COMMENT : Pouring oil over raging fires

Gwadar with deeper Chinese involvement will become the new battleground of Baloch nationalism versus the Pakistani establishment and Chinese interests

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

When a person, in his opening lines, terms the May 28, 1998 Chaghai nuclear explosion as historic, it creates misgivings about the purpose of that write up. Mr Usama Nizamani in his article “Gwadar: an emerging paradigm for Pakistan and the region” (Daily Times, March 19, 2013) did just that. Celebrating any nuclear explosion as historic is a downright insult to the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s victims. It is analogous to celebrating ‘small pox’ and ‘Black Death’ as a blessing for mankind. A nuclear explosion that killed a mountain and adversely affects those living there can only be trumpeted as historic by those bent on destroying the world.

Nizamani then lauds the “subsequent development of various precise, improved and successful delivery systems — in order to deter immediate and inter-continental conventional military threats to the country.” Deployment systems, especially in the hands of trigger-happy persons and institutions only make nuclear weapons exponentially dangerous. Giving fancy names like Strategic Command and Control Support System (SCCSS) does not make nuclear weapons any more attractive than Vanity Fair ads would make Black Death or small pox.

The writer considers handing of Gwadar to China as “better late than never” and hopes that the “economic and strategic window of opportunity created by handing over of Gwadar port to China” will unfold new “strategic and economic horizons.” He conveniently overlooks Baloch resentment but then the Baloch concerns are of no consequence to those who see Balochistan as terra nullius. Support for Gwadar’s exploitation amounts to subscribing to the establishment’s approach of the systematic elimination of the Baloch. It also helps empower those who abet and collude in atrocities against the Baloch people.

Nizamani reflects on the imagined economic future benefits from Gwadar and estimates that the “revenue of $ 40 billion and the generation of two million jobs can be an impetus for Pakistan as an emerging economy.” He emphasises the need for providing it with private sector investment in infrastructure to make it “a full-fledged urbanised port-city”. He probably does not know that the past private and public sector attempts at urbanisation were a mayhem of corruption and plunder.

That loot is well illustrated by the Supreme Court’s (SC) division bench comprising of Justice Javed Iqbal and Justice Raja Fayaz Ahmad’s judgment in civil petition No 123-Q/2006. They observed, “The allotment of land in Gwadar has been made in violation of the policies formulated by the government itself. The discretionary power has been exercised in an arbitrary and capricious manner, which has been cited as a clear example of abuse of authority and misuse of power. Nobody knows how the settled land owned by the state has been transferred to private sector, that too on peanut price, which depicts lack of transparency and mismanagement.” The loot continues as the SC directives are not worth the paper they are written on. The December 2009 directive to demolish Makro Habib remains unimplemented. The top brass including Pervez Musharraf and top bureaucrats own choice plots in Gwadar’s Singhar Housing Colony. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself would sink a thousand Titanics and this is just one of the icebergs. The iceberg of brutality and repression is much larger.

As far back as May 2003, even the pro-establishment parties called strikes against the Gwadar Master Plan. The Baloch concern about Gwadar’s potential for wreaking havoc with the province’s demography is not only overlooked by Nizamani but has been considered a positive. The establishment’s Gwadar policies pour oil over raging fires. He erroneously believes, “Combined all together and Gwadar will become a breeding ground for an emerging middle-class in the country.” This argument is fallacious and misleading; Karachi, a city of 20 million, has not produced that dream middle-class and has instead produced mafias. How will a city custom built with the express purpose of depriving the Baloch of their rights and narrow militarisation strategic goals achieve that? He erroneously presumes while forgetting that Islamabad was not replicated anywhere, that multiple Gwadar phenomenon replication will occur. Pathetic excuses of middle class emergence and new cities can never provide justification for denial of rights to people in the name of spurious development.

Nizamani praises the naval exercises off the Balochistan coast and comes up with the gem: “The convergence of mutual interest between Pakistan and the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) will enable the two navies, with joint-operational preparedness, to counter common conventional and asymmetrical threats in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The realisation of a nuclear triad by Pakistan will further consolidate its deterrence capability in the naval realm and also enable it to maintain peace and stability in eastern and western waters by flexing its new naval muscle and use it as a negotiation tool where and when required.” Wow. He fails to differentiate between militarisation and progress; he thinks the latter is the former. He envisages developing Gwadar along with militarisation of the seas, which instead of adding to stability in the region will provide more flash points. The fountainheads of this logic are those who think Balochistan’s problem can be militarily solved. Nizamani is an apologist of the brutal policies of the establishment against the Baloch people and an advocate of militarisation of the region.

Believing that Gwadar is defence-wise more secure than Karachi is wishful thinking in an era of modern weapons. Using Gwadar as a springboard for militarisation of the region is sheer injustice to the Baloch people and infringes on their right to peaceful existence. Militarisation of Gwadar not only endangers lives but also deprives the Baloch coastal communities depending on fishing of their opportunities to livelihood. Even without the envisaged expansion there are severe restrictions on their activities and punitive measures like mass damaging of their boats occurs when they disobey the unjustly imposed schedules; nationalists too retaliate by damaging naval launches. In the past, Chinese engineers have been killed and to prevent recurrence, repressive measures against the Baloch will be exponentially increased. Gwadar, as Nizamani himself admits, is much to the advantage of China and fulfils its urgent needs. Gwadar with deeper Chinese involvement will become the new battleground of Baloch nationalism versus the Pakistani establishment and Chinese interests. All attempts at exploitation can only lead to intensification of conflict. Conflict resolution can never be achieved by words alone. The bottom line is that the Gwadar paradigm is that of the exploitation of the Baloch people, an absolute denial of their rights, and militarisation of the region.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

This article was first published in Daily Times on 26 April 2016

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