Jan 05 - 18, 2009

December 21, 2008 was indeed a red letter day in the history of Balochistan when long delayed Gwadar Port became operational with unloading a ship which arrived from Qatar followed by 5 more ships arriving from different countries.

The credit for making the only port of the province goes to the Chief Minister, Mohammad Aslam Raisani who made relentless efforts to ensure that the Port becomes fully operational within the year 2008. Believe it or not the Gwadar Port has been inaugurated four times in a short period of three years.

It witnessed two ceremonies during Pervez Musharraf's era and one in Caretaker setup and the fourth by the PPP-led coalition government. After the completion of two berths on the Eastern Bay of the hammer-head port of Gwadar by the Chinese company the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz attended a signing ceremony with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) in early 2006.

The occasion was also called a soft opening of the port. With a little gap of one month former President Parvez Musharraf on March 23, 2006 held another ceremony to formally inaugurate the Gwadar Port. The occasion witnessed unprecedented number of around 35 air sorties made by C-130 aircrafts and other VVIP aircrafts carrying almost everyone, who mattered in Islamabad. There were MNAs and MPAs and people in uniform, who stood behind their military boss.

But the worst part of the entire show was that even after spending millions of rupees on the ceremony it remained a cosmetic inauguration as the port had yet to become fully operational. For the consumption of the press the organizers created a show to make every one believe that the port has become operational. A national flag carrier ship was given berth at the port along with a foreign container vessel.

A dummy container was unloaded and with it the port was inaugurated by the president. The third ceremony took place during the Caretaker set up when the then Ports and Shipping Minister Dr. Fahim Ansari went all the way to Gwadar to inaugurate the unloading of wheat from a ship that was refused berth initially owing to its weight. The vessel loaded with 70,000 tons wheat of over 50,000DWT (dead weight tonnage) was no match for the jetty of the deep sea port. Therefore, the PNSC vessel, 'Hyderabad' was engaged for the lighterage operation so that the vessel can unload.

On Sunday, Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Mohammad Islam Raisin and State Minister for Ports and Shipping Nabil Gabol performed yet another ceremony when the first vessel loaded with fertilizer was allowed berth at the Gawadar Port. Five more vessels with fertilizer are also expected over the next few days. Federal Minister for Port and Shipping has lauded the efforts of Balochistan Chief Minister for making Gwadar seaport functional.

Addressing as chief guest the ceremony of the offloading of 30,000 tons urea imported from Qatar in Gwadar, the minister said that the people of Balochistan must be proud of their CM who stood with his cardinal principle for getting the rights of Balochistan. He said that the CM's steps were commendable for presenting sentiments of the people of Balochistan before the President and the PM legitimately and got accepted the demands regarding the Gwadar port. He said that the credit of Gwadar port making functional went to Raisani who made sincere efforts for the purpose. Raisani said that Gawadar port was an asset of Balochistan, "and we would neither allow anyone to occupy our resources nor allow converting Baloch into minority". He said that the agreement concluded with a Singapore company would be reviewed and subsequently the agreement would be amended if found necessary. "The agreement favors Balochistan and its people. We want an agreement which promotes and protects interests of Balochistan," he added.

He said that all federating units must get their provincial rights in the light of Lahore Resolution-1940. "Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto was the only politician who could maintain the federating units intact, but now she is no more among us and it is the responsibility of the incumbent federal government to keep intact and strengthen the federating units by granting rights of the provinces in the light of the resolution-1940," he said. He directed the Gawadar Port Authority (GPA) officials to provide job opportunities to local unemployed youths.

The CM expressed anger and dissatisfaction over non-local laborers offloading urea from the vessel, and directed the concerned officials to provide such jobs to local youths. He said that his government had made efforts for making the port functional to give fruits to the local people and directed the MPA from Gawadar to keep vigil that jobs should be provided to the local people in the port city.

He said: "If we can not benefit the local people by making functional the mega project then it would be useless". He said that his government was taking initiatives for granting control to the local people over their resources and granting their rights in the province. The CM thanked the President, PM and Nabil for taking personal interest for making the port functional. He said that Gwadar deep seaport had not only regional significance, but it had international importance in view of its geo-strategic location. He said that development of the area would continue and he himself would supervise the overall progress of the coastal areas of the province.

The Chief Minister of Balochistan demanded the President and Prime Minister that Gawadar port agreement with the Singapore Port Authority should be thoroughly reviewed and it should be made in accordance with the wishes of the people of Balochistan. "Gawadar Port is a property of the people of Balochistan and their rights should be recognized," he said, adding that unfortunately people of Gwadar were not allowed to visit the Port as all authorities were with Singapore Port Authority.

He said that former ruler completely neglected people of Balochistan in the past and inked pacts in accordance with their wishes due to which this agreement doesn't reflect the aspirations of the people. However, Nawab Aslam Raisani said that the incumbent government had made commitments to remove all reservations and grievances of people of Balochistan and would not allow any usurper to further plunder the resources of the deprived province. He said that the agreement with Singapore Authority would be completely reviewed and if any thing found against the interests of Balochistan he would move the court against it.

The Chief Minister said that he was emphasizing from early days of his government that all units of federation should be given rights according to the 1940 resolution so that harmony and cohesion could be created among the people of all units. He hailed the efforts of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Nabeel Gabol for making Gwadar Port operational and said that the day was not far when Gwadar Port would be a milestone in economic development of the province and the country. He assured that all employees working in Gwadar Port on daily wages would be made permanent and laborers would also be hired from local people.

It is only natural that Balochistan will have certain apprehensions after years of exploitation, but paranoia will not help. That the province and its inhabitants deserve to get their due share not just in the Gwadar operations, but in respect of all Baloch resources is not under debate; and cannot be. But the technicality of port operations and the need for skilled labor are realities that cannot be ignored; and should not be. While such issues will take some time to be settled, the authorities should focus on improving the road infrastructure to facilitate the distribution of goods from the port onwards. In the absence of a durable network, the duration and cost of transportation will work against the economics of the operation which will be good neither for Balochistan nor for the rest of Pakistan.