Expect some spanners in the works
Juma Khan, a resident of Gwadar, is happy to see massive business activity at his coastal hometown. Coming from a very humble economic background, the young man had adopted fishing to feed his family. Life has been hard and bitter in his area, at least till a few years ago.
Then work on Gwadar Port began and so he also found an honourable job. Once developed, the port is set to act as a linchpin for One Belt One Road initiative launched by China’s visionary President Xi Jinping to link Asia to rest of the world through the shortest possible trade route.
The port is capable of becoming a hub of trans-regional trade from Asia Pacific and central Asian states and to ship goods to Europe, Africa, America and the Middle East.
Juma Khan hopes that sooner rather than later his city would become a hub of economic activity and most modern civic facilities would be at his doorstep. He is right to hold such high hopes because of the massive development.
However, the poor soul does not know his dreams may be jeopardised as a few influential people do not like the rapid development taking place in Gwadar. Powerful mafias are working to throw a spanner in the development works out of fear of losing free and cheap labour and blind voters who have been kept below the poverty line – thanks to constant and unending poverty, slavery and hunger in and around Gwadar.
Gwadar is a district located on the mouth of the Arabian Sea, about 700 kilometres from Karachi and 120 km from the Iranian border. With an area of 12,637 kilometres, the port city is strategically located near Persian Gulf countries, Eastern European countries Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Western Asian countries Iran and Turkey.
Gwadar used to be a small, sleepy city until 2002 when then General Musharraf’s regime came up with a turnaround plan. Until 1958, Gwadar was an overseas possession of Oman. On September 8, 1958 it was annexed by Pakistan after Oman sold its enclave to Pakistan for a price of Rs5.5 billion, with effect from December 8, 1958.
The port is capable of becoming a hub of trans-regional trade from Asia Pacific and central Asian states and to ship goods to Europe, Africa, America and the Middle East
The area was not integrated into Balochistan July 1, 1977, when it became a full sub-division called Gwadar District and was designated as the “winter capital” of Balochistan.
Most of the money for buying the land from Oman came from donations, with Prince Sultan Mohammad Shah, the reigning Aga Khan, being the greatest contributor, while the remainder was raised through taxes.
In 1993, Benazir Bhutto’s government conceived the plan to develop Gwadar into a major port city with a deep-sea port and to connect it with Pakistan’s highway and rail networks. However, it was General Musharraf who launched practical development work on the port. On 22 March 2002, Pakistan began phased construction of Gwadar Port.
The Port was inaugurated on 20 March 2007 – a step which irked tribal chieftains who warned the army leader and then started an insurgency.
Perhaps tribal chiefs, mostly graduated from western universities, wanted to keep their people uneducated so they could remain leaders and keep the tribes loyal to them.
Interestingly, Gwadar is the area of Balochistan where neither nationalist parties nor tribal chieftains had any interest until 2002 when developing of the port started.
With the launching of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Gwadar has seen fast paced development. A Free Trade Zone is being constructed on 2,282 acres of land. The land agreement has been signed while the approval for Rs6.499 billion had been given for acquisition of 1,628 acres of land from private owners.
The China Overseas Ports Holding Company and its subsidiary Gwadar Free Zone Company are finalising the documents of the Initial Project of the FZ, as well as the Master Plan of the entire Free Zone. Recently, the handing and taking over of the land for initial project and Phase-1 was also completed on November 11, 2015 at Quetta by Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik.
Gwadar Free Zone Plan (phase-I) is a project to be completed from 2015-2020. Its basic objective is to develop a commercial logistics centre, exhibition hall and some industries with local resources including fisheries, livestock, etc. This project is very important to cultivate an investment and business environment in the area.
Phase-II of the project would be completed by 2025. Under the blueprint, processing and manufacturing industries will be developed in Gwadar by 2025. And the influence of the industrial park will be formed gradually.
Phase-III would be completed by 2030. This would be the maturity period. Enlargement the scale of the Free Zone will be an important part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor commercial and industrialisation initiatives, and an engine of local economic and industrial development. The spatial layout is planned into commercial logistics areas in the south and manufacturing areas in the north.
Top ministerial level delegates from Pakistan and China have recently met in Karachi to review the progress of these projects. The meeting, called the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), expressed its satisfaction on progress achieved so far.
On the occasion, the handing-taking over of a large part of the Gwadar Port Free Zone was also held in Quetta. Both sides agreed that the remaining land might also be handed over to the Free Zone operating Chinese company by addressing the outstanding issues related to vacation of small portion of land and issuance of the SROs related to the Gwadar Port and Free Zone by Pakistan.
The JCC also appreciated the progress on social sector projects such as new schools, a 300-bed hospital and scholarships. The JCC was briefed about the various Gwadar related projects. Both sides agreed that the meeting of the Gwadar Joint Working Group (JWG) would be held at an early date so that projects and other cooperation initiatives are expedited in a systematic way.
It was also decided to speed up work on two small infrastructure projects, that is, the Eastbay Expressway and New Gwadar International Airport. It was also agreed in principle that Pakistan would continue with the ongoing bidding process for the Eastbay Expressway.
Both sides agreed that the water and energy related projects should be given top priority, and should be processed in a speedy manner by the respective working groups.
Both sides also agreed to sign an agreement for development of the Gwadar smart port city master plan at the earliest.
Pakistan suggested that the projects of Solid Waste Management System including Recycling Plant for Gwadar City, Intercept Drain for Flood Protection and Storm Water Drainage System for Gwadar City and Digitisation of Land Record of GDA Master Plan should be included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
But this pace of development work is worrying many. One of the major critics of Gwadar development is former Balochistan Chief Minister Akhtar Jan Mengal, the chief of his own faction of Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) whose own government did nothing for development in Gwadar.
When contacted for comments, the BNP-Mengal Secretary-General Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini had nothing concrete to oppose the development plan of Gwadar. Jamaldini looks ignorant even of the actual development plan at Gwadar.
It is interesting to note that the ruling party, National Party (NP) and BNP-M, both have political support in and around Gwadar. However, it seems that the people of Gwadar rejected the BNP-M the very next year during the local government elections and voted for Dr Abdul Malik’s National Party (NP) with the exceptional development in the area.
Senator Jamaldini says that his party, BNP-M, had won in 2013 polls from Gwadar and most of their lawmakers were from Gwadar.
He said since Gwadar is central point for CPEC, the local lawmakers should be involved in designing of the projects so they could better advise the development of the port and free trade zone.
“We want to make it clear to the government that a demographic change would be unacceptable in garb of development. Gwadar is ours and local population must be given priority in development,” he said.
Jamaldini added that his party would need guarantees that demography of Gwadar would not be changed and right to vote would not be given to those arriving in Gwadar for development work.
“Since Gwadar would be the hub for all projects and a lot of projects would be undertaken, skill building institutions should be established in the area so locals are given preference and they are empowered,” he elaborated.
However, what Jamaldini does not know is that work for Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar is already underway and skill building of locals is a part of the master plan. The institute is named Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar.
The objective of the institute is to impart skill training to the people of Gwadar who are the main and fundamental stakeholders of the port city. Their participation in operation and management of the deep-sea port, industrial and commercial businesses, and urbanisation processes is a key to the all long-term developmental initiatives. This project has been proposed to shape and enhance skills of active population of Gwadar to participate in growth of the Port city.
In order to enhance protection and security in the Gwadar region, a safe city project is also under development in coordination with the government of Balochistan and PC-1 of the project has been prepared
The institute would be sponsored by Gwadar Port Authority while supervising agency would be Ministry of Ports and Shipping. The project cost is Rs0.943 billion while project financing would be made by the Chinese government. The project is likely to be completed by March 2016. PC-I has been approved by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP), and the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) has processed the request for the Chinese grant.
Another issue Senator Jamaldini believes in is the provision of electricity from domestic sources to the population of Gwadar.
“We want development projects to be designed to ensure that the local population benefits from them. Makran needs to be provided electricity as it is at the mercy of Iranian electricity,” he said.
Asked whether the development of Gwadar was not the development of Pakistan, Senator Jamaldini could not resist saying, “Balochistan’s development is development of Pakistan. It’s not about a province or a port. It is about Pakistan and we welcome it.”
Security, however, would remain a major source of concern for foreigners who are operating Gwadar Port. Pakistan has addressed this aspect as well.
The government is establishing a Special Security Division (SSD) comprising nine composite infantry battalions (9,000 personnel) of the armed forces for the security of the Chinese and local officials working in Gwadar.
The army would be assisted by 6,000 personnel from six Civilian Armed Forces (CAFs) Wings. The entire security staff would be headed by a major general of the Pakistan army. Pakistan has also informed the Chinese government that the SSD would be operational by December 2015 to ensure safety of the Chinese nationals deployed on CPEC.
In order to enhance protection and security in the Gwadar region, a safe city project is also under development in coordination with the government of Balochistan and PC-1 of the project has been prepared.
Juma Khan sees the convoys of security roaming around. Unaware of the dynamics of looming threats, he is waiting for the day when the port city will be fully developed like Karachi. Of course, his high dreams are going to materialise soon. But what he does not know is that detractors are also out to jeopardise the project.
Perhaps the enemy within must know that Juma Khan and millions of his fellow Baloch countrymen are fed up with their ‘tried and tested’ chieftains, insurgents and militants who want the Baloch people to remain poor and deprived while the entire region develops.