A view of Gwadar port
A view of Gwadar port

Gwadar deep sea port, constructed in 2002 with the help of China, may come to play a key economic role for the region in the coming days. However, any sustainable development of the project will require a direct involvement of the people of Balochistan in the process.

Back in 2007, former President General Parvez Musharraf inaugurated the port and handed it over to Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) on a lease of 40 years. There were allegations that President’s son, Bilal Musharraf, was also involved in the brokering of the deal.

However, this hand-over of the port was done without considering the reservations and interests of Baloch leaders. PSA has port interests in many areas of the world, including Saudi Arabia. This cast doubts on PSA’s conviction to develop Gwadar port which, economic experts state, could shore up a competition for ports in the Middle East.

Fishing boats and launches on Gwadar port
Fishing boats and launches on Gwadar port

These doubts were somewhat realized over the years because PSA was not able to effectively commercialize the port. In the last 7 years, the port has been used to import nothing but fertilizers.

In June 2014, Pakistani government cancelled the lease agreement with PSA and handed over Gwadar port to China. China has been expressing its interests in the port for a while and was also involved in the construction of Phase-1 of the port. Now that China has control of the port, it is collaborating with Pakistan on the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. If the port becomes functional and connects Gwadar with China and Central Asia, it may accelerate Pakistan’s path to prosperity and enable development in Balochistan as well.

If we look at it from an optimistic standpoint, once the port is functional, infrastructure will be developed in the city and basic amenities such as clean water, electricity, health facilities will finally be made available. The port will also bring with it employment opportunities for 8,000 to 10,000 people. Technical institutions will come into being and investors from all over the world will seek this lucrative business hub. National and multinational companies will strive to establish factories and industries here which will bring more employment opportunities.

But all that depends on whether or not the federal government considers the rights and interests of the local population in Gwadar. An overwhelming majority of the people in Gwadar earn their bread from fisheries and the businesses associated with it.

Fisherman stand next to their vessel in Gwadar
Fisherman stand next to their vessel in Gwadar

The fishermen in Gwadar are very apprehensive about the port. They once used to fish in waters near the port but now they have been pushed away from these waters over security concerns. The fishermen are fine with that, but they want the government to provide them with alternate opportunities.

According to the fishermen in Gwadar, they want the government to built technical institutions and help modernize fisheries. They are concerned that once the port becomes operational, they will be pushed away from Gwadar in order to make space for new industries and businesses. Their demand is that the government must offer them alternate settlements along the shore, should it ever come to this, and these settlements mustn’t be far from Gwadar. These demands are based on concrete rationale: if they don’t bring their catches to fish factories and ice boxes soon enough, they stand to lose. And if they are relocated to some place far away from Gwadar port, that is exactly what will happen.

It is fairly obvious that if Gwadar port becomes the key to Pakistan’s economic prosperity over the coming years, the people of Gwadar should partake in this prosperity. And that is possible only if the federal government carefully considers their demands and tries to fulfill them.

Another view of vessels docked near Gwadar port
Another view of vessels docked near Gwadar port

Balochistan has a Baloch population of 4 to 5 million, which is the largest ethnicity, followed by a sizable Pashtun population. Since the announcement of Kashgar-Gwadar route by the federal government, the nationalist parties have expressed discontent over route changes. These are matters which ought to be urgently considered by the government and they can be resolved by taking the Baloch parliament and nationalist leaders into confidence.

The 18th amendment effectively deals with the subject of handing control of certain provincial resources to the respective governments of those provinces. By basing its decisions on this amendment, the federal government should address the grievances and reservations of Baloch leadership. A solution forced on a people can never be a sustainable solution and all the history of mankind bears testimony to that.

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