OPERATIONASLISING GWADAR PORT - A CHALLENGE FOR THE NEW GOVT.

Mar 24 - 30, 2008

Col (R) Fazal-e-Maqbool Afridi, Chief Executive, M/S Gwadar Business Associates (Pvt) Ltd.

1. The first ship carrying 50,000 tons of wheat will dock at Gwadar Port on 15 March 2008, and we still don't know about the second ship. Any how, congratulations to the present government for whatever they have done so far, and the rest they should leave to the incoming government.

2. It is a fact that Gwadar Port is geo-strategically important. The importance increases, because it is a deep sea port. Secondly, it is on a main shipping route and thirdly, many countries are dependent on it.

3. The importance / construction of Gwadar Port was conceived way back in fifties, once the area was acquired from the Government of Oman. Invariably, all governments tried to construct it, but unfortunately it was not constructed for reasons best known to them.

4. The present government deserves its share of praise for constructing the port on priority. Moreover, the present government took up mega projects in Mekran Division e.g construction of 500 km of Coastal Highway, 900 km M-8 (connecting Gwadar - Turbat - Khuzdar & Rato-dero), Mirani Dam and of course the Gwadar Deep Sea Port. The present government has done so much for Mekran Division that one would think that Gwadar will be the election slogan of the government. But due to lack of insight, policy failures or incompetence, things did not materialize in favour of the government. At the same time the present government must be blamed for not operating the port which has taken more than 3 years to build. The reasons could be foreign pressure, the law and order situation in the province, personal commitments of the President due to the prevailing political situation of the country.

5. The Gwadar project has not been marketed at national or international level. But due to its potential and viability, everybody knows about it in-depth, especially people abroad. The hue and cry raised by Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta is fully justified in all respects whether it is for defense, economics or other reasons. Had this project been properly marketed at government level, it would have taken off by now. Unnecessary delay will further complicate and undermine the project and billions of rupees and time spent on it, will go waste. The sooner we realize it the better it would be.

6. Lets forget and forgive as per our national psyche- done is done - and turn our attention to the newly (being) formed government of PPP & PML (N). Both parties have made tall claims in their speeches that Gwadar was their baby. We may or may not agree to their claims but it will be a test case for them to make the port operational so as to justify their claims and ultimately reap the fruits of this mega project.

7. The potential of the Gwadar project is enormous as a new deep sea port city is coming up. Port cities act as magnets to attract businesses of any kind and magnitude. Name the business or any development project and it will be undertaken and will start from scratch. For this the government should be well informed and a step ahead of public perception/demands, so as to develop it in a planned and systematic manner.

8. Gwadar project can give jobs to thousands of people of the country in a short span of time. Secondly, the money which is flowing abroad can be invested within the country. Thirdly it will enhance national confidence. Fourthly, many foreign investors will come. To say the least, developing new projects in the country has far reaching benefits in comparison to loans and outside jobs begging for each and every penny and job. We have to broaden and diversify our economic base to bring prosperity to the common man.

9. Across the sea, the Dubai Port which has no comparison with Gwadar Port is booming due to trade & business. By no means do I wish to undermine the Dubai Port, rather I must appreciate the good governance of the government. They have created such a conducive environment for investors that every body wants to invest there including us Pakistanis. Though there is no harm in diversifying business, had the government given a few incentives at Gwadar, the whole scenario would have been in favour of Gwadar and Pakistan.

10. The present government may have certain reservations with regard to the port (construction / operators etc) but they must carry it forward and should not be haunted by egoistic approach. They should operationalize it, make it a viable project and take all the credit for it. They will be right in their claim because in this era of high technology, construction is not a problem, but the real problem is to operationalize projects. Presently, to operationalize any project required deep insight, commitment, resources and much dedication. I am sure that the present government has the capability to operationalize it soon as they have the experience, expertise and of course a commitment to the nation. If they succeed in this they can enjoy a winning streak during the next election, with slogans such as:-

"Gwadar is Mine"

"I Developed Gwadar"

"Build Gwadar & Develop Pakistan"

11. To the incoming government it is suggested that they should take it as a challenge and pursue it vigorously. For this the government should make Gwadar a state within a state; having its own rules, regulations & by-law etc to cater for the business community and investors. An effective and capable administrator be appointed, who has the vision and ability to work. A team of dedicated professionals from all fields should be selected on merit, from all over the country (including a quota for Balochistan). The boundaries of Gwadar be earmarked and fenced. Anybody entering it should have a feeling of security and good environment for business and trade.

12. To summarize, the new government should take this project seriously and make it operational. The people responsible should chalk out a policy and give security to the investors. I think the rest will be looked after by nature and time itself.