If we go by the plans of the federal government, Gwadar is poised to become the key to the success of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Corridor is expected to bring in $46 billion worth of development projects to Pakistan, linking China’s Kashgar to Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
However, what is not visible in the mainstream debate on this project and on the expected ‘windfall benefits’ for Pakistan, is this: that Gwadar district, which will form the backbone of this plan, is so underdeveloped that it lacks even the basic amenities such as electricity, clean water, gas supply and internet connectivity.
These problems are further compounded by the fact that Pakistan satiates a major portion of its fuel needs from the gas extracted at Sui Gas Field, located in the Dera Bugti region of Balochistan. While gas supply from Sui goes as far as the remote towns of Punjab and Sindh, most of Balochistan has no access to it. In Gwadar city, a mere 10% of the population has Sui gas supply while the rest have to rely on other fuels which are far more expensive. This is how the situation stands, more than 60 years since the natural gas reserves in Sui were discovered.
Not only that, power supply in Gwadar, Pasni, Ormara and Jeevani are continuously a point of contention with the local population. Today, for instance, residents of Ormara blocked the Coastal Highway linking Karachi to Gwadar, after ten days of no electric supply. Both men and women participated in the protest which resulted in long lines of traffic on both sides of the blockade. PakVoices correspondent from Gwadar, Elahi Bakhsh, had this to say of the protest:
Similarly, political parties from Jeevani travelled to Gwadar city and staged a protest in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office after a whole week of power loadshedding in Jeevani. According to our correspondent in Gwadar, power supply to Jeevani went dark after Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO) shut down a generator in a local power house due to fuel shortage. Assistant Commissioner negotiated with the protesters and promised that power supply to Jeevani will be restored soon.
This is not the first time residents of these cities have resorted to peaceful protests and demonstrations over electricity and water supply woes.
To add to these woes is the chronic internet connectivity problem all along the Makran coast. Although PTCL broadband internet is available in all towns along the Makran coast, connectivity is intermittent and during a given week, users get to enjoy only a few hours of internet access. Despite that, they have to pay the full monthly bill of the service.
The results are catastrophic. National Testing Service (NTS) is a national educational institution in Pakistan. NTS is charged with managing the entry tests for different educational institutions as well tests for available positions in government departments. However, most of NTS tests require online forms to be downloaded, completed and submitted. People in Makran bemoan that due to the absence of internet connectivity, they often end up missing up on these opportunities.
PTCL officials in the area refuse to give a specific reason for such abysmal internet connectivity. Gwadar residents complain that the PTCL broadband supply comes from Turbat, one of the more sensitive areas in Balochistan, rather than coming directly from Karachi. According to them, an internet line from Karachi to Gwadar would be far more safe. And if security situation is to be blamed for connectivity woes, such an alternate would be more stable.
Perched along the 760-kilometer coastal belt, these town also lack key health and educational facilities. Their residents have to rush to Karachi or Turbat in case of a medical emergency because the local health centers lack doctors, or medicine, or in some cases both. Similarly, schools in Gwadar are in dilapidated states, with students forced to sit on the ground in ruinous buildings to take their classes.
The federal government is currently trying to ensure a corridor from Pakistan-China border at Khunjerab all the way to Gwadar. At the same time, the government claims that this will bring prosperous days and development to Gwadar and adjoining areas. But that warrants the question: is development of these areas bound to the Economic Corridor project?
And that why aren’t these areas developed with a same sense of priority and urgency as cities like, say, Lahore or Karachi are. The provincial and federal governments continue to put the blame on each other, at the insurgents in the province, at the security situation but at the end of the day, it is the common citizens that suffer from a lack of even the basic facilities. The State needs to take responsibility for this, and at least being to address these grievances if it genuinely wants to turn Gwadar into the ‘Dubai of tomorrow.’