Dividing Punjab


This Article appeared in Daily The News on April 1st, 2011.

Lately the creation of a southern province in Punjab is being debated in the media and in our political circles. The incommodious attitude of certain political parties of avoiding open debate on this significant issue of considerable public import is incomprehensible and manifests an escapist attitude.

Punjab is the biggest province of Pakistan with a population of 81, 330, 531(over 81 million) which is about 47 percent of Pakistan’s total population. It encompasses an area of 2, 05, 344 square kilometres. Out of a total of 342 National Assembly seats; Punjab has 183 MNAs, Sind 75, KPK has 43, Baluchistan 17, FATA 12, minorities 10 and Islamabad Capital Territory two MNAs. If the number of 183 MNAs from Punjab is seen in juxtaposition to 171 MNAs from all the other three provinces and other groups put together, it shows a very unpleasant comparison. Without any bias, prejudice and sounding parochial, the small provinces are living in a state of perpetual minority vis-a-vis Punjab. And certain vested interest groups and parties have been using this anomaly to their advantage. Using the Sind ‘card’ and some statements by sub nationalist parties in KPK and Baluchistan manifests this dangerous trend due to this anomaly. Even the erstwhile East Pakistan saga finds connections to this disproportionate administrative structural deficiency phenomenon. The people of Punjab are very open minded and hearty people. People hailing from other provinces and working in Punjab do not face discrimination. Yet Punjab gets a bad name when it suits certain vested interest groups and parties. Punjab in spite of being very accommodative gets discredited simply because of its size as compared to other federating units. This anomaly, therefore, needs to be addressed at the earliest.

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Gwadar’s Strategic Value

This Article appeared in The News on August 11, 2006.

The development of Gwadar as a major alternative port was conceived with the aim of overcoming various strategic weaknesses that have, or are likely to, handicap Pakistanâ’s national interests. To cite just a few, Karachi, the only port of the country could be subjected to a naval blockade by the superior Indian Navy in case of war. Secondly, in peace time, vested interests have a potential to create a law-and-order situation in the economic capital of Pakistan, Karachi, with the aim of strangulating the economy of the country. Thirdly, Balochistan, despite having about 600 kilometers of coastline, remains the most underdeveloped province, until the mega project of Gwadar port jump-start its economy in a big way, thus removing the cause of discontentment.

A project of such dimensions is bound to have strategic implications not only for the country, but also for regional and international powers. The government seems to be fully aware and cognisant of these implications, but should take appropriate steps to thwart the designs of all such negative elements.

Incidentally, the creation of this port will also affect trade at the Iranian ports of Bander Abbas and Chah Bahar. Therefore, Iran, although being a brotherly Muslim country, is likely to look at the development of this port with some reservations from economic and military points of views.

Gwader being at the gateway to the Gulf, overlooking this major strategic sea routes for oil exports, would be the focus of major International powers. The development of this port is likely to be viewed with various degrees of concern, based on their respective national interests. Growing instability in the Gulf is likely to magnify this interest which could be detrimental to Pakistan’s geo-strategic interests, requiring adequate safeguards.

More importantly, since the port is being developed with the help of Chinese government, the United States and India are likely to be apprehensive of its development.

The port provides Central Asian Republics direct access to the warm waters through Afghanistan and Balochistan, as an alternative both to the routes through Iran, and their trade routes to Europe. The port facility has also the potential to be a possible alternative to Dubai, which is lately becoming a hub for major economic activities in the region.

Based on the above implications, it is reasonable to assume that various powers and vested-interest groups would attempt to create hurdles, and perhaps even sabotage the project if they could, to ensure that the port does not see the light of day. These power brokers could and are using the nationalists groups in Balochistan and Karachi for their ulterior motives. The attacks on Chinese workers in Gwadar and Hub is a case in point.

It is of utmost importance that the government of Pakistan takes effective steps to guard against all potential threats to this mega project keeping in view its strategic importance. The establishment of a cantonment in the area of Panjgur/Turbat is an effective step to strengthen the security environment in this area, and to provide a backup to Gwadar port.

Secondly, the construction of the Gwadar-Turbat-Panjgur-Sohrab road, and the Gwardar-Turbat-Lasbela-Khuzdar-Rattodero road is of utmost importance. Without this road network, the full potential of the new port can never be realised. The Coastal Highway has already been completed, but it is no alternative to the development of the aforementioned roads, which would provide alternate routes not only to Afghanistan via Quetta/Chaman, but also to upcountry by linking up with the Indus Highway near Sukkur. The coastal highway will be used for tourists and transportation of fish and dates from the Gwadar-Turbat-Pasni area into the main market of Karachi. The road from Quetta to Sohrab and Naal is metalled. In fact, the road from Quetta to Khuzdar and Lasbela is already part of the RCD Highway. Regular traffic plies on Turbat-Lasbela-Khuzdar road and the portion from Khuzdar to Rattodero is under-construction. Imports and exports from and to Gwadar port through Karachi via the Coastal Highway will defeat the very purpose and objective of this mega-project.

The government also needs to minutely oversee the development of various infrastructures around Gwadar port. The groups/mafias involved in these activities should be closely monitored, so as to ensure that the local population is neither alienated nor the demographic profile of the area adversely altered. The people from Balochistan province must benefit from this mega-project. The government needs to develop technical institutions to train the unskilled labour of Balochistan to be absorbed into this project.

The insinuation that development of Gwadar (a natural port) has already failed is a gross misjudgement. Similarly, the assertion that the Chaman-Quetta-Khuzdar-Karachi-Gwadar route is shorter than the direct route from Quetta-Khuzdar-Sohrab-Panjgur-Turbat-Gwadar is a misstatement and far removed from facts. Further, to imagine that the Chaman-Quetta-Sukkur-Karachi-Gwadar route is shorter or better is yet another geographical absurdity, without even going into the details of the kilometres involved.

The development of Gwadar port is a strategic decision taken by the government for which it must be given full credit. The government needs to develop and implement a wholesome plan, including the road infrastructure on a fast-track basis to make up for the lost time. Pakistan must take proactive measures to thwart any designs that can derail this development. There is also a need to engage regional economic players to develop a harmonious economic blend to the advantage of all.

Asserting Control

This interview appeared in “The News” on August 6, 2006.

In South Waziristan, due to the flawed strategy by the government in the last one and a half year, (local militants) have organised themselves into a Taliban-style system of governance. They have established a parallel sort of administration.

By Raza Rahman Khan

Brigadier (Retired) Mahmood Shah hails from Hoti village in Mardan district. He received his education in Mardan and Karachi before joining the army.

During his army career, he has mostly worked in Balochistan and Azad Kashmir. After his retirement, he was offered to become the home secretary of Balochistan but he refused because he wanted to serve in his home province, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). In 2000, his wish was granted and he became the Secretary for Home and Tribal Affairs in NWFP.
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