TURNING Gwadar into a modern port must become one of Pakistan’s planning priorities, Indian objections being irrelevant and of no consequence. As the foreign office spokesman said on Wednesday, it was none of New Delhi’s business which country or party Islamabad decided to work with on that port. A day earlier, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony had said that China’s “role” in Gwadar was “a matter of concern”. His remarks came after Pakistan handed over the management of the port from Singapore’s PSA International to state-run Chinese Overseas Port Holdings. Already, Pakistan is quite late in making Gwadar a going concern. Even though it was little better than a fishing village when Pakistan acquired it from Oman in 1958, the decades that followed saw little activity that could develop Gwadar and turn it into a major port to give relief to the overworked Karachi docks.
A flurry of development activity took place in Gwadar and Balochistan during the last decade. Though this produced some justified resentment among a section of the Baloch, who feared they would be denied the benefits of progress, the port was nevertheless developed with Chinese help and is now in a position to receive bigger ships. But sloth has characterised activities at the port for quite some time. This needs to be altered, and Gwadar readied for the vital part it has to play in the region’s economic development. Situated close to the Straits of Hormuz, this Makran coast port has the potential to become the hub of an energy corridor running all the way from China’s western parts to the oil-rich Gulf. But this presupposes both the prioritisation of Gwadar’s development and the improvement of law and order in the hinterland. With unsettled conditions in Balochistan, Gwadar’s development into a bustling commercial port will remain a dream.