Exploiting potential of Gwadar Port
Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat
The former president General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf had inaugurated the strategically-located Gwadar Port on March 20, 2007. The port then unfortunately became a white elephant as the government, as per its commitment, failed to build and connect it with the Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan for trade activities and provide land to a Singaporean firm for building an industrial zone. Subsequently, the concession holder, the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA), failed to invest $525 million it had promised and the project stalled. Subsequent attempts to make the project fully operational were also stymied.
Given its importance, it is unfortunate that the issue of Gwadar Port has not been taken up and resolved by the government of Pakistan and the Ministry of Ports and Shipping at the earliest.
The truth is the concerned political leaders are often found involved in passing the buck on to others instead of tackling the issue. In an important meeting on August 28 last year, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Ports and Shipping was told that contractual obligations with the Port Authority of Singapore could not be met as the government had failed to transfer 584 acres of land possessed by the Pakistan Navy to the authority and because of other land issues.
In fact, the contract agreement that the Ministry of Ports and Shipping signed with the PSA is largely to be blamed for all the ills. Instead of safeguarding the business interests of both the parties, rules were bent to provide undue benefits to concession holders. One former chairman of the authority had claimed in a report published in 2009 that once the PSA disinvested in the port, the party really interested in running the port would come to the fore. The political quarters of Balochistan have sought cancellation of the contract with the concession holders on the ground that the deal signed with it was one-sided. A former naval chief has also endorsed the fact. The development of hinterland infrastructure of Gwadar Port has been neglected and no roads and rail network has been put in place to increase the effectiveness of the port. In the context of current events, instead of acquiring land for hinterland, the focus seems to be on land grabbing.
It is believed that at the root of many of the reasons for failure to develop the port at Gwadar are fears of some political quarters that with the development of another port, the importance of the port at Karachi would be minimized and they would lose political mileage. All fears in this regard are absurd as the port in Gwadar will complement the Karachi Port.
There is little doubt that the concerned political quarters have not shown much eagerness in resolving the issue with the PSA. One can only speculate if the fate of the project would be compared in future with the tale of woes of Pakistan Railways, Steels Mills and PIA.
There should be an unmistakable change of emphasis now and the political leadership spearheading the project should show greater maturity and understanding of maritime issues, fully exploit the potential of the Gwadar Port and transform it into a hub of trade and economic activities. It is also hoped that inconsequential short term political interests would not be overshadowed by strategic long-term national interests. The ball is in the court of the government and the top political leadership of the country, which should immediately take corrective measures, put the port back into the spotlight and make it fully operational.