On December 8, 1958, Pakistan purchased Gwadar from Oman and since that day, the government has been talking about making Gwadar into a world class port city. We are glad that, after nearly six decades, Pakistan is finally able to begin full-scale commercial operations at Gwadar Port. The country is large enough to need more than one major port city (Port Qasim is effectively an extension of Karachi) and the boost to economic activity in what has hitherto been one of the least developed parts of Pakistan is welcome. There is an economic divide between the two halves of Pakistan. Sindh and Punjab have a large and better developed transportation infrastructure that includes roads and railways leading from Punjab all the way down to Karachi Port. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, however, there is nothing similar. Are we then surprised that there is very little economic activity in these provinces? For far too long, Balochistan has been a backwater and it is high time Islamabad took action to rectify the problem.
We applaud the government’s efforts to use the Gwadar Port to try and develop Balochistan and the northern parts of Sindh that have not been as well-linked to the major economic centres. The decision to speed up the construction of the M-9 Motorway from Gwadar to Shahdadkot, which passes through Khuzdar is also welcome. We would, however, caution the government from what seems to be a highly national security-oriented view of the port. It is natural to understand and incorporate national security strategy into the port’s development, and to an extent we would even describe that as responsible behaviour. However, Islamabad must resist the urge to view Gwadar purely from a military-strategic prism. Gwadar should be a port city for Pakistan’s economic benefit. Priority in land allocation should be for the port. It is high time the government started viewing economic development with the same urgency it views national security.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2015.