There used to be a time that the Gwadar port project was championed as the solution to many of our woes. Having a new deep-sea port away from Karachi, we were told, would make Gwadar a hub of commerce. It was also claimed that the resulting prosperity would trickle down to the Baloch people and damp the separatist sentiment. Now, it seems, these promises were significantly overblown. The Port Singapore Authority, which was supposed to develop the Gwadar port over a 40-year period, has decided to pull out only five years in, ostensibly because the Pakistan Navy refused to vacate a crucial bit of land that was required to make the port operational. Now, it is being rumoured that the Chinese will be given the port at no cost, to do with it as it pleases.
The justification that the piece of land being occupied by the navy is important for security reasons holds no water since the entire port will become strategically vital once it is operational. Pakistan’s military already has vast tracts of prime land in its possession all over the country and surely a solution can be found in this case, especially when it leads to the cancellation of international contracts. It is in everyone’s best interests that the Gwadar port becomes operational and starts creating the kind of jobs and revenues that the Baloch people have been promised.
That the new owners of the port will likely be Chinese is sure to cause further headaches for Pakistan. For our other superpower ally, the US, China’s acquisition of Gwadar will be seen as a power play that gives China leverage in the event of future conflicts in the area. Already, Chinese aid and investment in Pakistan is generating US suspicion. Handing over our new port and with that a potential new Silk Route is not going to please the Americans. India will also be suspicious. For us, however, Gwadar’s promise has been squandered to the point where, right now, it is little more than a white elephant.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2012.
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