By Mariyam Suleman
Fifteen years ago, on March 22 2002, General Parvez Musharraf performed the groundbreaking ceremony of Gwadar Port. It was expected that in a couple of years, China and Pakistan’s push for millions of dollars’ investment will bring unprecedented development and basic public services to the previously deprived harbor town of Gwadar.
In 2013, roughly after eleven years, China and Pakistan signed one more agreement and this time it was for multi-billion dollars project CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).
Comprising vast networks of highways, railroads and pipelines spreading to 3,000 kilometers with collection of energy and other projects, CPEC will connect China’s largest province, Xinjiang with Gwadar in Pakistan’s most impoverished and restive province of Balochistan. Facilitating trade via Gwadar Port, CPEC is part of China’s larger initiative OBOR (One Belt One Road).
While the port and CPEC gained world attention, for people of Gwadar, time stood still somewhere between the first decade of the 21st century.
Despite the hope and promises of improved life standards from the emerging port, not much changed in Gwadar in fifteen years, excluding her southeastern part where the strategic port was developed in a period of five years and a grand five-star hotel atop the promontory of Koh-e-Batil.
Today survival between the crossroads of ongoing droughts, lack of health care, educational facilities and struggle for livelihood are major challenges for the people living in the crux of the “Game-Changer”.
It has now become crucial for people of Gwadar in particular, and of Balochistan in general, to understand how an influx of trade has the potential to improve the quality of life of citizens, but only if proper regulations are in place to direct some of the early investment to improve basic public service.
However, the trade deal has yet to address one of Gwadar’s biggest challenges: the scarcity of water. So far there is no proper investment in the development of water infrastructure in the town; instead, during every crisis, the citizens hear a bizarre announcement from nearby mosques calling upon the residents of “Port City” to “Pray for Rain”.
In the last decade, both Pakistani and the Chinese government invested in the potentials of economic development in Gwadar, and they plan to invest more but so far effective solutions to overcome water crisis is not part of the plan.
Due to government ‘s failure to come up with concrete solutions to counteract the increasingly frequent patterns of drought, in December 2016 people once more relied upon the same tactic as their ancestors did.
People wonder if prayer was the solution for every crisis and issue what on earth had made both governments invest for more development plans. They wonder if their still-undeveloped harbor town deserves a status of a Port-City when more than half of the population in the district is still illiterate and the students have to travel all the way to Sindh’s metropolitan city Karachi or provincial capital of Quetta for higher education. But travelling hundreds of miles isn’t something thousands of students of Gwadar can do. And regardless of the sub-campus of Turbat University recently opened in Gwadar, in broader sense proper professional higher education has yet to reach the port.
Hence, the local Gwadaris now fear that if their hopes connected with the Port and CPEC do not realize, they may have to pay a price. Several fear that the locals will then become minorities and will not have a say.
In December 2016, the same discourse was raised by a student of Gwadar in presence of Chief Minister Punjab during a conference for college students of Gwadar in Lahore. Troubled by the persisting absence of basic public services such as education and access to clean water in the port city, the student highlighted the issues during the conference. However, her concerns fell on deaf ears.
Regardless of the borrowed electric supply from neighboring Iran, Gwadar too faces load shedding and sometimes more than ten hours a day. Since there are no direct roads, people have to travel first to the neighboring province of Sindh before entering their own provincial capital.
People die of medical conditions before they ever get hospitalized in other provinces. Seven out of every ten expecting mothers are without health facilities throughout the district. Eight out of every ten schools in the district do not have a satisfactory building. Six out of every ten households use wood as cooking fuel.
The fishermen, who are more than 70% of local population, are denied access to their only economic mean, the sea. Whenever the “VIPs” visit Gwadar which is every now and then. The local journalists, councilors, even local MPA hardly get permit to cover or attend CPEC related conferences held within Gwadar.
These issues are central to about 297,000 people currently residing in Gwadar district and at least more than 13 million people living in Balochistan. In the persisting absence of public services, they foresee no better fortune now either.
There is no doubt that Gwadar port will generate substantial revenue and the CPEC will bring a number of development projects, but according to the present constitutional apparatuses all revenues generated by the port will be collected by the central government and a larger portion of the CPEC related projects will be developed in the eastern route.
On the other hand, among all fears and hopes, materialization of CPEC and functionality of Gwadar port have grown beyond all estimates for China and for Pakistan alike. However, not only the economic benefits for both countries but the actual success of the project will be measured by the socioeconomic development of Gwadar and Balochistan.
The local residents will indeed be supportive of the Port and the “Sweet Melody” as the China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi named the CPEC if they will in actual ascertain transparency of related projects and ensure the presence of public services as basic rights of the people.
About Author: Mariyam Suleman is a social activist and a writer from Gwadar. She mostly writes opinion articles, feature stories and blog posts related to the issues of underprivileged. She is authoress of “Bya Noken Rahan Shohaz Kane” or “Come! Let’s Discover a New Way”, a character driven travelogue in Balochi language based on experiences of her year-long stay in the US as an exchange student during 2011-12.
Follow her on twitter: @mariyamsuleman
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are her own.