By Muhammad Waqas Saleem
It is a life time experience while traveling through coastal highway from Karachi to Gawadar. One is mesmerized by the rugged beauty of semi desert terrain, spongy mountains and rare glimpses of green sea. Sitting in bus low in cabin space and full with aroma of diesel, this geographical exoticism is overwhelmed by questions of basic survival on the sight of rare hamlets of population.
With almost very less mobile phone coverage, low traffic and long distance between people residing alongside highway, individual is forced to think over the issues of governance and management on the part of all the previous governments.
The coastal highway was constructed during the reign of military dictator Musharraf with a trajectory of connecting the coastal belt with rest of the country and particularly Karachi. However, poor law and order situation disillusioned lucrative dreams.
In the contemporary scenario, China Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) has once again revived the dreams of prosperity through connectivity. This fresh hope in the form of CPEC has diverted the attention of the world towards Gwadar particularly and Makran Coastal region generally as future trade hub of the region and a very challenging competitor to the Dubai and Chabhar port. This limelight instead of bringing immediate financial activity brought overwhelming presence of security forces throughout Makran Coast.
Keeping in view the history of security establishment’s dominance in the country, one delves into deep thoughts regarding securitization of the region. Whereas the quantum of reported economic activity entails the presence of security forces so that the area can be stabilized and harnessed to welcome the development destined to storm the region.
Law and order has always been intrinsic to the kick-start of any financial activity and primary to win the confidence of investors. In this case China is leading and a full battalion is being raised in Pakistan to ensure the safety and security of CPEC. Pakistan’s political government is counting much on the project and leadership is terming as fact changer and game changer in the region. Europe and Russia have also nodded positively towards investment in the project.
All this revolves around a nucleus, i.e. Makran Coast as it offers one of the world’s deepest sea ports. The situation has not been very healthy as this region remained almost disconnected from the rest of the country since ages.
In Gwadar, Iranian products are abundantly available due to easy connectivity through ship. It can take days to reach Karachi or Quetta and hours to Iran. Patients are taken to Iran; even weddings are a frequent occurrence. This lack of connectivity and outreach on the part of government has naturally inculcated feeling of being left out.
Consequently, these loops and gaps have been plugged in by the enemies of the country by putting people into a state of false consciousness. So-called separatists in the form of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)/ Front started operating by challenging the writ of the state.
In the given scenario, as the region is ready to take off as future economic hub, securitization makes sense. Without establishing writ of the state, economic activity cannot be ensured.
In early 2000, the situation of Makran coast deteriorated but gradually the security forces regained and tightened the control. Now a common man while roaming around at the streets feels more secure and can dream of fortune in the coming days. The local people are being offered basic necessities, water filtration plants, hospitals, schools and colleges and above all a very bright future that cannot bring back the lost days but will promise that those should not return again.
On the contrary, securitization has proved to be beneficial to long neglected region. Establishment of Naval base at Ormara has helped to gain the confidence of local people by offering medical and educational facilities. During my recent visit to the Cadet College Ormara, I found it as an embodiment of optimism given the promise of it’s students.
The presence of Frontier constabulary (FC) and Pakistan Coast Guards is positive for the people of the region. Now the Pakistan army is doing operations into the deep mountains of the region against infiltrators and this again is bearing fruits to the region at large.
So far securitization of the Makran Coast is necessary so that region can be secured from the evil eyes of competitors.
Secondly, it has brought positivity to the people of the region in terms of health and education, which all the previous governments of the regions failed to offer.
However, overwhelming long term presence will undermine the evolution of civilian institutional capacity and lead to asymmetrical institutional growth. Political governments should opt for more proactive role and streamline the local population through civic engagements programs and establish the gradual supremacy of civilian institutes.
Author Bio: Muhammad Waqas Saleem is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.