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Gwadar and the Baloch cause

IT was amid some controversy about who should have management rights over it that the country’s third deep-sea port became fully functional at Gwadar the other day. Being the first outside Sindh — outside Karachi, to be precise — it is expected to encourage considerable economic activity and bring in employment opportunities for the people of Balochistan who have for long been complaining, and justifiably so, of being at the wrong end of most federal policies.

Speeches delivered at the inaugural ceremony by Federal Minister Nabil Gabol and Chief Minister Aslam Raisani made no bones about the right of the locals to make the most of the opportunities that the port is likely to generate. There has also been talk of a revision of the management agreement with the Port of Singapore Authority International and, if it comes to that, even its cancellation and the transfer of such rights to the provincial government.

Discounting the rhetoric that was perhaps part of the two speeches, coming as they did against a background of political and financial grievances of a federating unit against the centre, the decision-makers would not hurt anybody by taking into account two basic facts before words are converted into actions. One, running a port is a massive operation that needs technical expertise as much as political will; only more. Two, port cities worldwide attract workforce from across the land purely for economic reasons.

It is only natural that Balochistan will have certain apprehensions after years of exploitation, but paranoia will not help. That the province and its inhabitants deserve to get their due share not just in the Gwadar operations, but in respect of all Baloch resources is not under debate; and cannot be. But the technicality of port operations and the need for skilled labour are realities that cannot be ignored; and shouldn’t be. While such issues will take some time to be settled, the authorities should focus on improving the road infrastructure to facilitate the distribution of goods from the port onwards. In the absence of a durable network, the duration and cost of transportation will work against the economics of the operation which will be good neither for Balochistan nor for the rest of Pakistan.

Source: The Dawn

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