KARACHI: Gwadar town is as ancient as the Islamic history. The known history of Makran goes back to the time of Prophet Dawood (RA) when the people reach there to avoid starvation. In 325 BC when Alexander the Great incidentally found the sea in this area on his way from India to Macedonia . Gwadar with its 700 kms more long coastline has always been an important chapter of Makran’s history.

Gwadar Port Development project will prove a landmark in the history of Balochistan, which will be developed according to the needs of local people.

The previous governments of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif tried to introduce such mega projects in this province but failed owing to political uncertainty. President General Pervez Musharaf finally took a very bold initiative and in 2002, he had performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the first commercial port on the Makran coast. The construction of Gwadar port has been under consideration for many years for various reasons but could not start.

This tremendous project has started too late, the government should follow the Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong model which earned billion of dollar in transit and trans charges from the Asian, European and other countries.

Following the completion of Gwadar project, Pakistan will be the major beneficiary. Even Gwadar is very important with its characteristics and potential for development of trade links with Central Asian countries, Persian Gulf , East Africa , United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India .

Gwadar is poised to turn into a city that will be comparable with Dubai , Singapore and Hong Kong . It will be a free port on the lines of Jabal-e-Ali in Dubai . It was declared a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the federal budget for the year 2003-04 and was exempted from all taxes and duties for seven years. Both the federal and Balochistan governments will facilitate the investors who come to investment in Gwadar port and give maximum protection to the working companies.

Its tactical location as the southern extension of Pakistan into the Arabian Sea makes it a gateway for transit traffic into the interior Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Iran . This geographic advantage gives Gwadar with the potential of becoming a commercial and economic hub of the Sub-Continent.

Situated on the mouth of the Gulf, the Gwadar port will wait for transit of huge discovered and undiscovered estimated 2500 billion barrels of oil in Central Asian region to different destinations.

According to an estimate, nearly 20 countries of the Middle East , Central Asia and South Asia will benefit from the Gwadar port. The port complex will provide facilities of warehousing, trans-shipment, transit and coastal trade, commercial and industrial openings for international export-import trade. For Afghanistan , a landlocked country and desperately needing export outlet, the construction of Gwadar port complex will help in boosting economic rehabilitation and activity.

Apparently, the completion of port of Gwadar is not possible without financial and technical assistance of China . However, China ’s picture is also interesting in this project for its own interest because China ’s eastern coastline ports are 3,500 kms away from Kashgar , China ’s main city, whereas the distance from Kashgar to the Gwadar is only 1,500 kms. Given this fact, there is an obvious huge cost advantage for China to use Gwadar as the gateway port for its western region. This explains China ’s newfound interest in helping Pakistan develop Gwadar into a full-fledged commercial port, capable of handling cargo vessels of up to 50,000 tons or more.

China had granted $200 million for construction of Phase-I of Gwadar port and $500 billion as bank loans to industry and commercial enterprises to boost economic growth in the region and bring it at par with other parts of the country. It has also agreed to consider providing $500 million in aid for building Phase-II. Phase-I is due to be completed by March 2005 and work on Phase-II is expected to begin immediately thereafter. The total cost of the project (Phase-I and Phase II) is estimated to be $1.1 billion.

The work is proceeding apace on the 650-kilometre-long coastal highway from Karachi to Gwadar, which is expected to be ready by the end of this year. Beijing has also offered to help widen the Karakoram Highway on the Pakistani side to make it an all-weather highway capable of handling heavy truck traffic with ease.

Gwadar port will help introduce feeder cargo services to these countries by providing dedicated, efficient and cost-effective port facilities. The infrastructure facilities consisting of road-link, connecting Gwadar to the national highway, will serve as a gateway for trade from landlocked countries of Central Asia . It will serve as the mother-port at the junction of traditional trade routes opposite strait of Hormuz which lies so close to this base and at the mouth of the Persian Gulf . It will provide an alternative access to the sea for export and import of cargo from and to the northern areas of Pakistan . The Gwadar port shall provide modern up-to-date facilities for cargo vessels in line with modern ports. The coastal highway, which is also being constructed simultaneously with the port, will provide a very healthy linkage between Karachi and Gwadar ports.

Pakistan ’s road transport industry would earn millions of dollars a year in freight charges for carrying import cargoes from Gwadar to the Central Asian Republics and western China and export goods from there to Gwadar for shipment to international markets.

Around 2.5 million people of this area will get jobs with the start of work on this port. The local people of Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Pasni and Ormara will be given priority in jobs on this project as government promised. The government is going to set up technical training centers in the area to provide training to the people in various categories so that they can get jobs after getting trained.

These training centers will provide training to middle pass, matriculate, intermediate, graduate and post-graduate degree holders in various categories of skills and the job create likely in the town.

The Federal Government will allocate Rs 3 billion and the Balochistan government will give land free of cost to establish a labour city in Gwadar, where 2,000 houses, a hospital and a school will be constructed for workers and fishermen.

“Sand turns into gold,” reads a signboard of a real estate agency dealing in the property business at Gwadar. This city, of 1.20 lakh people, has become the focus of attraction for real estate dealers and developers following the launch of the Gwadar Port project. It is currently hosting over 100 estate agents from around the country and the number is rising with each passing day.

Gwadar is now the most travelled destination of the country’s property business players, who foresee that the town, which is currently surrounded by hills and sea, will soon be dotted with high-rise buildings and become a centre for foreign travellers and investors.

A plot of 500 square yards in the city, which was available at Rs 100,000 to Rs 200,000 about two years ago, is now offered at Rs 1.2 million to Rs 1.5 million and the plot of 1,000 square yards would now cost Rs 1.8 million to Rs 2.5 million. Apart from real estate and open plot deals, dozens of builders across the country have announced housing and commercial projects in the city. Trade Net Plus, a four-network system consisting of 18 modules, covers all aspects of international trading cycle from trade documentation, transportation, finance, insurance and cargo movements, to billing and payments. Gwadar also needs this system as it would increase its efficiency in trade transactions and would generate annual savings of billions of rupees.

Gwadar town to be relocated is like a hammer, and the port is being developed around the Koh-e-Batil which may be taken as hammerhead. The huge and extended Sangar Housing Scheme is situated around this Koh-e-Batil. Before the announcement of this mega project the large tracts of land in Sangar were barren, but once the port was approved walls started growing out of the sand. From Singhar area or Koh-e-Batil, the ware water of Arabian ocean may be seen in to colours, blue and green. Especially viewing the sunset Sangar is spectacular, presenting a scenic view for every one who love nature and its bounties. The scheme has four phases. Phase-1, phase-2 and phase-3 are residential while phase-4 is completely commercial. The foundation stone of Pearl Continental Hotel is laid in phase 4. The basic infrastructure of sewage, road and water has good traces in Sangar area.

In Gwadar, three Chinese engineers were killed and 11 people, including two Pakistanis, were injured in the under-construction deep-sea port city of Gwadar .

The people of Balochistan are not happy with the way things are going in their province. They feel Gwadar project is aim at turning the local population into a minority by introducing people from other parts of the country, particularly the Punjab .

The nationalist forces that are opposing the Gwadar project or its handling could be suspected for the blast. A senior nationalist leader had recently warned investors to stay away from Balochistan.

They have not yet blocked highways, cut off gas or surrounded parliament or even the Balochistan Assembly. Much before the Gwadar project, these forces have been continuously protesting for their rights.

Not only are nationalist forces protesting against the project as independents; both the treasury and opposition members of Balochistan assembly have complaints that the project was being directly controlled by the federal government and that they were not even told the details of the port’s master plan.

It is heartening to note that the Chinese engineers have vowed that they will complete the project. It is therefore imperative for the government to step up security measures for foreigners and locals working on the project. But the important thing is that the federal government should take the people and the leaders of Balochistan into confidence to remove their doubts with regards to the port project and other steps that it contemplates for Balochistan.

The recent event of the Sui gas pipeline blast is causing firms and the government losses of million of rupees daily. After the day and night efforts of the Sui gas company workers, they restored the gas to the other provinces. The Government of Balochistan should be vigilant on the national interest and trace the elements who sabotage the peace of the country with iron hands.

The government and the elders of the Balochistan should put together and find out the solution amicably.

We should united in one platform on national interest and way out to attract foreign direct investment in the country. It is need of the hour.

Source: APP