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Economic Exploitation of the Coastal Areas – 1

Since independence, Pakistan has been dependant upon only one Sea-port, Karachi, for its maritime communications. Most of the industries came up in Karachi because of the port or in the vicinity. From little more than a sleepy fishing village at the beginning of the century (population 100,000) to a population of about half a million in 1947 rising to the present level of 9 million, the city of Karachi has outgrown all possible permutations and combinations of socio-economic infrastructure and facilities, causing tremendous social and economic strain on the city’s masses. While over-population has been bad enough, the amalgam of various ethnic groups drawn to the city either as refugees from India or in search of employment from up-country has created social unrest, the various groups competing for economic dominance. This has been further exacerbated by different waves of refugees from Burma, Iran (pro- and anti-Shah), Afghan Refugees and a large influx of Bangladeshis as domestic help (and now, industrial labour).

To an extent, the shifting of the capital from Karachi to Islamabad in late 50s helped to distribute the economic wealth more evenly throughout the country, development work was diverted to places other than Karachi, along the road and railway line in the Punjab right upto Peshawar in the Sarhad Province and even away from the main communication lines. While nationally this was beneficial, for the city of Karachi with an average inflow of 500 people daily, the shifting of the capital meant that development of the city infrastructure-wise slowed down to an extent. The boom years of the early 70s fuelled by the oil-rich Middle East created further problems as uneven housing development took place as overseas Pakistanis repatriated funds. The Karachi Development Authority (KDA) contributed to chaos and confusion by indiscriminately allowing proliferation of high-rise apartment buildings without due regard for the availability of water, electricity, gas, parking areas, schools and colleges, hospitals, etc. Town planning went out of the window, the germs of future unrest were laid. The city’s even growth was sabotaged deliberately, a situation was created conducive to anarchy by the then management of KDA, whether simply due to outright corruption or other murkier reasons or a combination of all can only be a studied guess.

Today all the chicken have come home to roost. The refugees from India, particularly the most downtrodden among them, the Biharis, felt rightly aggrieved at the treatment meted out to them in the promised land of their dreams which their forefathers had reached, mostly after undergoing untold misery and privation. Treated as third class citizens, denied employment on merit, bereft of the social and economic infrastructure for survival, e.g. transportation, sewerage, water, electricity, etc and with employment opportunities dwindling they revolted against the prevailing system. As is normal in such circumstances the most militant among them, representative of the widespread protest, took over as the new power elite, Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) came into the political arena of Sindh (and Pakistan). By sheer weight of concentrated population in certain key urban constituencies they have carved out a primary place in Pakistan politics, defeating other political groupings and parties established for many years. Whereas 14 seats in National Assembly of 237 is not a great number (1) the MQM has the ability to completely shut down the city of Karachi, thereby economically choking the whole of Pakistan and (2) in the present political circumstances where two great opposing political groups are almost evenly divided they represent the crucial swing vote.

The law and order situation in Karachi has deteriorated and in this vacuum all sorts of criminal elements have surfaced. With kidnappings and dacoities on the increase, the elite have started to mentally (and in some cases physically) evacuate Karachi. Whole industries have started shifting to safer havens e.g. Gadoon-Amazai. At the same time, the natural Sindhi has become a minority in his own urban cities creating a violence-prone situation. This is a factor whose dimensions have to be swiftly controlled. For industry it may not be an immediate death-knell but it does contain the portents of disaster, not helped by erratic, uneven bureaucratic policies and restraints which result in job shifting instead of creating new employment opportunities. As job become scarce and the population keeps increasing, anarchical forces will eventually tend to rule the city in an uneasy armed truce with private militias and the hard pressed law-enforcing agencies.

The need, therefore, arises to (1) immediately bring the rule of law back to Karachi (and Sindh) on the short-term (2) to stop the transmigration to Karachi of both white and blue-collar workers from up-country looking for employment and of the elite entrepreneurs from Karachi looking for other more safer havens, whether in or out of country (3) to create such conditions within Karachi which will sustain the economic life of existing population and (4) to provide alternate sources of employment away from Karachi whether it be (a) up-country or (b) interior Sindh or (c) along the coastline of Pakistan or (d) a combination of all the aforementioned.

The rule of law, transmigration and a conducive environment are subjects which must be examined in some detail, there are economic and strategic reasons for having more seaports. The non-establishment of more seaports for a population exceeding 120 million (with land-locked Afghanistan also dependant) amounts to criminal neglect.

While one can understand the reluctance to open new frontiers with its inherent discomfort as regards facilities, obduracy in the case is hardly understandable. Job displacement cannot substitute job creation, it is only by going into virgin territory to create new industries with multi-faceted benefits that we are likely to find lasting solutions to our present problems. At this time businesses are upsticking and relocating to safer areas (law and order-wise) causing nett job depletion.

The aim, therefore, must be to analyse the strategic and economic implications of developing the Coastal Areas of Pakistan with special emphasis on the development of Gwadar (and adjacent areas) as an alternate to Karachi. Karachi seaport along with the adjacent Qasim Port adequately covers the region to the east uptill the Indian maritime and land borders. Our intention would be to cover the coastline starting from the western fishing ports of Jiwani, Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara. At the present time, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has made some effort to develop Gwadar and Pasni as modern fishing ports, already served by regular commercial flights while Jiwani (an old British naval station) has some air flight to it. With more and more land and air activity being directed towards Turbat and Panjgur, there exists a natural alternate communications route up-country which needs to be up-dated and developed.

Laterally there exist unofficial smuggling routes to Iran. We desperately need to augment and develop the Ports of Gwadar and Pasni providing for adequate naval facilities at Jiwani and Ormara. The Coastal Areas have vast inherent economic potential. Other than fishing, the best dates in the world are grown here, vast areas suitable for livestock farming is available and the entire belt can be cultivated to grow palm trees and coconut, both palm oil and coconut being deficit in Pakistan, they can become exportable surpluses.

The very first argument arises is the dearth of funds, people little realise that more than 90 per cent of the development of the centres of commerce in the world has been without resort to public funds. At the very minimum opportunities for commerce and industry have to be created, any coastline has a natural advantage transportation-wise, it is only necessary to exploit that salient advantage in a systematic and methodical manner. We must also remove all restraints to commercial progress. We must clearly spell out the aim, which in this case must be the economic emancipation of Pakistan, to fulfil that aim, one of the objectives should be to create functioning ports with all the facilities.

The coastline of Pakistan has natural facilities strung along its length, it is incumbent upon GoP to ensure that the potential is fully exploited.
The implementation of such a plan needs a clear statement of intent from the top. Since both the Prime Minister and Chief Minister Bugti are seized with alleviating the lot of the common man, the objectives remain the same. Political differences aside, the sincerity of our leaders in rapidly developing this nation cannot be doubted. The Mekran coast still lives mostly in a time-freeze as Mohammad Bin Qasim found it except the smugglers have replaced camels (in some cases) with Pajeros or motorbikes. In essence, our leaders have a unique chance to move a broad brush over almost vacant canvas. The future of Pakistan lies in clearly annunciating the political intention to go ahead with such a vast project, the point of beginning must be Gwadar. As we go into the last lap of this century, we must take concrete steps to fulfil our promises for the 21st century. In short, while we know that the will is there, one must ensure that the bureaucracy does not conspire to enforce such restrictions that the spirit becomes weak.

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