Gwadar comes to life

It is no exaggeration to say that until the advent of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the port of Gwadar was a large white elephant. It was the ultimate backwater at the end of extended lines of communication, next to no hinterland population that might provide a workforce for any development that might take place, an undrinkable water supply and no reservoirs and a chronic power deficit. It might have been reasonably asked why any government would want to build a city there — from scratch. And then came the Chinese and a long epiphany. Although there is still some way to go, it is at last possible to see some dreams becoming reality. The majority of the roads are recently surfaced and new buildings that include shopping malls and hospitals are appearing. The shanty towns of the fishermen are disappearing and the construction of a five-storey CPEC business centre from brownfield to completion in a little under eight months is commendable.

The Chinese reportedly want 38,000 skilled workers on site and busy by 2023 — there are around 2,500 today so much is expected in a relatively short time frame. Another 5,000 are being trained at the CPEC Technical and Vocational Institute Gwadar. There is to be a new international airport, much needed energy projects, new expressways to make up the infrastructure deficit and — eventually — dams to provide the water that is essential if the project is to succeed.

Welcome as all this is and having our support there is much that lags far behind. The tourism potential is barely touched upon with miles of pristine beaches awaiting inwards investment and foreign customers. There are still not enough people to provide the manpower with the necessary skills to breathe life into the city. There has to be joined-up political thinking and commitment that will span successive governments and the requirements of the primary investor, the Chinese, need to be fulfilled promptly from the Pakistan side, a conditionality that is thus far rarely met as the two cultures operate at different speeds. Gwadar can and should shine, and it is our best hope of substantial long-term development.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2018.

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