Gwadar: The History and Future

Imtiaz Rafi Butt

IN December 2020, the 5th Meeting of the Joint Working Group on Gwadar, which includes representatives of multiple Ministries from Pakistan and their counterparts in the Chinese Government, reviewed the progress of up-gradation of Gwadar and showed satisfaction over the pace of projects. Gwadar, even though challenges still remain, remains a point of mighty potential for Pakistan. The Imran Khan government is finally playing its cards right. Gwadar and CPEC are being processed unhindered by political and social ups and downs. The internal as well as external conditions are conducive for Gwadar. The focus should now be on, keeping all parties involved in harmony and keeping an eye on the ball.

Gwadar has a chequered history. Initially, a part of Oman, Pakistan acquired Gwadar in 1958. From the start, Gwadar’s potential was identified for being an excellent site for a deep seaport. Many decades passed, Gwadar could not be instigated as it should have been. In the late 1990s, surveys and reports were completed with joint cooperation of China. Gwadar development projects kicked off around 2005. After the announcement of CPEC, Gwadar became the focal point for China and Pakistan. In time, this focus shifted from just two countries to the whole region.

Gwadar sits overlooking the oil-rich nations of the Middle East. On the land side, it can form linkages with the Central Asian States. China can revive the old silk route with Gwadar being a part of both land linkage and maritime access. CPEC and OBOR are now in full swing and Gwadar are at the heart of both. The private sector has been convinced of its importance and potential. The real estate market is booming and multiple housing projects are being installed. Gwadar Green Palms is one of those key projects that are making Gwadar liveable for Pakistanis from all corners.

Gwadar was being developed considering that Chabahar port of Iran would attempt to overshadow its progress as a rival. Scholars and geopolitical experts were of the view that Iran would make all efforts to revive its economy through their own deep seaport and sabotage Gwadar for its own gains. All those rumours have now been put to sleep. China took the upper hand and by offering a larger stimulus package for Iran and Chabahar. Now, Gwadar and Chabahar ports are not being developed as regional rival port cities but as twin cities. It is a cementing act that combines the progress and development of Pakistan and Iran. Furthermore, Balochistan and Gwadar are now set to be a focal area with respect to the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline, which will further address the energy needs of the country in future and earn due revenue for neighbouring Iranians. Hit by American and UN sanctions, China and Pakistan projects in the port city and Baluchistan are a sigh of relief and hope for economic revival in Iran.

The cooperation between Pakistan and China in Gwadar is now beyond technical and infrastructure. The ties are now more social and emotional than before. The Chinese development sector firms are making state-of-the-art hospitals, schools and housing and telecommunication networks. It is a massive uplift of the whole city. Motorways are linking Gwadar to all important cities. Train lines are making travelling back and forth from Gwadar, much more accessible. The desalination plants are attracting investors to seek water distribution networks. Salt is more abundant which can be supplied to nearby cities.

The special economic zones are a safe haven for new manufacturing facilities. Major businesses and investors are taking a keen interest in tax-free incentives being offered. The export sector is taking hold in Gwadar. Garments and food exporters are considering making Gwadar their supply chain endpoint. There is a mushroom growth in private projects and their completion is being monitored by the CPEC Authority being an independent arm of the Government of Pakistan. The establishment of an independent Authority addresses the concerns of the Chinese Government and implementation on CPEC and Gwadar uplift must not be affected by political events. In the same spirit, the head of CPEC Authority is a very senior retired officer of the Pakistan Army.

In all these achievements and milestones, one must not lose sight of the larger picture. In this massive overhaul of facilities in Gwadar, the local Baloch population must not be excluded. There still remains a deep sense of loss, betrayal and manipulation among certain sections of the population of Balochistan. The city needs to involve indigenous people. International experts have developed a consensus of the fact that only sustainable development is true development and true development is not possible without the inclusion of the common man.

This is the greatest challenge for the Government of Pakistan and Gwadar. Security personnel have been deployed at every facility in the port city. There are clear risks of violence and extremism. The income inequality is at its worst in the underdeveloped regions of Balochistan. The Government of Pakistan and Imran Khan must come up with an out-of-the-box solution to share the benefits of the deep seaport and its potential with the people of Balochistan. There is a delicate balance which exists between security concerns and inclusion of the most advantaged section of the society, in and around Gwadar.

The Concept of Gwadar as Dubai and Singapore of tomorrow will not come from the construction of high rise buildings, lofty offices and busy factories, but by putting a sense of satisfaction among the people of Balochistan. Gwadar, before it becomes the jewel of Asia, must become a beacon of hope, success and happiness for Baloch people.

In the past, Gwadar was largely a subject of political rifts. Deadlocks delayed the initiation of much-needed projects. During the Musharraf regime, Gwadar actually became the root of conflict instead of becoming an icon of progress. The present Government is doing a commendable job at the coordination, construction, security and development side of Gwadar but the implementation of all this progress must be translated to the most downtrodden sections of people in Gwadar.

In this context, the SME sector should be readily encouraged. Technical training programs must be launched on an emergency basis. The unskilled labour should be transformed into semi-skilled and fully able labour which can take up jobs in complex industrial units involving the production of end-use products. Affordable housing and subsistence allowance with job offers from the public sector is another lagging area.

It can only thrive when its local population begins to take an active part in its flourishing future. The world is watching countries like China, Iran, Middle Eastern States, Central Asian States and many others are interested, but it rests upon the people of Pakistan and the government machinery to ensure that the hopes and fears of Baloch people are duly addressed.

The revival of the people will come before the greatness of the city. We can simply imagine a Dubai-like Gwadar and work our way backwards, the future is full of potential but it cannot be achieved without a remarkable present for the people living in and around the port city. In fulfilling the wishes of foreign states and Pakistanis from large cities, it must be noted that the future of the city lies in an egalitarian win-win situation especially for the people of Balochistan.

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