People of the Bronze Age once occupied the Makran region surrounding Gwadar. The Greeks coined a name for Makran, when Alexander’s army passing through it, derived it from the Persian phrase Mahi Khoran meaning ‘fish-eaters’. Since there is no ‘kh’ sound in the Balochi language, it came to be called Makran. After the collapse of Alexander’s empire, the region continued to be ruled by one of his generals. This explains why the residents of Ganz, a shanty fishing village between Gwadar and Jiwani, have Caucasian looks. Mohammad bin Qasim captured Gwadar in 711AD. In 1783, the Khan of Kalat granted Gwadar to the defeated ruler of Muscat, Taimur Sultan. The area was transferred to Pakistan in 1958. Although inhabited by a small community of fishermen, Gwadar has historically been considered important due to its strategic location.
Balochistan, in general, is confronted with threats from the Taliban, separatist insurgents, and India, all of whom have attempted to impede the development of Gwadar and the economic corridor. Furthermore, the US is closely watching Chinese developments at Gwadar, which can potentially give China access and control over the mouth of the Strait of Hurmuz from where about 80 per cent of fossil fuels are transported. In addition, we should also look at the impact that lifting of sanctions on Iran, given the nuclear deal, and improvement in Iran-US ties will have on our region. Iran has strained relations with Pakistan, with cross-border movement restricted intermittently. Furthermore, India is developing a naval base at Chabahar that may at some point in the future also dock US aircraft carriers if relations between Iran and the US continue to improve. The strategic alignment between the US and India could create obstructions to the development of Gwadar.
The Pakistani government seems to have no specific plan for the people of Gwadar, thus allowing for their marginalisation, like the Native Americans were in North America. The beneficiaries of the development work in Gwadar will by no means be the indigenous people. The deprivation of the locals has already started, with the clearing and forwarding of ships being assigned to companies other than those from Gwadar and nobody to listen to the hue and cry of the local clearing agents.
The Balochistan government is doing absolutely nothing to prepare its youth for availing the job opportunities that will come up in the near future in Gwadar. The technical training centres once produced highly trained and technical hands when they were under German management. Now, they are dysfunctional. It is up to the provincial government to press upon the Chinese government to send youth from the Gwadar-Makran area on scholarships and vocational training to China.
Due to retardation in economic activity, local people are jobless with no source of income and with the provincial government enjoying little writ, there is an emergence of locals finding new alternatives, detrimental to a peaceful environment and society. Jobless men are baited, given false promises by foreign forces and used as pawns in a game of chess and then abandoned. The people trapped by these foreign forces foolishly think that their backers will help them get their rights. These people often fall into the trap set by foreign forces because of their circumstances. For example, the residents of the Mirani Dam area have been forcefully evicted without any proper rehabilitation plan by the government. The federal government should act with the same agility for these people as it did for the Nepal earthquake victims. Foreign countries claiming to be custodians of human rights are maintaining an absolute lull over this crucial issue. Will it be any wonder if the people affected by this injustice are lured by foreign forces and made to follow their designs?
With the upcoming plan of the Gwadar Special Economic Zone, competition among major global powers, including the US, has made the situation complex. In such a scenario, the US may not act directly, due to its own economic interests involving China, but it can act to the detriment of any development project in this area through proxies like India or even Iran. The crux of the issue is this: will the provincial government raise its voice for the rights and protection of the local population of Gwadar, who have lived there for hundreds of years? Does the federal government consider the people of Gwadar and Makran to be citizens of Pakistan and act accordingly? Only time will answer these questions, but at the moment nothing positive seems to be happening in this regard.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2015.
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