Ghulam Hussain Dashti is the President of Anjuman Tajran Gwadar, a body that represents small traders in the Gwadar city. As part of our recent fact-finding mission in Gwadar, BR Research also sat down with Mr. Dashti and a few other local traders. Selected, edited excerpts are produced below from that conversation, which focused on how small businesses view the CPEC-linked planning and development works taking place in Gwadar.
BR Research: Gwadar Port, and by extension, Gwadar city, is at the heart of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As a representative of small traders in the city, how do you see this area getting developed in the coming years?
Ghulam Hussain Dashti: Frankly we have heard the name CPEC. But we dont know much about it. Even our local MNA seems clueless. In fact, sometimes we get our information from newspapers.
As far as Gwadar is concerned, there are still problems related to adequate availability of basic necessities. People have to wait for days, sometimes a week, for tankers to bring water from Mirani Dam. Whatever little electricity we get here comes from Iran. The schools mostly exist on paper. For major health issues, Gwadar residents have to go to Karachi. You must have seen the condition of the roads in the city?
BRR: We have. We think that the roads are in a better condition compared to, say, five years ago. The main Jinnah Avenue, which links the city with the airport, is well-paved. Besides, we have witnessed civil works on the Marine Drive, which connects the city to the seaport. But please tell us why do you seem to know so little about CPEC?
GHD: Gwadar Port is a big project, we understand. We tried to have meetings with the officials to find out if the locals will have any participation in the project. We even met Planning Minister Prof. Ahsan Iqbal. He assured us that locals will be involved.
But there dont seem to be many areas where we can get involved. When we asked the port authorities about licenses for clearing/forwarding and imports/exports, they ask for Rs6 million to Rs7 million of safety deposit. Well, the local businesses dont have that much cash lying around. We understand that they need the minimum deposit, but the limit has to be lowered for local businesses.
BRR: What are other areas where you think local businesses can be involved?
GHD: It doesnt help the local economy if the raw material is being brought in from outside. We have seen that materials like sand, granite, cement, even dumper trucks are not sourced locally. When it comes to food items, except for fish, the Chinese prefer to source basic food materials from Karachi or elsewhere, instead of buying it from the Gwadar market.
Manpower is another area. We admit that the locals dont have the skills to do port-related jobs, but can they not train the locals, including people from Gwadar?
BRR: Perhaps they dont source locally because local traders also source from markets like Karachi. But tell us, how has business been in Gwadar for small traders over the last few years?
GHD: The population has increased in the city; so naturally, traders are doing well compared to before. Business has almost doubled in the last one year.
BRR: What are the reasons behind this increase?
GHD: It is the property business that has grown the most. Some locals have sold some part of their land in the city. As a result, they are able to afford a better lifestyle. Some people started small business; some have set up retail shops. Money from property sale has fueled consumption within the city.
BRR: What about security? We have noticed during this visit that Gwadar feels much safer compared to a few years ago.
GHD: I agree. There is now complete control on high-level crimes such as homicide. Gwadar has generally been a peaceful town. There have been no tribal rivalries. Besides, it is already closed from three ends due to the sea. Safety issues arose in recent years but the army has swiftly secured the area.
BRR: You mentioned better lifestyles and some new small businesses coming up. Is that not a signal that CPEC could be good for Gwadar?
GHD: There is increased cash circulation in the market but the problem is that it is going mostly towards consumption. Many people who sold their land in the city have built their houses and they are living a better lifestyle now. But the problem is that people need skills to do a good business. Without skills to do the port-related jobs or the know-how to do business, there will come a time when the locals will not have more land to sell, the city will become more expensive, the locals will be priced out, and eventually forced to locate to a different area.
BRR: How expensive has living in this city become in recent years?
GHD: Gwadar locals are unable to grow vegetables and fruits or breed chicken and cattle due to lack of adequate water. So the city procures food items, and other consumer items, from Karachi, and to some extent, from Iran. The port is rarely functional, so trucks from Karachi charge double the amount for bringing goods here because they have to go back empty. For instance, it costs Rs2 per kg more to source flour from Karachi. We hope that the desalination plant would be operational soon and some of this price pressure would be eased.
BRR: You have highlighted a number of issues. To solve them and move things forward in the interest of everyone, please also suggest a few solutions.
GHD: First is the employment part. We need to hire local truck drivers and crane operators for the port. The government must educate locals on technical skills so they can also be a part of the CPEC. Besides, it would be beneficial to send local students to China to learn the Chinese language.
Second, there must be regular interactions of Gwadars local traders with business delegations that visit Gwadar every now and then. This will help the visitors establish local partnerships and both parties can benefit.
Third, it is not a bad idea to start sourcing locally. It will develop the capacity of local traders and help grow the local economy.
And lastly, allow the locals some of whom have never seen the port to occasionally visit the port, after security checks of course. The locals must feel a part of this project