Tragedy At Bombay – The Aftermath

The tragedy at Bombay is a sort of 9/11 for India. It appears to be one of many other acts of international terrorism which have been taking place at so many other places in the worlds at regular intervals. All these are despicable acts and need to be condemned in the strongest words. The government of Pakistan did well by condemning it at the highest level and offered sympathies and assistance (although some uncalled for assistance which had to be retracted later) as a neighbor and in line with International norms.
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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.