Muhammad Saad Khattak
GWADAR Port located 700 km west of Karachi is inhabited by approximately 100,000 people. Balochistan was ruled by Mir Naseer Khan, from 1749 to 1794 and when Syed Sultan, the Waali of Muscat was defeated by his brother in 1783, he appealed to Mir Naseer khan for help and was temporarily bestowed with Gwadar for his maintenance and survival. Subsequently successive rulers of Balochistan either through negotiations or use of force tried to reclaim Gwadar from Muscat but could not succeed due to internal differences and evolving political Gwadar with the arrival of British colonising forces in the Sub Continent. It was later in 1958 during the period of late Prime Minister Malik Feroz Khan Noon that Gwadar was purchased back from Oman.
After an interval of almost a decade I happen to have visited Gwadar last week hence I thought to give an account of what I saw, more so in the backdrop of the hype created in the wake of Chinese One Belt One Road, an evolving global economic order of which China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a flagship with Gwadar as its Hub. During my visit to Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) and Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) where the management gave me an in-depth account of what is on ground and what is in pipeline both for the people of Balochistan and entire country.
As the situation on ground stands today, some of the important areas that we came across are; (1), there is a lot happening on papers and presentations with no matching pace on ground. (2), the people of Gwadar continue to receive water for daily consumption from Mirani Dam located at a distance of 180 kms costing 200 million a month to national exchequer. (3), the people of Gwadar continue to remain deprived of quality state educational institutions. (4), only hospital constructed by GDA is managed by Army because both the provincial and federal governments failed to provide the required staff to run and manage the hospital. (5), a great number of housing societies having collected billions from people have nothing to show on ground partly due to lack of infrastructural deficiencies and partly due to typical attitudes of developers fleecing common folks.
(6), a traditional boat making facility in existence since ages serving as main source of revenue for locals has no state sponsorship and support. (7), fishing is the traditional and sole bread earning enterprise of locals. They are relocated to Sur bander and Peshokan with no proper alternative arrangements for living having put in place. (8), new offices for the local administration have been built but shifting is not taking place due to inertia prevailing all around. (9), a state of the art international stadium has been made at a cost of Rs one billion with no utilization hence dilapidating and speaks volumes for priorities in planning and implementation. (10), with their focus on future utilizing of Gwadar only for trade and trans-shipment, Chinese are homing on the port with no visible contribution towards public and social sectors at Gwadar. (11), coinciding with the interests of regional competitors, the extra regional forces against the Chinese regional presence are doing everything to support local separatists thus negatively impacting the security climate around Gwadar.
What therefore needs to be done to overcome the challenges? (1), the importance of CPEC towards national economy warrants taking over of Gwadar by federal government, till its completion while keeping Balochistan government on board. A major decision in this regard will help in resolving and expediting most of the issues relating to public services on ground. (2), with the development of port at its critical juncture, the government and security establishment need to take full cognizance of the visible and invisible threat to the entire project and take effective measures. (3), while executing developmental projects at and around Gwadar, projects impacting the lives of local population in short and long term must receive priority impetus. The present pace is painfully slow hence quite alarming. (4), the real estate business, artificially manipulated by developers fleecing billions from public needs to be effectively harnessed by the state taking into account the genuine growth of Gwadar city in accordance with the government’s vision and estimation over years. Five, greater efforts need to go in pursuing Chinese to plan and undertake projects directly impacting the lives of common people of Gwadar. This will, besides improving their quality of life create the much desired good will for the Chinese among common people which is surely lacking right now.
While Gwadar promises greater hope and opportunities not only to Pakistan but the entire region, it needs to receive its due share in importance and development especially impacting common and local people. This is not visible right now. With domestic, regional and extra regional forces arrayed against the project for vested interests, the Governments of Pakistan and China need to take the challenges more seriously keeping infrastructural and public development within Balochistan central to the entire effort if there is a desire to successfully complete the project in the stipulated time with its promises for all stakeholders.
— The writer, a retired Maj Gen, is DG Pakistan Institute for Conflict & Security Studies, an independent think-tank based in Islamabad.