Pakistan has exhibited a remarkable economic performance over the past three years. Domestic and international credit-ranking agencies along with multilateral financial organisations have acknowledged that the country’s economic performance can be attributed to CPEC.
The removal of critical bottlenecks that hamper economic development promises hope and a growth-induced future for industrial development and a wide range of sectors. Notwithstanding an annual growth rate above five percent, sustainable economic growth demands an all-inclusive and holistic development. Strong inter-linkages between all sectors – particularly in the education, health, energy, industry and agriculture sectors – are imperative to guarantee a sustained and sound economic performance.
In the wake of CPEC, another sector that merits considerable attention and policy guidance is the maritime sector. With the development of the Gwadar deep-sea port, CPEC is as much about developing and securing sea routes as it is about building roads for enhanced connectivity.
Unfortunately, the maritime sector has not reached its true potential. It is about time that the maritime sector should be developed at a fast pace under the pillars of CPEC LTP. The rejuvenation of Pakistan’s maritime sector is the need of the hour as we enter the post-CPEC initiation era, with economic, trade and technological progression coming our way.
Understanding these new trends in the wake of geo-politics in the Indian Ocean is absolutely necessary to improve the performance and efficiency of the existing slow-paced maritime sector. This will provide a backdrop for a long-term value-addition strategy. The completion of the first phase of the Gwadar Port; the regular shipping service by the China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) from Gwadar; and the decision to develop Keti Bandar Port in Sindh under CPEC, heralds a new beginning for our stagnant maritime sector.
On the Chinese front, state-owned companies, such as Cosco and China Merchants Group, are establishing a vast network along the Maritime Silk Route. This is embedded in the futuristic vision of President Xi Jinping that is aimed at building maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Under this project, China seeks to uphold the existing international maritime order with openness, cooperation and inclusive development to improve the investment environment and achieve market-based operations and multi-stakeholder participation in the maritime sector.
The vision actively promotes the development of a blue economy that rests on green development, ocean-based prosperity, maritime security, innovative growth, and collaborative governance.
Pakistan must follow this trend if it wants to develop a strong maritime sector. Through such initiatives, China is constructing global gateways with the purpose of increasing interconnectivity and boosting trade along the Maritime Silk Route and beyond. Such gateways lead to increased development and transformation for the economy, including the maritime sector. However, we need to capitalise on opportunities like this in order to maximise our benefit when it comes to developing the maritime sector. Pakistan’s maritime sector can look forward to CPEC and BRI as a catalyst for growth in both the short and long term.
In order to develop the maritime sector on a strong footing, we must primarily develop human resources. If we don’t have people with the requisite skills, it will become difficult for us to develop new solutions within the maritime sector to take advantage of the opportunity that CPEC offers. This can be achieved if the Higher Education Commission (HEC) establishes a consortium of institutes that specialise in maritime operations and development.
Pakistani institutes such as Bahria University; Lasbela University; the Pakistan Navy Engineering College at NUST; Marine Academy; and the Pakistan Naval Academy should lead the initiative of establishing collaborative programmes and workshops with Chinese counterparts such as the Shanghai Maritime University and the Dalian Maritime University.
These initiatives should also be jointly started with other internationally renowned institutes such as the Maritime Training; the Academy and International Maritime Institute in South Africa; the World Maritime University in Sweden; and the Antwerp Maritime Academy in Belgium. This will swiftly help achieve the objective of transferring knowledge and skills within the maritime sector. Similarly, more vocational institutes like the one in Gwadar should be developed along the Pakistani coastline in order to produce trained and qualified human resources that the maritime industry requires.
Once such collaborations are underway and bear fruit, we can further move towards building new maritime institutes that specialise in specific sub-fields such as maritime law; energy management; logistics; port management; safety; and environmental sustainability. Special attention also needs to be given to technology innovations and communication strategies. This will improve the efficiency of maritime operations. The development of the maritime sector will also help boost socioeconomic benefits for Pakistan by creating employment opportunities. Pakistan’s maritime sector has the potential to create between 500,000 and 1,000,000 jobs, if it is comprehensively developed and made operational at optimum capacity.
Similarly, tangible steps need to be taken to improve shipping facilities as well as maritime tourism. The Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, our lone shipping carrier, requires modernisation that is at par with international standards. In maritime tourism, Pakistan may initiate luxury ferry services that go from Karachi to Gwadar, Chabahar and Muscat. This will boost tourism along the coastal belt and offer Pakistanis as well as foreign tourists an opportunity to explore the vibrancy of our picturesque islands off the coast.
From a geopolitical standpoint, access to the world’s oceans is a significant advantage that is not so generously bestowed upon every country. Pakistan is blessed to have a vast coastline that includes deep-sea waters for ports. Major economic centres and production hubs across the world are located near the coasts. Sparsely populated and undeveloped coastlines between Port Qasim and Gwadar are a huge opportunity for us to plan the right strategy for a blue economy in order to ensure the sustainability of the maritime sector.
There is a need for new opportunities and a successful business environment for the transformation and sustainability of the maritime sector. The development of the sector requires strong political and professional will and the wisdom of all associated organisations, departments and personnel.
The government and the Pakistan Navy should develop a comprehensive blueprints and policy guidance documents in alignment with CPEC’s long-term plan. The development of the maritime sector is not an overnight task. However, if it is pursued in a timely manner and handled with consistency, it can help Pakistan become a strong maritime nation.
The writer is a civil servant and project management specialist.
He teaches project management invarious universities.