Insurgency stunts Gwadar progress
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI, Pakistan - Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his visit to Gwadar Port in southwestern Balochistan on April 24, said he wished to see the port one day rival Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and he registered disappointment over the slow pace of its development.
Setting the premier's wishes aside, practically speaking, the development of Gwadar into a fully functional deep-sea port remains elusive. A Chinese firm took operational control of it last January but still has been little progress.
China has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the Gwadar Port project since it launched it with Pakistan in 2001. The port, near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman and close to the Strait of
Hormuz, will provide Beijing with its the shortest access to to Iranian and Middle East oil.
However, no construction work has yet been started to connect the port, as was planned, with western China through road and rail links. There is one principal reason behind the delay - the deteriorating law and order situation in insurgency-hit Balochistan.
One should keep in mind that development does not bring peace, rather it is peace that brings development. Balochistan province has not been safe for Chinese engineers and workers, with several attacked and killed in the past decade.
It is no secret that the development of Gwadar into a regional hub port also upsets many geopolitical players. Some observers believe that the 2004 killing of three Chinese engineers in Gwadar indicates international interference.
For some countries, a fully operational Gwadar port under Chinese management would present a threat to their interests. This is why they are conspiring to destabilize Balochistan.
Pakistan's intelligence agencies have repeatedly accused India of using bases in Afghanistan to fuel unrest in Balochistan. India's Research Analysis Wing is accused of training and arming Baloch separatists and of financing the separatist insurgency in the province.
A fully functional Gwadar would provide Islamabad with an alternative naval base that would not be within easy reach of the Indian Navy and Air Force, in case of another war between the arch-rivals. It was during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 that strategic planners in Islamabad considered development of an additional port on the Balochistan coast (away from Karachi) to be very important from a defense point of view.
New Delhi also likely frets about the value of Gwadar Port for China's strategic interests, since it would also provide important access for Beijing's increasingly powerful navy to the Indian Ocean.
India and China are competitors in the global energy game. India is rated as the world's number six energy consumer, and is developing Chahbahar port in Iran, which would provide access to Central Asia and Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistani territory. New Delhi sees Chahbahar port an alternative to Gwadar.
Dr Robert G Wirsing in a monograph, "Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources" published by the US Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) in April 2008, pointed out that the context of today's Baloch separatist-motivated insurgency differs in important respects from that of its 1970s predecessor, most fundamentally in terms of energy resource developments in what some are calling the "Asian Middle East" (encompassing parts of South, Central, and Southwest Asia):
This change in the energy context exerts a powerful threefold impact on the insurgents' prospects - first, by lifting Balochistan and Baloch nationalism to a point much higher on the scale of central government priorities, warranting, as the government sees the problem, zero tolerance and a crushing response; second, by arming the Baloch insurgents both with greater incentives for reclaiming control of Balochistan and with the capacity to drive up the economic and political costs to the government of continuing insurgent activity; and third (on a more hopeful note), by creating major opportunities - specifically, by turning Balochistan into an important energy conduit in the region - to address Baloch nationalist demands in a positive and mutually acceptable manner."
Gwadar could emerge as a seaport of immense economic importance, opening up the hinterland of Balochistan for trade and industrial activities.
As a natural choice for major shipping lines, this means Gwadar port has emerged as a threat to many hub ports of the region located on its western and eastern sides. It was due to this fact that the handing over of the operations of Gwadar port to Dubai Port World (DP World) was opposed by some local analysts.
The dream of a fully functional Gwadar port will only come true if peace and stability returns to Balochistan. One should resolve the issues at local level first by redressing the grievances of the Baloch masses. If the local people had some reservations about the developments taking place on their soil, then these should have been addressed and removed rather than ignored or suppressed by force.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, [email protected]