Apathy of the situation is evident from the callous attitude of some politicians and the national government. We all should launch a massive campaign for the project, lest it meets the fate of the Kalabagh dam.