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Pakistan's Gwadar Port dreams may die young

Islamabad: Pakistan’s under construction Gwadar Port may face many hurdles before realising its goal of facilitating Pakistan’s economic growth with two key regional players, India and Iran seeing it as an economic and security threat, and local Baloch nationalists believing that the benefits will bypass them.

Gwadar lies at the “heart of President Pervez Musharraf’s vision of prosperity for Pakistan”, but the port fuels bitter discontent among local Baloch nationalists and disfavour by India and Iran so “realising the Gwadar dream in such an inimical environment will not be easy,” the Daily Times quoted an article of Pakistani scholar Zia Haider, currently at the Stimson Centre in Washington, as saying.

According to Haider, while Iran is using its good relations with Central Asian countries Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan to attract trade through its Chahbahar Port, putting Pakistan’s Gwadar at a disadvantage, India views it as a Chinese threat.

Haider also writes that the port fuels bitter discontent among local Baloch nationalists who were largely excluded from the decision-making process surrounding the port, and worry that the economic gains of the project will be siphoned off to the other provinces and “the influx of non-Baloch in the region seeking employment will displace the Baloch and dilute their culture; and the Pakistan Army will continue to consolidate its military presence in the region by opening more cantonments.” Moreover, the port might become a potential target of an Al Qaeda strike in response to Pakistan’s cooperation in the US-led war on terror.

Haidar suggests that Islamabad can counter these problems by adopting a two-pronged strategy. First, it must pay attention to its own people, the local Baloch, who are the greatest opponent of this project, and it must take them into confidence that they are an important stakeholder in this critical project of national importance.

Second, Pakistani officials must put efforts to attrct more Chinese investment resulting in greater politico-military relationship with Beijing.
Haidar feels that for Pakistan to reap the dividends of the Gwadar Port, the Baloch and the Beijing need to be firmly and equally anchored to it.

Source: Daily Times

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