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Economic Exploitation of the Coastal Areas – II

At Gwadar, a Belgian company is engaged in the construction of a Fish Harbour for US$ 45 million provided mostly under Belgian Grant/Soft Aid. A telephone and telegraph facility based on DOMSAT satellite has recently been inaugurated. The fish catch in the area will justify the size of the facilities, the harbour when constructed can also easily accommodate naval vessels, more importantly it can be easily expanded to cater for larger vessels. The works parameters may be expanded so that benefit is derived from present construction mobilisation. Placed just outside the Gulf, Gwadar has strategic importance, it is a natural staging port for the Gulf in case war between Iran and Iraq should ever break out again, a distinct possibility. Supertankers may not be able to go into the Gulf this time with Iranians better equipped to interdict them with naval forces.

With the Cold War between USA and Russia dissipating the superpowers will be reluctant to send in naval forces the next time around to ensure safe maritime passage as they have no further need for one-upmanship against each other. High insurance premiums being economically unsound, Gwadar’s proposed vast oil tank farms where smaller ships from the Gulf, particularly from Iran, could shuttle oil to the Port, with Supertankers off-taking the crude oil from the tank farms through submerged oil pipelines off-port. Being outside the war zone Iran would be more than happy to have all forms of supplies that could be brought through Gwadar which can be shuttled to the near port of Chah Bahar by barges and tugs or even by a road blasted through the countryside.

We can very well offer (once hostilities in Afghanistan cease) an alternate transit port facilities thereby easing Karachi/Qasim Port congestion. It provides us a strategic alternate if Karachi is naval blockaded, Chah Bahar can be used reciprocally as our wartime recipient port with barges and tugs ferrying supplies to Jiwani, Gwadar, Pasni, Ormara and even Karachi. The lateral Coastal communications by small ships/barges would be relatively inexpensive. Smaller vessels operating close to the coastline could even be the bait to draw Indian naval forces closer inshore, within range of our land-based air and sea-borne (missile torpedo boats and submarine) forces, thus becoming susceptible to maximum damage inflicted by them.

Gwadar (like Pasni, Ormara and Jiwani) has wide sun-swept beaches, ideal tourist resort country though this thought is in the future. There is not much basic infrastructure to go for natural economic development of the area. While the government should actively pour funds into this area to try and develop this area to make it economically worthwhile, both the Federal Government and the Government of Balochistan may find themselves hamstrung because of the general paucity of funds, they may still try to pump in resources because of socio-economic and strategic reasons. After all a 45 MW power plant has been sanctioned recently for Pasni. We must fall back on the private sector and their ingenuity to have a natural development of the area.

Private sector enterprise brings in its own funds and entrepreneurial skills generating that economic activity which is not stunted by bureaucratic inefficiency and indolence. The private sector looks at commercial and investment banks to provide loans and advances, depending upon the economic viability of their enterprise. Given Gwadar’s vast potential the need arises to make a proper master blueprint for the city right at the outset so that later as the port city develops we may not be constrained due to faulty planning.

Knowledgeable consultants (such as those with experience in developing Dhahran and Jebel Ali) with good access to information and with no paucity of resources must be mandated to establish a complete economic blueprint. The sketch of a broad economic plan on a wide canvas understood by laymen is possible even now. The first priority for Gwadar is to ensure electricity and water, these are the basic ingredients of economic life. To that end, we may encourage foreign investors in collaboration with locals to come up with fresh ideas. An innovative Power-cum-Desalination Plant based on refuse/waste wood has recently been accepted in principle by the Federal Government and the Government of Balochistan along with an adjacent Free Trade Zone (FTZ). The advantage of having an FTZ is that you attract foreign investment to the area and thus create new job opportunities. But at the very first instance we must establish a Power Plant-cum-Desalination Plant with the utmost speed in keeping with the PM’s promise to the people of Gwadar (and the coastal areas) during her visit recently.

With the availability of electricity and water, some industrial activity needs to be ensured so that economically the Power Plant and Desalination Plant produce at their maximum efficiency. Thus the adjacent FTZ will off-take electricity and water. With more job opportunities, a permanent well-planned township will be necessary with its own economic ramifications. All these will act as economic force-multipliers for the region, building upon each other, creating an internal dynamism of its own.

One of the reasons that industry is running away from Karachi is because of the law and order problem. Gwadar will have to have built-in security planned from the outset with industrial, residential and commercial areas so planned that areas can be isolated both from civil disturbances or external interference. To that purpose in order to give investor confidence, GoP must plan that the last resort of steadfastness in Pakistan, the Pakistan Armed Forces, must have a strong contingent nearby, with naval and air presence in some strength. Gwadar will not remain a hardship post, in fact will almost certainly become a mini-Dubai with its quasi-free port status. This security blanket may be extended to the adjacent areas as an effective check against the normal smuggling.

The planning of a new city in Gwadar can be very exciting and one can plan development between the sea port and the airport in a conducive manner. The Free Trade Zone must have ready-to-move-in buildings complete with electricity, water and telecommunication facilities. For the blue and white collar workers futuristic townships complete with shopping malls, schools and colleges, hospitals, restaurants, entertainment centres, playing areas, etc. should be planned. The area of the sun-swept beaches can be earmarked for future five-star hotels. Right from the beginning, treatment plants for sewage water must be put in place to ensure re-cycled water for parks, playgrounds, gardens, etc. The scope of imagination must be multi-dimensional to create futuristic cities in Gwadar, Ormara, Pasni and Jiwani.

The foremost problem is the lack of availability of finances with the GoP but in fact the private sector may be allowed to bear a fair burden. A strong military presence will add not only to the creation of a cosmopolitan populace but enhance the regional economy. With revenues coming in rapidly, GoP and the people of Balochistan will benefit tremendously. The economic and strategic purpose must be explained to the Iranians at the highest level, who may even be helpful to whatever extent they can, maybe even establish a refinery in Gwadar for their oil. We must stay firm on our own national interests with respect to opposition from any quarter, after all Pakistanis are third of fourth class citizens in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc., and our expatriates are coming back in droves. We must have our own mini-Dubai to keep the economic life humming but in an area where as Pakistanis we maintain our self-respect by being first class citizens in our own country. India will certainly not be happy because of their long-term ambitions in the Gulf Region and the development of our coastline particularly Gwadar at the entrance of the Gulf makes it potentially into one vast aircraft carrier functioning as an effective antidote to their intentions to replace the US and European presence in the Gulf.

The Pakistan coastal area represents an enormous economic and strategic opportunity. While it creates a diversion for our economic lifeline away from the economic and physical congestion of Karachi, it has long-term strategic benefits manifold for the nation. In this respect, the Federal Government must work in close harmony with the Government of Balochistan, devising suitable mechanics to ensure that commensurate economic benefit is not only ensured for the present population but their rights are secured by law in any potential commercial venture. This must be the subject of reasoned debate with give and take for the benefit of the nation as a whole. In the meantime, the process of economic development must be concentrated on the coastline. The first step must be to immediately develop Gwadar as the focal point of the economic exercise. Many people talk about dreams, how many can turn visions into reality?

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