Confidence between locals with foreign investors needs to be maintained
The political leaders and local people have been expressing their serious reservations since the mega seaport project was launched at Gwadar in March 2002. Whereas the local people have attached great expectations from the development of Gwadar port, they also have serious reservations about the fast-track development process in the port city.
In the past, Balochistan has witnessed insurgencies in 1948, 1958, 1962 and 1973. Military operations were undertaken to quell them. The military operation of 1973 lasted for full four years 1973-77. In December 2005, a military operation for the fifth time was launched to quell a Baloch insurgency in the province.
Balochistan is currently facing a mild insurgency. Baloch nationalist political parties have serious reservations about the ongoing process of economic development in Balochistan. The immediate cause of resentment among Baloch population was the realization of lack of employment opportunities for the local people in the ongoing mega projects like Gwadar port; and then the former government’s plans to set up military cantonments in Mari, Bugti tribal areas and Gwadar. The Baloch nationalists contend that the rulers can spend billion of rupees for establishing cantonments but they have nothing to spend for supply of drinking water to the people of the province.
Baloch nationalist parties resent over the Islamabad’s firm control over the way the province’s economy is managed. On the other hand, the perception of a rapid economic progress poses a threat to centuries-old feudal status of tribal chiefs under which they have been enjoying power and exploiting the people.
Change of demography
Gwadar is likely to allure the people from other three provinces and abroad for availing job opportunities and settling their businesses in Balochistan. This will cause a massive influx of outsiders into the sparsely populated province. At present, Gwadar has a population of nearly 100,000 but the grandiose schemes and projects that have been announced will need, according to an estimate, at least a million people. The local people are apprehensive about the expected change in demography of the province through a large-scale influx of outsiders. They fear that they would be changed into minority in their own province. They feel a threat to their identity. Nationalist political parties believe that the local people would see the control of outsiders over the natural resources of their province, as Gwadar port will provide enormous opportunities for exploitation of natural resources of the province.
Need is to lean from Dubai’s experience. Foreigners constituting about 85 percent of the UAE population have never been able to buy their own property since the UAE was created in 1971. They have been forced to live in rented accommodation-owned by UAE nationals. Today in UAE, the local population can be seen enjoying the real estate boom due to the business opportunities and economic activities that received a boost after arrival of businessmen, investors and corporate people from different parts of the world.
Apprehensions about Gwadar master plan
There were apprehensions among the local people that their legitimate interests would not be defended during implementation of Gwadar Master Plan (GMP). Idea of resettlement of the entire town and quick shifting has been unpopular among the local residents.
In other words, they are not prepared for the sudden changes in the status quo. According to one estimate, Rs10 billion will consume in the process of resettlement and shifting of old town. The official authorities have refuted the impression that implementation of GMP would affect the legitimate interests and rights of local people. The main aim of the GMP is to ensure the integrated development of the port and town.
In existing scheme of the things, the urban area is constrained by the land available in the headland. These areas have limited opportunities for development as compared to the mainland. The master plan aims at providing the equitable development of Gwadar by preventing haphazard urbanization and setting aside land for different sectors and locations through balanced allocations.
The government needs to develop low-cost and decent housing scheme equipped with all vital civic facilities for the local people, who are at present living in semi-pucca houses in Gwadar. This uplift in their living standard would also help in winning their confidence and making them partners in development and prosperity. Local people are apprehensive about issue of land ownership in Gwadar.
There is a dire need for qualified and professional port staff for successful marketing of the port management to potential customers, building of export processing zone, transshipment and warehousing facilities, fixing of port tariffs for shipping companies in order to be competitive.
Can Balochistan provide the required human resources? It seems that primary beneficiaries of the ongoing mega projects in the province would be the non-locals and outsiders as locals fear that government could use the pretext of technological backwardness of the people justifying the recruitment and appointment of outsiders in different capacities in the port-related projects.
The technological backwardness in Balochistan is feared to go against the interest of local people who may be deprived of having jobs in the projects for lack of skill and expertise. It is ironical that for the past 65 years, no efforts were made to develop infrastructure in the province ignoring its vast economic potentials and geo-strategic location.
It is a proven fact that the use of military might has been ineffective in bringing about a political or social change in a society. The only way out from the current Balochistan crisis is to promote political reconciliation and developing the province economically.
Local people should be given stake in their province’s development, as only the local stakeholders can ensure steady and speedy development process. Their sense of alienation can be removed by bringing them on board and making them partners in the development. Steps should be taken by the government to get the local population involved in the development process. Their active involvement can help winning their confidence vis-à-vis the ongoing development projects including Gwadar port.
The examples of Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Dubai, Sharjah, USA, UK, Canada and score of other regions may be cited in the world where people have got together from different parts of the world joining hands with the local population in the development of the area. The local population of those areas was least bothered with the presence of the people of different races and creeds, as the people of the relevant area have been the primary beneficiary of the development and getting their share on priority basis.