Sunday September 19, 2021

‘Gwadar retrocession a foreign policy success’

September 12, 2021

Islamabad : The successful retrocession of Gwadar to Pakistan, especially in view of its geo-economic and geostrategic positioning, underscores the vision and efficiency of the country’s foreign policy actors in its early years but the continued failure to benefit from it coupled with the poor socio-economic condition of the people of Gwadar speaks volumes of the governance crisis the country still faces.

This was the crux of the thoughts shared by foreign policy experts during a webinar organised on ‘63 Years of Gwadar’s Retrocession to Pakistan: Achievements, Prospects and Challenges’ by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in collaboration with the National Institute of Maritime Affairs and Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

Senator Kauda Babar of Gwadar praised the recent development initiatives by the federal government under the Rs600 billion worth of Southern Balochistan Package, especially for his area’s development.

He appreciated the finalisation of the power purchase agreement with the Chinese firm setting up a coal power plant in the emerging port city suffering a severe power crisis and also said the formulation of trans-shipment regulations would help realise the true potential of Gwadar.

Regarding Gwadar’s retrocession to Pakistan on September 8, 1958, the lawmaker said the locals felt and expressed jubilation at becoming part of Pakistan and loved the country immensely.

“It was the will of the people of Gwadar, which provided moral justification and support to the governments in the early years of Pakistan to deal with the British and Omani governments effectively,” he said.

Vice Admiral (r) Iftikhar Ahmad Rao said his forthcoming research-based book, Gwadar Bay to Sir Creek, detailed how Pakistan began negotiations about the transfer of Gwadar from Oman soon after independence in 1947.

He said the British government, which played an intermediary role to facilitate negotiations, kept delaying the handover of Gwadar to Pakistan till the ascendance of Feroz Khan Noon as the prime minister, who went as far as threatening to take Gwadar by force.

He also revealed that the Gwadar Development Plan was already in place even before the retrocession took place in 1958 but despite that, Gwadar didn’t receive due attention from policymakers for decades.

Commodore Jawad Akhtar gave a detailed presentation on development projects being executed under the Rs600 billion Southern Balochistan Package.

He said Rs23 billion had been allocated for infrastructure development in the port city, while work on 300MW coal power plant was set to begin.

“Many development projects are being planned under public-private partnership,” he said.

He lamented the lack of enthusiasm on part of the previous governments to focus on socio-economic development in the districts with the lowest HDI scores, including Gwadar, but said many development projects regarding skills development, digital connectivity, food security, electricity generation, and water supply, had been launched to their long-term benefit.

Commodore (r) Dr Anjum Sarfraz shed light on the potential of Gwadar as a trans-shipment hub in the region.

He said Gwadar port was built to handle transit trade of China, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, and serve as a trans-shipment hub but port operation remained surprisingly slow.

“Gwadar port, as a trans-shipment hub, has the capacity to outmatch regional ports provided appropriate steps are taken,” he said.

Lamenting the lack of housing facilities in Gwadar, Zaigham M. Rizvi argued that the housing scheme promised to be built in 2006 is yet to be completed.

He emphasised ease of doing business for local and foreign investors and speedy work on development projects for the provision of basic facilities like water and electricity to the locals on their doorstep.

IPS chairman Khalid Rahman termed the retrocession of Gwadar Pakistan’s foreign policy success and said it should be highlighted time and again.

He said the governance crisis had begun in Pakistan’s early years and Gwadar was no exception.

“I hope that the new development projects under the Ministry of Planning and Development will address the plight of the population of Gwadar,” he said.

IPS vice-chairman Syed Abrar Hussain, former ambassador Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, Dr Kanwar M Javed Iqbal of the National Institute of Maritime Affairs and Farzana Yaqoob of the Centre for Asian-African Studies also spoke on the occasion.