Gwadar Port, its value and Baloch reservations
By Yousaf Ajab Baloch
Apart from valuable mineral resources, Balochistan has special significance due to the Gwadar, bearing position of third Deep Sea Port of Pakistan, about 533 km from Karachi and 120 km from the Iranian border. Gwadar Port is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, close to key shipping routes in and out of the Persian Gulf, in the western province of Balochistan. Since its construction as sea port stated, it has become center of interests by word powers, mainly China. On the one hand if it increases the expectations of Pakistan and other countries on the other hand augments reservations of Baloch nationalists.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) increased interests of Pakistan in Gwadar in 1954, when Pakistan engaged the (USGS) to conduct a survey of its coastline. The USGS identified Gwadar as a suitable site for a seaport. Pakistan purchased the Gawadar enclave from Oman for 3 million dollar on September 8, 1958, as this port was under the control of Omani state through an agreement with State of Kalat.
As history reveals that before 1784, Gwadar was under the control of the Kalat State, In 1784, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Naseer Khan I, granted charge of Gwadar and its surrounding area to Sultan bin Ahmad of the Al Said dynasty of Muscat who, due to an internal power struggle with his brother, Said bin Ahmad, had escaped to Gwadar from Muscat in 1784. Upon returning to Muscat in 1792 and capturing power, Sultan bin Ahmad maintained his possession of Gwadar by appointing a Governor.
The government of Pakistan constructed a small port at Gawadar between 1988 and 1992 at a cost of Rs. 1,623 million, including the foreign exchange component of Belgian Francs 1,427 million, equivalent to Rs. 749 million, which was arranged by the contractor. However, technical and financial feasibility studies for a major deep-sea port at Gwadar were not initiated until 1993 under the Government of Pakistan’s 8th Five Year Plan (1993-1997).
Having matchless geography, Gwadar Port almost benefits all countries in the region. A large number of countries can benefit from Gawadar port in the region and in some way it benefits the entire world with reference to the trade links with Central Asian Countries, Persian Gulf, East Africa, United Arab Emirates and North Western India. Furthermore, Afghanistan has no routes and it is dependent on Pakistan, through Gwadar the access to international waters, it would be helpful in reconstruction and development of this war affected country. The successful and functional Gwadar Port is beneficial for International companies from rest of the world who look to gain from this Port and set up their businesses with low cost labor.
There is great interest of China in Gwadar port because China’s interest and investment in Gwandar is, since it doesn’t have any port of hot waters, which can be used the whole year, though it occupies a huge area of world’s land. The distance of Chinese industrial approach to the Shinghai port is approximately 16000 km and the sea travel of 2-3 months is additional. This costs them a lot in the form of taxes and duties as well. As compared to this, Gwandar port is only on a distance of 2500 km from China and the port is working for the whole year because of the hot waters here.
It goes without saying; China is greatly dependent on this Baloch port. China is dependent on the oil from the gulf; at present this oil passes via a very long route, when this oil reaches Shanghai, then it is transported thousands of miles in land to west of china, so this route becomes very costly for china .However, using Gawadar port and then Karakoram Highway (KKM), it becomes cheaper, protected and shorter route to china. Due to lack of means china has not been able to influence Middle East, as it has very important status in the world because of its Oil Reserves and large markets.
A number of countries, mainly, China looks towards success of Gwadar Port, to have its Naval Base in Gwadar and achieve a secure and shorter route for its goods to Middle East and this will help her to increase her trade. However, the successful and functional port is still a dream for Pakistan, China and interested countries. Though this port is owned by the government‘s Gwadar Port Authority and operated by China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) a state-run Chinese firm. Previously, it was operated by PSA International (2007-2012). In February, 2013 Pakistan formally awarded the contract for the operation of Gwadar Deep Seaport to China.
There are different factors due to which even after the completion of seven years of Gwadar port, still it gives a deserted look. Though, the success and functionality of Gwadar levels a ground for benefiting for elite classes in Balochistan, businessmen from Punjab and state of Pakistan and china; however, militant groups of Balochistan and Baloch nationalists oppose Gwadar Port and consider it an immense conspiracy against Baloch nation.
The pro-parliament Baloch nationalists have reservations on the Gwadar project and the proposed construction of military installations at the will of foreign elements. They say that employment of people from other parts of the Pakistan will change the Baloch into a minority. Their other political concerns include the construction of cantonments that perhaps in their opinion would control the wealth of the province. They urge that Non-Baloch settling in Gwadar or elsewhere in Balochistan should not exercise the right of vote. They would not be allowed to be domiciled in Balochistan so that the Baloch are not turned into a minority.
These pro-parliament Baloch say that decision making power regarding Gwadar and control of it should be in the hand of provincial government, rather than federal government to only benefit Punjab elites, and only the local population of Balochistan should be trained and employed for the Gwadar project. In addition, The Baloch nationalists fear that Chinese presence will further militarise the Balochistan coast and the Makran region, causing massive unrest and raise tensions and suffering for Baloch.
However, Baloch pro-freedom nationalist parties and militant organizations who are fighting, what they call it for an independent Balochistan, fully oppose Gwadar port and consider it an occupation over Baloch resources and view this mega project an effort to drown out their calls for independence. They consider Gwadar project as a new move by state to dominate Balochistan. They justify that Balochistan is treated as a colony and its resources and mineral wealth are plundered.
Baloch militant organizations apply guerrilla attacks to fail Gwadar port and other mega projects, considering them against the will of Baloch people. In 2004, three Chinese engineers helping to build Gwadar were killed in a car bombing; Baloch liberation Army (B.L.A) claimed the responsibility of killing them. In 2010 in a rocket attack at PC hotel Gwadar three engineers were injured. Recently when China was granted control of the Gwadar Port in Balochistan, a massive attack on a security checkpoint on July 27, 2013 killed ten personnel of the Coast Guards. Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.), claimed responsibility for the attack and said that the assault had actually killed 25 personnel and they took two personal of the Coast Guards in their custody. Prior to this B.L.F attacked a Chinese survey team in 2012 in Gwadar, as a result one person was killed and another wounded. The Baloch militant organizations warn that “no investors, be them national or International, will be allowed to invest in Balochistan without the consent of Baloch Nation.”
Gwadar Port can be great source of economic development not only in Balochistan but also it can bring a great regional change. However, as long as the Baloch reservations increase the chances of the failure of this project or other mega projects increase. The Baloch worries increase because the native people of this land or the stakeholders have bitter experience of deprivation of their own minerals and resources. Therefore, the state has not been able to build the trust of Baloch nationalists and Baloch with hard stance for freedom of Balochistan.
With no agreement of Baloch there is no possible success of development projects in Balochistan unless the stakeholders are consulted and given equal respect and ownership of their resources recognition.
The trust of Baloch could easily be built if here were confidence building measures including constitutional, political, judicial, national and international guarantees to gain the confidence of Baloch nationalists, Pro-freedom organizations and Baloch armed groups. However, there is no existence of intentions that can make ways to talk with Baloch nationalists. It is suggested, the projects which benefit internationally such as Gawadar, should have international guarantee so that there may be some possibilities of the success of the projects in Balochistan, because in this way the Baloch militant organizations who believe in International guarantees may avoid harming the international organizations.