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Gwadar — the dream city of South East Asia

It has the potential to become a port of regional importance

By SHEIKH JAVAID-Life Member—FPCCI
July 09 - 15 , 2001

A village, town or a city, whatever you may call it, one thing is sure that this part of our country carries a far better future than it was realized a few years back.

Gwadar is a neglected city of a neglected province. The Province, which is the largest in terms of area, is the smallest by virtue of its population statistics situated at a strategic geographic point. It is about half way between Karachi and the UAE, close to Sultanate of Oman and Iran. After the war with India in early 70s the importance of another port was seriously realized though no long-term infrastructure could be initiated for a deep-water port in Gwadar.

However putting-up a fish-harbour or a Mini port as they call it was built which has the facility to handle vessels and boats with 1000 tons of cargo. A deep sea water port which is being advocated would provide cargo handling capacity of 100,000 tons or even more. It is an admitted fact that transportation of cargo by sea is the cheapest mode of all over the world. As such countries who have seaports at their disposal can easily overcome their economic problems if they have some. Other developed nations are using these ports to increase their exports and are earning substantial foreign exchange. We are also a maritime nation and to a great extent, fight out the fragile condition of our economy by developing new ports and increasing capacities of the existing ports at Karachi and Bin Qasim.

Before expecting the desired results the roads and highways will have to develop, built and improved for the safe and speedy transportation of man and cargo. These facilities are fully established and opened to users. Gwadar and its surrounding different areas will give an altogether different look than it does today. In many previous statements, articles and columns on 'Gwadar, Balochistan' and 'Coast of Mekran', I had pointed out that there could be a mad rush of investors, traders, industrial contractors, shipping companies and even local businessmen and industrialists for economic activities in diversified fields.

The development of a port city at Gwadar seems to be an action replay of Karachi having not more than a population of 50,000 at the time of independence of Pakistan which is today a metropolis with a population of 14 million plus. Population of Gwadar is about 30,000. The population growth is likely to multiply geometrically as soon as the economic prosperity comes 'honey and bees live together'.

The incident of blockade of cargo movement including stalled transportation of oil on account of war between Iran and Iraq must be fresh in the minds of the people, when the Gulf waterway was made unsafe with use of missiles besides other weapons. Similarly same scenario was witnessed during Iraq-Kuwait war. This tense situation, the region has at number of times suspended smooth transportation in the region. Once Gwadar port is built and opened it will not only be useful for Pakistani exporters and importers but also attract central Asian States to use this port for their cargo shipments. As a result Gwadar is bound to play a role of a regional hub.

Second and equally important factor which plays a pivotal role in uplifting Gwadar's status is the energy reserves in Asian States. Central Asian States would certainly like to get a better outlet for energy both in terms of price and volume. Gwadar would offer an outlet to the CAS countries much better than what the Western world, which has the history of exploiting Russian and other socialist states in the area of sales and transportation of commercial and industrial cargo. For many years the Western world had been charging exorbitantly for transportation of goods. More interestingly, the socialist bloc was being paid much less for their products as compared to international prices. These were the major reasons of the Russian Bloc to dream for 'hot waters'.

Gwadar which is certainly going to be a success story in terms of attracting investors both local and foreign by declaring Gwadar as a free zone and the development of an export processing zone at the coastal areas like Ormara and Gwadar. It will be interesting to know that a large number of Pakistani entrepreneurs are willing to invest in the coastal area while the upcountry importers especially from NWFP and Balochistan will feel a relief from going through the hassles of congestion at the busy port of Karachi.

Gwadar has the potential to become a port of regional importance.