Taking issue with National Assembly decisions that affect Gwadar and Balochistan
owards the end of its term, the National Assembly of Pakistan made two decisions that have become quite unpopular in Gwadar in particular and in Balochistan in general.
One of these was the passage of a resolution asking the government to name the new Gwadar International Airport after Malik Feroz Khan Noon, the seventh prime minister of Pakistan. The construction work on New Gwadar International Airport is almost complete. Built with a Chinese grant of $246 million, this will be one of the largest and most modern airports in Pakistan. This airport is expected to start operations before the end of this year.
The idea behind the resolution apparently was to honour Noon for having been the prime minister in 1958 when Gwadar was finally re-acquired from the Sultanate of Oman.
Fawad Chaudhry, the former information minister tweeted, “Historically, Gwadar should have been a federal territory as it has nothing to do with Balochistan per se.”
However, the suggestion that Gwadar is not a part of Balochistan is incorrect. One can cite a number of history books in this regard. One of the recent publications on the subject, Gwadar Bay to Sir Creek: The Golden Coast of Pakistan — History and Memoirs, has been authored by Vice Admiral Iftikhar Ahmed Rao (retired). The author recalls that in 1783, the than Khan of Kalat, the forerunner of modern-day Balochistan, gifted Gwadar to a runaway Omani prince, Sultan bin Ahmad. The prince later returned to Oman and prevailed in the struggle for succession. However, he, and later his successors, retained control over Gwadar.
After the inception of Pakistan in 1947, efforts were started to regain Gwadar from Oman. Pakistan’s case for acquiring Gwadar was that the port town had historically been part of Kalat state, which was now part of Pakistan. The efforts finally succeeded in 1958. It was natural therefore that Gwadar should be a part of Balochistan. The former minister’s claim is apparently grounded in a lack of understanding of the region’s history.
Construction work on the new Gwadar International Airport is almost complete. Built with a Chinese grant of $246 million, this will be one of the largest and most modern airports in Pakistan. It is expected to start operations before the end of the year.
There is a popular demand, meanwhile, in Gwadar for naming the new airport after Hammal Jiand Kalmati, a local hero. In naming the airport after Kalmati, the government would be honouring who repulsed several invasions of the Makran coast by the Portuguese during the 15th Century. It was because of Kalmati’s unwavering resolve and leadership that the Portuguese were unable to establish a foothold on the Makran coast of Balochistan to rival Goa further south. Some people in Gwadar that this scribe talked to said that if the new airport was not to be named after a local hero, it should be simply called Gwadar International Airport.
The second decision that has upset many in Gwadar was the grant of charter for the establishment of university in Lahore. Some people in Balochistan assumed incorrectly that the government-funded university in Gwadar was being shifted to Lahore. The government has since clarified that the university is private and not funded by the government.
There is a feeling in Balochistan, in general, and Gwadar, in particular, that the sponsors of this private university are using the name of Gwadar to attract funding from abroad, including China, in the name of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The organisation behind the proposed university is unheard of and seems to have been established solely to seek education funding in the name of Gwadar. It is natural therefore that there should be resentment for an attempt by a private party in Lahore to use Gwadar’s name to get funds without the people of Gwadar benefiting from those in any way.
To become law, the bill has still to be passed by the Senate of Pakistan. It is proposed that the word Gwadar be dropped from the title of the university’s name. A private university called the Pak-China University can then go ahead.
Gwadar has yet to take off in terms of economic activity as the linchpin for the CPEC it is meant to be. One of the major reasons for this failure is the lack of popular participation in the decision-making processes with regard to mega development projects.
The author is a contributing writer for Nikkei Asia based in Islamabad. He tweets at @iAdnanAamir