Gwadar: An unfulfilled dream

Published: February 27, 2011

My trip to the ‘dream city’ of Gwadar is preceded by a reality check: “The situation here is volatile,” warns my friend, “Baloch political activists routinely disappear and are killed.”

But that does nothing to deter me. Balochistan is a province with rich deposits of oil, gas, gold, copper and rare earth metals and Gwadar, one of its largest cities, is the hub that crystallises its potential. Despite the constant barrage of bad news from the province — “militants blow up gas pipeline” is now a staple news item — Gwadar still conjures up images of pristine beaches and rugged mountains and evokes the same mood of optimism that was generated eight years ago when the development of the port city first begun.

The Gwadar deep-sea port project was announced in 2002, when former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf promised to transform Balochistan’s destiny by an equitable distribution of resources. Inaugurating it in March 2007, the autocratic leader not only ensured the timely completion of the mega project, he also got the Chinese government to finance and execute the development of the port’s facilities. So far, an estimated Rs5 billion ($264 million) have been poured into the project for the construction of three multi-purpose berths with a capacity to handle ships of up to 50,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT).

But when I visit the port, I see the cranes lying idle and deserted. A port official informs me that the cargo handling cranes received a large fertiliser shipment some five months. Nothing much has moved since.

Instead, the harbour has become a hub of oil smuggling thanks to the absence of regulated petroleum products in the city. Launches from Iran arrive at the harbour loaded with cheap petrol and diesel. The cheap Iranian oil provides livelihoods to thousands of people who fetch the shipments from the Iranian border and dispatch it to other parts of Balochistan.

This inferior oil’s popularity is soaring thanks to increasing petroleum prices in Pakistan. According to Wasim (not his real name), an oil smuggler, the Pakistani Coast Guard, Pakistan Customs, Levies and other border control agencies are in on the game. “All a smuggler needs to do is to grease the palms of the ‘law-enforcement’ officers to get their shipments smuggled anywhere without hassle,” he claimed, pointing out large yellow petroleum cans that were being off-loaded from a launch.

Most of the locals in the area are fishermen, but they face a two-pronged challenge: first, they have to deal with the smugglers who pollute the water by plying oil in their launches, and secondly they have to deal with poachers who trawl illegally in Pakistan’s maritime waters, denying local fishermen their catch. “Local fishermen are suffering terribly… illegal foreign launches trawl in our water and snatch away their livelihood,” says Qambar Nisar, a fisheries department officer.  “We don’t have the means to defend our coast. Sometimes we carry fake weapons and limited fuel to ward off attacks by well-equipped invaders. We fear for our lives.”

The mega development of Gwadar offered mega dreams on sale. Not long after the deep-sea port project was announced, the property market boomed with Gwadar’s prime land up for grabs. Locals sold their land at throwaway prices to real estate developers who rebranded the estates and sold them to investors from other provinces at many times the original price. The elite lined up to purchase acres of residential and commercial land in what was touted as ‘Pakistan’s future Dubai’.

The property bubble burst when Baloch leader Akbar Bugti was killed in his hideout in the hills of Dera Bugti in 2006. Strikes erupted across the region, and law and order (the writ of the state) in the province collapsed, with enraged political activists joining the insurgents and staging attacks on the security apparatus in the province.

“I used to have a booming property business but it is all gone now. Investors withdrew their capital and fled the market,” says Qambar Nisar who now works for Gwadar Fisheries. “Every other day we hear about the disappearance of young Baloch activists. Their mutilated bodies are later discovered in isolated places,” he laments the worsening situation. “Sometimes Baloch towns and cities remain closed for three days in mourning. How can we do business in this situation?”

In New Town and Sangar — the city’s prime housing estates —land lay idle with little or no construction going on. Some government projects were being worked on at a snail’s pace. Wealthy buyers keep this land as an investment while many of the mid-level buyers have sold it cheaply in order to recover their money. Everyone, it seems, lacks trust in the government.

Gwadar does have a -star hotel for those who fancy a luxury vacation but it closed recently because of deteriorating law and order. Brand new dual carriageways, a hospital, a college, courts, and residential complexes have been built but are yet to be operational. The Gwadar Development Authority has overseen the development of the new city since 2003, but has not touched the old city since it had not been given the mandate to uplift old Gwadar. As a result, the city’s main Airport Road lies in ruins. The Federal Government in Islamabad decides the city’s fate and releases the funds ‘when and where needed’.

Meanwhile, locals no longer trust policy makers. After selling their land cheaply, they are concerned that the changing demographics will make them an ethnic minority in their own province. The port construction projects did not generate employment for the local Balochs who, despite lacking the technical skills and experience, were determined to become the backbone of development.

However, the contractors preferred the cheaper and better-trained labour from other parts of the country. The denial of jobs to the locals, as a result, generated frustration and fanned the flames of ethnic conflict.

“The people living in Gwadar are genuinely concerned about the demographic shift after the development of the port. They fear the port city’s massive growth will sideline them and they’ll lose their houses, lands and livelihood,” says Shey Mansoor, an official at the Gwadar Development Authority.

It wasn’t always so. When Gwadar was incorporated into Pakistan in September 1958, with the Sultan of Oman ceding control to General Ayub Khan, the local population welcomed the change. “I was a child at the time but I remember how Gwadar’s people celebrated when the peninsula joined the rest of Balochistan and Pakistan,” says Khuda Bukhsh, a former local government officer. “Back then we were happy to be part of Pakistan and believed things would change. Not a lot has changed for the better though. Yesterday we were happy to be part of you and today we’re unhappy. Something must have gone wrong in between, don’t you think?” he quizzes.

This resentment is born of a feeling of exploitation that resonates from the shores of Arabian Sea in the south to the Chagai Hills in the north. Most Baloch people are of the view that the province has almost become a colony for the rest of Pakistan providing gas, oil, copper, uranium, gold, coal and other minerals but receiving next to nothing in return. Sui gas field accounts for at least a third of Pakistan’s total gas production but many of Balochistan’s own towns and cities, including Gwadar, lack gas supply through pipelines. In contrast, most cities in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa receive gas through pipelines that power industries and houses. “I don’t care if there is a gas shortage in parts of Pakistan, because we produce the gas and yet we do not have it,” says Jalil Dashti, a young business studies graduate.

Not a single day passes without news of bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch activists found in isolated places of Balochistan or a gas-pipeline blown up by so-called ‘miscreants’. Rag-tag Baloch rebels claim responsibility for the attacks and blame the Pakistani government for exploiting the region’s resources and enriching other parts of the country, especially Punjab, at Balochistan’s expense. Islamabad, in response, says these people are Indian-sponsored agents bent on undermining the writ of the Islamic Republic.

Gwadar has become a hub of political activities for many Baloch nationalist parties which advocate the idea of an ‘independent Balochistan’ that develops its own resources and spends the income generated only on its citizens. Some political parties also demand provincial autonomy under the 1973 constitution, which ensures complete rights over the resources of the region. Activists from Baloch nationalist parties face abductions, imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings on a routine basis. Nor are the insurgents forgiving of those who defy their dictates, routinely shooting down those who oppose their agenda. Caught between the insurgents and the state, the Baloch people seem to be running out of options.

Despite all the damage and destruction, there remains a glimmer of hope: if this exploitation is stopped, peace and reconciliation are still possible. Otherwise, we just need to open our history book, turn a few pages and read what happened 40 years ago when Pakistan faced a similar situation in its eastern wing…

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 27th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Alick
    Feb 28, 2011 - 2:23AM

    Very funny…
    1. dear balochi brother Pakistan is getting 68% of its Oil & Gas from Interior Sindh not from Balochistan, it was a good luck of Balochistan when the first gas discovered from Sui in 50’s and Pakistan got a huge loan from world bank to built a gathering station in Sui and named it Sui gas. This well is almost depleted noe and gathering gas from interior Sindh.
    (Here is a question why Interior Sindh is not developed; you better ask this question to Benazir Shaheed, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Zardari)
    2. You should be thankful to Supreme court atleast they are talking about the rights of Balochistan otherwsie your chief minister awarded the gold project to Tethyn Co.
    3. Anually Bugtis are getting 2 billion rupees from Pakistan Govt & OGDCL as a loyalty. Just see the Dera Bugti is there any development?
    4. Why Balochis are killing Punjabis; Punjab was developed even during the Mughals & British rule. Punjabis always welcome the people from other provinces.
    5. About Gwadar port, in Dubai locals Emarati are comprises of only 10% of the population rest are expats. Just see where is Dubai now
    6. About your last comment on history, just see where is Bangladesh, i spent 3 months there in 2010. True example of a 3rd world. Bangladesh is importing everything from India even the cars, machinery, dairies. Most of the population is living in areas which are even worst than the slums of karachi. Those who have Toyota Corolla think they are the Elite class, low class riding cycle rickshaws. Just ever visit Bangladesh once in your life and compare.

    Our problem is only the TRIBAL SYSTEM not any other thing else…We all should join hands to solve our problems instead blaming Pakistan.
    We all are brothers Punjabi, Pakhtoon, Balochi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Hazara, Urdu Speaking and Pakistan is our identity.Recommend

  • wahab
    Feb 28, 2011 - 6:16AM

    So sad.. I wish I could do something for Balochistan.. But what can I? The land is a no go area for Punjabis.. Even if we want to help by giving education or providing engineering labour, our people are killed and dead bodies are received.. God save Pakistan!!

    and for my Balochi brothers seeing this. We love you and stand with you for your rights. Believe me people in other provinces aint happy as well.. Dont fall into hands of foreign agencies. Together we can bring a change.. We will.. inshallah!!

    I hope Imran Khan gets votes from all provinces and fulfils his promises. I think only he can unite all provinces.Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2011 - 8:25AM

    Please correct the historical facts, Oman did not cede control, Pakistan paid for this, there was a legal agreement, under civilian Prime Minister Late Feroz Khan Noon.

    It was a legal process and in history of Gwader is hidden wisdom of civilian leadership, from initial agreement to development of port.Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2011 - 10:14AM

    A wonderful insightful article which has come at the right time. I hope it will be read by our rulers and sanity will prevail in Balochistan. Recommend

  • Adeel
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:44AM

    Did you get the chance to ask these common gwadaris who end up winning the seats in National and Provincial assemblies from Baluchistan…these are those same sardars and tribal leaders who havent done anything for their people since independence. How many of these sardars left the assemblies in protest of the the alleged discrimination…how much did akbar bugti (himself and ex ruler of Baluchistan) invest in education ond health of his people… Its time abluchis should wake up and get rid of these sardars otherwise the there dreamed future of a free baluchistan would be much worse than being a “colony” of Pakistan…Recommend

  • Dr Kamran Baluch
    Feb 28, 2011 - 1:09PM

    Musharraf wanted to do something for us, Baluchies. God may bring him back.
    These sardars have given us nothing. We want freedom from sardars. Recommend

  • Nauman Yousaf
    Feb 28, 2011 - 10:29PM

    @Dr Kamran Baluch:
    I agree Musharaf really did well and we must appritiate it.We have maximum land in Gwadar what i feel people are soo vision less and they are not ready to accept the change.I have brilliant plan for Gwadar but i cant implement because no financial institute is ready to finance it. If we all try we can convert fisherman town into one of the best tourist spots in Pakistan.Stritigical importance and its beauty can convert this city into the most beautiful tourist points and that will also change the economic conditions of the area.I knopw when i ever i said tourisum in Gwadar every body raise a question about security,trust me local people are so nice and helping that u cant imagine and if we take their help and create some check post on entry and exitsno one can do crime in that small town.I spent 3 years in Cyprus and you wont believe in 1993 the cyprus (Turkish Side) was in the same condition what they did they established 5 universities and now if u visit that area you can feel the change.So if we just get united we can bring the change inspite of thinking we are balouch, punjabi,sindhi or Pakhtoon. Recommend

  • Saira
    Mar 1, 2011 - 4:42AM

    These traitors are getting funding from RAW in Afghanistan.Recommend

  • Bangash
    Mar 2, 2011 - 1:00AM

    This is proof that development and appeasement of sardars will not bring any benefits. Writ of the state has to be established. Musharraf was on the right track.Recommend

  • Suleman Orakzai
    Mar 2, 2011 - 2:02PM

    You could keep your barely disguised threats, as evident in the last paragraph, to yourself. If the tribal sardars remain so allergic to the presence of non-Baloch then how can they expect development in Gwadar? At least Gawadar embodied a dream, an ambition. All the Gulf states like Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait became what they did because they welcomed foreigners. They shared their prosperity with others, even if it meant seeing an influx of temporary migrant workers. True the expatriates, mostly from India, and the companies with their tax free status benefited a lot from these Gulf states but the locals too gained. It was a win-win situation, made possible only by the willingness of the locals to accept non Arabic speaking expats as well as the visionary leadership of those at the helm, like Shaik Nahayan of the UAE.

    Gwadar’s development hinged on its potential of becoming a tourism hub and a port. Unlike oil, for example, these are not resources that could have been depleted or “expoited.” Gwadar could have rivalled Karachi, at least as far as the role of a shipping port is concerned. It could have taken business away from Karachi and become a transit hub for goods from Afghanistan and from land-locked Central Asian states. It is the hubris and the schizophrenic hatred of the “other” that prevented Gwadar from realizing its potential. That and the simple fact that had Gwadar been developed how would some of the tribal “leaders” cry about lack of development, exploitation and all that hogwash?Recommend

  • Alick
    Mar 2, 2011 - 6:00PM

    Dear Mr Kamran:

    You are a Balouch, lets use this article as an oppurtunity to build a small school in gwadar and you will be the principle of that school. You are also a doctor so it will also be good idea to open a small free clinic. Do contact i ll start motivating people to donate. I will be the first person who will donate.

    If the other guys agree do support. Recommend

  • M Baloch
    Mar 2, 2011 - 11:41PM

    I went through the article. It was a nice article from a Balochs Perspective. after reading the views of the writer i started thinking that there are some people who care for us. Or they actually know the real situation, but when reading the comments of readers, i had to take back my thoughts. Most of the people from other provinces actually don’t want to understand the actual problems. they have just saved some statements in their minds and they just keep repeating those statements like a cassette player.

    There is Just one thing. If any one demands of their rights. Kill him or call him a agent of India. Thats It. But truth is that You can’t hide Sun by your finger.Recommend

  • Hina....
    Mar 3, 2011 - 10:32AM

    Its easy to comment and blame that non locals are being killed by Balochs but anyone investigated who is killing these non-locals? You guys still don’t know the difference that Balochi is the language and Baloch are the people, so how can you understand the issues faced by the province. Yes Sui gas was found back in 50’s but its depleting even after decades the gas has not reached many parts of the Balochistan.
    those who wants to go and help the people you can’t do any social work in Balochistan not because teh Baloch people don’t let you do it but the agencies will not allow you to do any social work without their permission. Non locals have been living in Balochistan since long but even when balochistan movement was started and later many military operations were done even then non-locals were not killed why this time any sensible baloch will kill them. Even media is not allowed to cover the grave situation of Balochistan.Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 3:44PM


    answers to your “very funny” points

    1) i don’t know from where you got this 68% oil and gas figure from Sindh but regardless interior Sindh remains deprived and under-developed just like Balochistan. If you say Sui gas reserves are depleted then it is clear that Balochistan got nothing out of it and Pakistan’s other provinces benefitted at their cost.

    2) Supreme Court has taken notice but targeted killings of Baloch activists continue unabated. Even members of the judiciary have been arrested with their whereabouts remain unknown.

    3) It does not matter who gets billions of rupees. the problem is that the money is not trickling down hence an insurgency. look at the reasons of the problem not just the problem.

    4) Baloch are the victims themselves. Yes there has been violence against the Punjabi settlers which is deplorable but it all started when killings against the Balochs started. These are tit-for-tat attacks and should be treated likewise. Baloch want development and they’ve seen prosperity in history. They want to see development but not at the cost of losing their culture and traditions.

    5) Your example of Dubai and Gulf states is very lame. The Emiratis are the nationals whereas the expats are non-nationals. They’ll leave one day when asked but the settlers from other parts of Pakistan won’t have to do so as they’re nationals like the Baloch and have the same citizenship rights. The Baloch won’t stand a chance if they’re turned into a minority in their own land. Imagine Lahore with a Pashtun majority?

    6) You’ve a very bigoted view of Bangladesh as you’ve ignored many of their achievements. Yes, they’re still developing and the poverty level is incredible but they’re moving forward. Their currency is stronger than the Pakistani rupee for instance. Their literacy rate is higher than Pakistan as well. They again blame the pre-independence East Pakistan days for being in such a state. The example of driving Corollas and rickshaws is an imbecile one.

    Gwadar and the Makran region is free from tribal system. You won’t see tribal leaders dictating their subjects unlike Bolan or other regions of Balochistan. It is the system that empowers the tribal feudal leaders that needs to be abolished rather than Baloch culture and traditions.

    Every single ethnic group living in Pakistan should have brotherly ties. Problems arise when their rights are usurped by one group and preference is given to the others. In short, exploitation is the real problem of this country. That’s why Bengalis left Pakistan 40 years ago… Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 3:51PM

    “Oman did not cede control”

    Oman ceded control after negotiations with the Pakistani rulers. Some accounts also mention that the land was bought off the Omanis. Ceded control does not mean occupation or over-running the territory. It means to give up (power or territory) and in Gwadar’s case it was a negotiated and peaceful one. Never in the article did I mention that it happened otherwise…Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 3:59PM


    I know where you’re coming from Adeel but feudalism is equally a problem for Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns as well. The handful of families like Sharifs, Tiwanas, Khars, Khosas, Gilanis, Syeds etc. ruling the country for the last 63 years playing the musical chairs in the parliament. One more thing, this story comes from Gwadar which is an important city of the Makran region of Balochistan and tribalism here is never an issue. The sardars have no say in the lives of common people like the way Bugti might have on his subjects. Like most of the common Pakistanis, the Balochs have no belief in the parliamentary system and do not think their problems will be solved through it.Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 4:07PM

    @Suleman Orakzai:

    Your example of Dubai and Gulf states is very lame. The Emiratis are the nationals whereas the expats are non-nationals. They’ll leave one day when asked but the settlers from other parts of Pakistan won’t have to do so as they’re nationals like the Baloch and have the same citizenship rights. The Baloch won’t stand a chance if they’re turned into a minority in their own land. Imagine Swat with a Hazara majority?

    As far as I’ve noticed, the people in Gwadar are not against the presence of non-Baloch at all. They think it is vital for development and progress but the issue is the failure to address the concerns of turning into an ethnic minority in their own lands.

    Your claims of Gwadar outpacing Karachi is a mere exaggeration. Karachi is an established port city of more than 150 years of history supplemented by a very mobile population and infrastructure. Gwadar has remained nothing more than a fishing port ever since its existence. There definitely is a great potential of growth for Gwadar but it will take a long time for that provided development and economic benefits are shared equitably.Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 4:11PM

    @M Baloch:

    Thank you for your comment. I’ll have to agree with your views that people have some pre-conceived ideas about Balochistan and try to deploy them every time when there is an argument. They’ve never been to Balochistan and never bothered to look at the picture from another perspective. But I’d say you don’t have to get disheartened by some ignorant bunch. I believe majority of the people support the oppressed and stand firm in the face of exploitation.Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2011 - 4:17PM


    You’ve raised some valid point here in the comment and I’ve to agree with you. People have benefitted a lot thanks to the Baloch resources but they don’t know where Sui is on the map. They don’t know the second city of Balochistan or when it got independence from the British. They’ve taken it for granted and still continue to do so…

    During my stay in Gwadar, i really felt the tension in the air and sensed the fear and apprehension in the air. Media, in general, either ignores or is restricted to report about the stories happening in Balochistan. The ones reporting are spreading disinformation and inaccuracies…Recommend

  • M Baloch
    Mar 5, 2011 - 11:46PM

    @ M Khawja
    Thank You For your Comments. And you are right that Pakistan’s National Media isn’t allowed to capture Balochistan Issue or Balochs Issue. Or might be they don’t want to tell the truth to people. If Someone says that National Media isn’t present in Balochistan, So this will be a lie. Whatever is happening in Balochistan, Media knows about it. But they only Broadcast those News which are against Balochs. Like Killings of Settlers, Killing of Teachers, But not those news which are against army and Govt. According to Newton “Every Action as a Reaction”. Balochs are not terrsts. Balochs have loving nature. Its a fact about us “Give us some true love we will Sacrifice over lives for you”. But i think Govt Doesn’t know this. And they want to apply “Danda Qanoon”. But there is another fact about Balochs. “Balochs never forget their Revenge”. More The “Danda Qanoon” Goes on, more balochs hate Pakistan.

    You have recently visited Gwadar So you better know how majority of people think about Pakistan. This “Mutti Bar Log”, “agents of India” or other such comments from Govt Sources are just bunch of lies, Situation in Balochistan is something else. They just keep lying to their Nation.

    For over the last 5 or 6 years i have not heard such comment from a Govt Official from which we could guess that yes they want to solve Balochs Issue. We just Hear or Read Comments from Govt Officials about “This isn’t 70’s that you hit and run, we will hit you in such a way that you don’t know what hit you”, “We will Kill Balochs who are against Pakistan”, we will do this, we will do that. They think balochs will be frightened from this. But not, Balochs are getting more and more angry…….. Govt of Pakistan Just Think about it. If you kill one innocent Baloch, All family of that Baloch will be against you. And thats what happening balochistan.

    @ Khwaja
    Thank you again for Visiting Balochistan and Covering the truth.Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2011 - 6:38AM

    @Moign Khawaja (writer):
    ‘It wasn’t always so. When Gwadar was incorporated into Pakistan in September 1958, with the Sultan of Oman ceding control to General Ayub Khan, the local population welcomed the change’

    Dear Khawaja,

    this is the line which I quoted. Now see my comment, it mentioned Feroz Khan Noon as a person who really did it. You still raise doubts on this. Fact is it was a legal purchase by a Civilian PM and Government.Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2011 - 3:01PM


    You might be right into pointing out that Gen. Ayub might not be directly involved in the Gwadar deal. I’ll look more into it. Thanks for pointing it out.Recommend

  • Shameel Baloch
    Mar 7, 2011 - 2:24AM

    @ Moign Khawaja (author): The Khan of Kalat transferred Gwadar to the defeated Sultan of Muscat in 1783. For 175 years it was part of the Sultanate of Muscat. In 175 years, the only development that took place under Muscat rule was the construction of Gwadar Fort. Pakistan purchased Gwadar from Oman on 8 September 1958 for USD $3 million. It remained under Federal Government control until 1 July 1977 when it was made a part of Balochistan province. Recommend

  • Mar 8, 2011 - 3:35AM

    @Shameel Baloch:

    Many thanks for this information, Shameel.Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 7:09PM

    A very interesting article and interesting variety of comments. We should recognize the powelessness of the common man of Pakistan in all of the provinces. Probably the best and quick solution is more autonomy to the provinces and creation of more provinces for further distribution of resources and control.Recommend

  • Apr 5, 2011 - 4:13AM

    we just want FREEDOM where the same happening with KURDS.
    Once again its all about the FREEDOM and we will have it!

    No Punjabi unions in my Country Greatest BALOCHISTAN!

    God bless all..Recommend

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