Reko Diq copper-cum-gold mine, Gwadar port and untapped oil and gas resources of Balochistan have the potential to turn around the economy of the province and that of the country in a matter of few years. Unfortunately, these mega projects having far reaching economic implications for the country have been webbed in by political compulsions and legal lacunas. It is high time that the people and the government of Pakistan decades’ to break themselves free from the entwinements of the major power and take control of their own destiny. We must stop blaming regional and international players for lack of development in the province. The government took refuge behind such pretexts for last sixty-three year, which only contributed towards worsening of the situation in the province.
Back in October 2011 Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani had said, “Some international forces also did not want the port (Gwadar) to become fully functional because they felt it would be detrimental to their interests.” Such notions reflect defeatist attitude. What people demand from present leadership is that it must take charge of the situation and work for the betterment of the people irrespective of the odds.
Feasibility study of Gwadar Port was started in 1993, however, its construction commenced in 2002 with Chinese collaboration. Construction work was completed in 2007, but ironically without necessary road and rail infrastructure. Due to lack of connectivity the port isn’t fully operational even in 2012. A facility that has the potential to turnaround the economy of the country is lying redundant. Obsequiously Musharraf government opted to award the contract to operate the port to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) for forty years, which will terminate in 2047. The PSA has done nothing to improve the operations of the port.
Nawab Aslam Raisani is seeking cancellation of the contract with the PSA International Ltd on the ground that the deal signed was “one-sided.” The contract was also challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter is pending. In spite of all these efforts the operations of the port will remain hostage to this contract unless government decides to resolve this issue at priority.
The major impairment in the operationalisation of Gwadar Port is lack of communication infrastructure connecting it with national road and rail network. The port was to have three road links connecting it with Karachi, Punjab and with Quetta. So far only coastal highway connecting Gwadar with Karachi has been completed. This road has no or very little value from the point of view of operationalisation of the port as it would be illogical to get the cargo off loaded at Gwadar and then transport the same to Karachi by road.
The work on Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab section of M-8 is likely to be completed by Dec 2012. However, work on 414km long Hoshab-Awaran-Khuzdar section of M-8 will start in second phase. Therefore, no time frame can be given as to when the port would be connected with Punjab. Work on 454km long Hoshab-Panjgur-Naag-Basima-Sorab section of M-8 connecting Gwadar with Quetta is scheduled to be completed by June 2014. Gwadar Port was planned to be linked with railway network at Mastung located on Quetta-Taftan section for which only feasibility study has been completed. It is any bodies guess that how much time it will take to lay 901 km of railway track in rugged terrain of Balochistan. These disappointing facts reflect on the criminal neglect by the decision makers.
There is no doubt that the government is conscience of the deprivations of the people of Balochistan. It is also struggling to make up for the excesses committed against them. Implementing of Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan and that of 7th NFC Award are the manifestations of their sincerity. Army is also putting in its best and has made remarkable contributions especially in education sector. Their efforts range from setting up of a medical college to establishment of technical institutes to impart skills to Baloch youth. These efforts by the government and army will definitely support and facilitate the provincial government. But the void is so large that these efforts are getting diluted and the benefits are trickling down to masses at a very slow pace.
In such a situation we cannot afford to miss the opportunities presented by projects like Gwadar Port. This project will remain relevant till the time alternates aren’t fully operational. Iran is working to link Chabahar free trade area to Iran’s main rail network, which is connected to Central Asia and Afghanistan. This would provide more capacity for Chabahar to promote faster logistics. With the emplacement of railway facility, Chabahar will be better linked with CARs through Turkmenistan bypassing volatile Afghanistan. That will also reduce the significance of Gwadar Port. If we want to accrue optimum benefit from operationalising of Gwadar Port, construction of road and rail links in the shortest possible time should be our top priority.