Naveed Aman Khan
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is over 2800 kilometre corridor from Kashgar in western China to Gwadar in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. We can call it ‘wonder of our region’. It slices through the Himalayas, plains and deserts to reach the ancient fishing port of Gwadar. Huge Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, including road and railway networks as well as power plants, are being built along the way. Originally valued at $46 billion, the Corridor is estimated at $62 billion ahead. CPEC is part of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, a massive regional trade and diplomatic venture that covers both land and maritime routes linking China to the rest of Asia and to Europe.
Gwadar port is owned by Gwadar Port Authority and operated by State-run Chinese firm China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), which will run it for 40 years. For China, Gwadar is strategically perched near the Arabian or Persian Gulf and close to the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated 40 percent of the world’s oil passes. Gwadar is a gateway to the oil rich Middle East and Central and South Asia. Elsewhere in Pakistan, not a day passes without someone from the government of Pakistan making a reference to CPEC or how it will bring prosperity to the length and breadth of Pakistan, and in particular to Gwadar. Yet the voices of fishermen in Gwadar, who make up 80 percent of the district’s 2,25,000 inhabitants, have been largely ignored.
In Sur Bandar, rumours are rife that there will be an influx of fishermen who have been displaced by the Gwadar project. There is not enough space for fishermen’s boats to berth here, it’s not even enough. There are about 7,000-9,000 fishermen with 1,500 or so boats in Sur Bandar, while the number in Gwadar is about three times that. The Gwadar Development Authority has constructed a jetty at Sur Bandar, which the residents will eventually accommodate the fishermen from Gwadar. The fishermen say the jetty’s breakwaters have been badly designed and that engineers failed to consult them in the process. The fishermen in Gwadar are also concerned that they will have to relocate to Sur Bandar. This is the spot where the fishermen can fish all year round. At Sur, in the months of June, July and August, fishermen cannot go out to sea due to high waves.
Gwadar is naturally protected by a hammerhead-shaped peninsula, which forms two almost perfect semi-circular bays on either side. It takes two hours by boat to reach Sur because fishermen live here. Why don’t they be shifted to New Mullah Band? In 2007, during the first phase of the construction of the port, about a hundred families living in a century-old settlement known as Mullah Band were relocated. They were promised alternative land to build homes, plots in a housing project, and cash. They were not compensated, but some of their properties have been grabbed by the land mafia.
In addition, they were promised a hospital, a school and proper roads. Ten years later, the new Mullah Band still has none of these basic services. The only school is far away and the teacher seldom turns up. Not that the situation in Gwadar is much better, although they have heard many promises in the last 12 years. One thousand kilometres of road will be built within the city. When roads are made, success follows; schools are built, colleges are built, hospitals are built, industries are established and progress and prosperity flourish. Currently the town, which is situated in one of Pakistan’s poorest provinces, Balochistan, lacks even basic services. Healthcare is rudimentary and for women it is almost non existent. For childbirth complications they have to travel to Turbat or even Karachi, nearly 500 kilometres away. The Chinese say the fishermen’s livelihood will not be affected and that once the port factories are set up there will be no shortage of work. They will all be absorbed in activities related to their own occupation be it fish processing or value addition. Those who want to continue fishing will be provided with technology, nets, boats, and engines for them to go out to sea.
In 20 years there could be as many as two million people employed in Gwadar from the local area, elsewhere in Pakistan and several thousand Chinese workers. “They will buy fish from the fishermen at market rates and eliminate the middlemen so local fisherman will make maximum profits. But the fishermen do not feel reassured. Despite new jobs opening up for skilled workers in Gwadar, locals with fewer skills and no education fear that they will be left behind. We are already late. In fact, this should have been a priority even before the construction of the port began back in 2000. Development is associated with economic growth and the social and human cost remains off the state’s radar. The locals were never involved in any port activity because they are not skilled.
However, the port authorities are planning for skills development in the second phase of construction with plans for a vocational training institute in Gwadar. Until the institute is set up, the GPA will hold classes in the old building of the Gwadar Degree College. There are 17 classrooms there which are planned to get renovated and within two months to begin the courses in motor winding, crane and fork-lifter maintenance, welding and Chinese language. But even if the locals acquire those skills, they may find it difficult to earn as much as they do now. In a week, the fishermen can make from 25,000-55,000 Pakistani rupees. The wages of an unskilled worker at the port are not more than 25,000 rupees a month, and those of skilled labour, somewhere between 35,000-60,000 rupees a month. Undoubtedly CPEC is unprecedented multidimensional gigantic project which will simultaneously benefit common Pakistani and of course the Gwaderities. Government of Pakistan for the first time is seen keen in the development of Gwadar. But the development of Gwadar is on a snail’s pace. Once it gets momentum of development compatible to that of China, Gwadarities will enjoy the benefits of CPEC first of all.