Speakers term Gwadar’s retrocession to Pakistan a foreign policy success story
The successful retrocession of Gwadar to Pakistan, especially in view of its geo-economic and geostrategic positioning, underscores the commendable vision and efficiency of Pakistan’s foreign policy actors in its early years. However, the continued failure to benefit from the dividends of retrocession and the poor socio-economic condition of the people of Gwadar speaks volumes of the governance crisis the country is still faced with.
This was the crux of a webinar ‘63 Years of Gwadar’s Retrocession to Pakistan: Achievements, Prospects and Challenges’, which was organized by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad in collaboration with the National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) and the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR).
The legislator from Gwadar, Senator Babar, praised the recent development initiatives under the Southern Balochistan package of the federal government, allocating huge amount of funds for the Southern districts of Balochistan, especially Gwadar’s development.
He also lauded the finalization of the power purchase agreement with the Chinese firm setting up a coal power plant in the emerging port city suffering a severe power crisis. Also, the finalization of transshipment regulations last year for the first time in the country’s history will help realize the true potential of Gwadar, he said.
Regarding Gwadar’s retrocession to Pakistan on 8 September 1958, Senator Kahuda said that his elders and the people of Gwadar rejoiced in becoming part of Pakistan and loved their homeland immensely. It was the will of the people of Gwadar, which provided moral justification and support to the governments in the early years of Pakistan to deal with the British and Omani governments effectively, he stressed.
Vice Admiral Iftikhar Ahmad Rao (retd), addressing the webinar as a keynote speaker earlier, informed that he has narrated in detail in his forthcoming book, Gwatar Bay to Sir Creek, based on archival research that how Pakistan began negotiations over the transfer of Gwadar from Oman to Pakistan right after its independence in 1947. He said, the British government, which played an intermediary role to facilitate negotiations, kept delaying the handover of Gwadar to Pakistan till the ascendance of Feroz Khan Noon as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who went as far as threatening to take Gwadar by force.
He also revealed that Gwadar Development Plan was already in place even before the retrocession took place in 1958. Despite this, Gwadar has not received due attention of policy makers in the country over the decades, he told.
Highlighting various development projects underway in the Rs600bn Southern Balochistan Package recently announced by the federal government, Commodore Jawad Akhtar gave a detailed presentation in the webinar.
He informed that Rs23bn have been allocated for roads and infrastructure development in the city. Work on a 300 MW coal power plant is set to begin this year, he added. Many development projects are being planned under Public-Private partnership schemes, too, he further revealed.
He lamented the lack of enthusiasm on part of the previous governments to focus on the socio-economic development in the districts with the lowest HDI scores, including Gwadar. However, he ensured the people of Gwadar that many development projects regarding skills development, digital connectivity, food security, electricity generation, and water provision have already been launched and are expected to yield long-term benefits for them.
Commodore (r) Dr Anjum Sarfraz shed light on the potential of Gwadar as transshipment hub in the region. He commented that Gwadar port was built to handle transit trade of China, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics (CARs), and serve as a transshipment hub. Nonetheless, port operation progress of Gwadar has remained surprisingly slow despite the fact that Gwadar port as transshipment hub has the capacity to outmatch regional ports provided appropriate steps are taken, he added.
Lamenting upon the lack of housing facilities in Gwadar, Zaigham M. Rizvi argued that the housing scheme promised to be built in 2006 is yet to be completed. He emphasized the need for ensuring ease of doing business for local and foreign investors, and expediting work on development projects so that basic facilities like water and electricity are provided at door step in the port city.
Chairman IPS Khalid Rahman termed the retrocession of Gwadar as a foreign policy success story of Pakistan that needs to be highlighted time and again.
He opined that governance crisis has continued in Pakistan from early years of its formation and Gwadar is no exception to it. However, the new development projects under the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives are expected to address the plight of the local population of Gwadar.
IPS’ Vice Chairman Ambassador (retd) Syed Abrar Hussain, Ambassador (retd) Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, former Pakistan ambassador to China, Dr Kanwar M. Javed Iqbal senior researcher from NIMA, and Farzana Yaqoob, executive director, Centre for Asian-African Studies (CAAS) also spoke on the occasion.