Building Gwadar The Right Way

In what has become a widely circulated image in Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef drove the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif around in an open top jeep in an inspection of the M-8 highway – a part of the China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC).

While most commentators jibed at the power dynamic between the two Sharifs the image represented, the pace of development in CPEC was largely overlooked. Earlier in January, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had inaugurated the western route of the (CPEC) in Balochistan’s Zhob and laid the foundation stones of two other projects in Zhob and Dera Ghazi Khan. The completion of the M-8 – linking Gwadar with Khosab – lends credence to the government’s claims that the CPEC is its top developmental priority.

And while construction of the main infrastructure must be commended, it is the neglect of collateral and ancillary projects that mars any positive statement. The local residents of Gwadar – most of who are traditional fishermen – complain that their fishing zones are being encroached upon by the government.

Plans for resettlement of persons displaced due to the construction in the port city have also hit snags, while development in healthcare and education sectors still has not materialised despite promises by various national leaders. The government has painted a glittering image of economic prosperity that will flow from the CPEC, yet at the moment the vast majority of Gwadar locals remain poor and neglected.

Economic and social development of Gwadar and the adjoining areas should keep pace with infrastructural development, as this mismatch is fueling the resentment the government is fighting so hard to diminish. In Balochistan the port city is still viewed as a project for the Chinese, manned and operated by foreigners and workers from other provinces. A view that is solidified when roads and security fences get built and civic projects are mothballed. The government’s assertion that development will bring prosperity that will eventually trickle down to the locals may well be true, but repeating that mantra does nothing to ease the short-term grievances of the locals. Nor can they be expected to wait for such a time when the port is developed enough to support their small scale businesses.

The government is doing great work to build the CPEC so quickly, but it will be undone if the reasons for the discontent and insurgency are not addressed. It must be remembered that while the Chinese are building at great pace in Gwadar, they are still accompanied by armed guards.