By Arshad Abbasi
An area which is in the backwaters of a strategically well-placed country can find itself at the centre of attention anytime. This is what happened to Gwadar; a forgotten district in the largest province of Pakistan has been elevated to the centre of discussion focused on far-reaching economic, political and strategic calculations and maneuver. Being itself at the centre of geostrategic fault lines of the world Pakistan has had to cope with uninvited importance in shaping and re-shaping global events.
Historically, Gwadar remains peripheral in terms of geography and politics of Pakistan let alone a crucial link in regional scheme of things right now emerging in South and Central Asia. The analogy of Central Asian Republics comes readily to mind when in the wake of breakup of Soviet Union they were vested with independence. They proclaimed that freedom has been thrust on them they did not acquire it. Similarly, Gwadar finds itself at the centre of the new great game initiated by China’s grand strategic regional push with global intent and implications.
Whether Gwadar is able to cope with this sudden and not-so-subtle position is a matter of speculation, but surely it is going to remain at the forefront of evolving geostrategic makeup whose dynamic force is China. Greatness of the game is apart, but the playing of the game is on with Gwadar being the ace. China Pakistan Economic Corridor places Gwadar at the most strategic point as it is here where the humongous rail and road network culminates.
As China has decided to undertake a vast development of its hitherto partially neglected Western province of Xinjiang, it saw Pakistan as the natural partner. This development plank comes with a heavy commercial component resulting in the economic activities and infrastructure building at war footing. China is not contented with limiting its outreach to Pakistan and to the Arabian Sea, rather it wants to make this ambitious project an imprint of its global status.
So Gwadar has assumed a significance which sharply contrasts with its socio-economic mosaic. CPEC is a 51 billion dollar project being one part of 900 billion dollars Chinese initiative termed “one belt one road, OBOR.” Now gauge Gawadar in the light of such extensive Chinese venture with far-reaching regional and global implications.
For all the strategic, economic and political reasons emerging in the region, Gwadar is now placed at the vantage point. The Chinese are fully committed to seeing their dream project coming to fruition and they are spending a massive amount of capital coupled with skilled labour and sophisticated technology.
Gwadar is still coming to grips with this razzle-dazzle of commercial and strategic currents and counter currents. China stands to gain from this great game whose one pawn happens to be Gwadar. But the key question is that to what extent Gwadar and its residents stand to benefit from the commercial activities concentrated around them. Springing from oblivion the area now finds itself in the dazzling global spotlight.
Now the key question is that finding itself at the centre of this Chinese version of the new great game to what extent Gwadar would be able to withstand the uncalled for social, political, economic and cultural impacts. The members of the ruling elite of the country proudly state that the prices of real estate in Gwadar are now equal to that of in Islamabad or any major city in Pakistan. This loud praise for Gwadar is a blessing in disguise or curse making. The answer to this question will be a defining narrative for Gwadar and its residents.
The situation in which Gwadar has found itself can be aptly described by an analogy of a simple villager getting to face the hustle-bustle of a high-tech metropolis. Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” comes handy to depict Gwadar in the wake of CPEC. The way Congo a Belgian colony reacted to the quick penetration of the colonists getting caught wrong-footed; Gwadar and the people thereof are trying to figure out what is happening around them. They are trying to adjust to the situation but more resourceful possessing wealth and skill to make quick bucks are already hovering around hedging their bets living up to the gospel of capitalism that the more you have the more you can have.
Only time will tell as to whether Gwadar will be a real beneficiary of this vast economic Chinese venture or just a throw on the dice. The long-term success of this great game will be ensured if the people of Gwadar are treated as flesh and blood, not mere objects. Otherwise, the game will go on but without being great with Gwadar an example of an island of poverty in the ocean of progress and prosperity.