Sunday January 23, 2022

Make people active stakeholder in Gwadar Port

November 22, 2021
Make people active stakeholder in Gwadar Port

China has applauded the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority for hosting a meeting of Pakistan-based Chinese companies and briefing them about investment opportunities in the country. The CEOs and representatives of over 70 Chinese companies attended this important session.

The CPEC investment is on a steady pace and up to $13 billion investment has gone into the mega project and another $12 billion is in the pipeline making it the largest mega project the country has ever seen.

The jewel in the crown of the CPEC project, apart from investment in special economic zones, is Gwadar Port which is also being developed with the Chinese help. Gwadar not only provides access to trade in the region and beyond but also containerised shipping industries.

The Chinese current volume of trade through maritime routes is staggering. The Chinese experience will be something never anticipated before when the Gwadar Port is fully operationalised and moves to become a trading hub.

China has assumed the status of world’s most advanced country in terms of experience in maritime and port industries. In concrete terms, three of the world’s top shipping companies and operators are now Chinese companies. For instance, COSCO is the world’s fourth-biggest shipping line which is operating at 45 ports around the world. These numbers are unprecedented showing how China quickly learnt the maritime world in a short span of time.

The development of Gwadar Port would likely lead to significant growth because shipping lines and operators are key issues in port development which Pakistan lacks. There will be an unprecedented level of trade activity annually. The Chinese shipping lines in the Gwadar Port will increase the port’s trade exchanges with the world.

As per the data, China is currently having maritime trade exchanges with over 162 countries globally and the activity of Chinese famous shipping lines in port would mean connecting the port to more than 45 ports and over 162 countries.

Six of the world’s top 10 container ports are in China that means about 60 percent of the world’s container operations are taking place in China. By 2024, it is estimated that the Chinese ports will register the world’s largest growth in terms of container trade.

Strategically located, Gwadar is next to a region which contains 70 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 40 percent of natural gas reserves. Gwadar bridges great Eurasian space, South Asia, western highlands of China and the great arc of most GCC countries with unrestricted access to the Indian Ocean via Arabian Sea. This is the world's class as a piece of land. Thus it would bring in enormous opportunities for the province and the country.

As a note of caution, the political economy should not prevent the spillover benefits accrued first to the people of Balochistan, then to the rest of Pakistan. The province has the most poverty-stricken population of the country. Trickle-down effects need to be insured so as to provide employment to the youth of Balochistan as a first priority.

The local fishing community is complaining due to what is believed to be illegal trolling by big trollers. The capacity of big trollers to bait fish is so enormous that small boats cannot match. They demand a regulated trolling system within 12 nautical miles.

At the moment, property rights enforcement is another issue in and around Gwadar city. The local revenue department and law-enforcement agency are not equipped with the right technology, data and expertise to ensure property sale and purchase are smooth and no land mafia can abuse property rights of individuals and companies.

Like any port city, Gwadar will attract a huge population from across the country over the next two decades. Regulated migration of population backed by an effective policing system can prevent the problems in terms of land mafia, water shortage, crimes and smuggling that the people are facing in Karachi.

So far dozens of checkposts have been established for security, but the community members complain they are not treated with respect by jawans deployed at the checkposts. There is a dire need to train these jawans in winning hearts and minds so as to secure the support of the people who would see huge economic activity unfolding as Gwadar develops further.

The long-term solution to Balochistan's economic challenges is to make the people active stakeholders in the mega project. Any impression of elite capture and rent seeking behaviour will be a travesty indeed.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Centre for the Institute of New Horizons & Balochistan (INH). He tweets @Jan_Achakzai