By: Raza Rumi
PM Nawaz Sharif termed Gwadar’ Gateway of CPEC’ and an opportunity for ‘prosperity’, while announcing special development packages for the port-city on the Makran coast. This commitment to developing Gwadar is much needed as it is one of the most under-serviced areas of the country. While the government has projected the China Pakistan Economic Corridor as a panacea for all ills facing Pakistan, little attention has been paid to the local population. In fact, talking about underdevelopment irks the authorities when it comes to Gawadar port. Chinese involvement is now a pillar of Pakistan’s security architecture and hard power reality. Sadly, Gawadar lacks basic facilities such as clean drinking water, schools, hospitals, and electricity. Fortunately, PM Nawaz made special reference to the alleviation of poverty in Balochistan, and Gwadar in particular. He hoped that the construction of colleges, universities and the setting up of industries would usher in an era of development revolution.
Given that the lack of clean drinking water has become epidemic, the PM announced a project for the provision of 0.5 million gallons of clean water, providing for a de-salination plant to permanently resolve the issue. The federal and provincial governments must focus on de-salinaiton plants to address the water emergency on a war-footing.
Balochistan, a central part of CPEC and Pakistan’s future economic trajectory, is Pakistan’s poorest province and Gwadar despite its location remains a deprived area. With a population of nearly 300,000 the district needs more services. The education standards in Gwadar are better than the rest of the province but there are still only nine doctors available per 100 thousand people. On the United Nations multidimensional poverty index, Gwadar scores 0.293, with the poverty rate running at 60.8 percent. The PM’s package should be complemented with effective measures by the provincial government to change this situation.
The larger question is whether economic development can take place in an environment of insecurity and in the absence of functioning government institutions? The answer lies in accelerating political reforms and the reconciliation process. PM Nawaz should form a high-powered commission for immediate political and administrative reforms in Balochistan. The need of the hour is to resolve decades-long injustices suffered by the people and address their grievances. The federal government should deliberate announcing a special amnesty to the separatists, while bringing them back in the national political mainstream. Development and rights are interconnected. It is hoped that the policymakers in Islamabad take this into consideration.