By Kamal Siddiqi
GWADAR: One cannot understand the logic of importing fertilizer through the Gwadar Port given that most of this is then transported through the Coastal Highway to Karachi from where it makes its way to the rest of the country. But there is a method to the madness, explain local officials of the port.
As Pakistan’s first and only bulk cargo terminal in the private sector, the wastage that is witnessed at other ports is not seen in Gwadar. Here, using state of the art machinery, fertilizer is off-loaded and bagged quickly and cleanly. A port official says that since activity started in December 2008, there has been “no theft, no delays and no strikes.”
Pilferage and waste is as high as 5 per cent of total quantities in other ports, which has made some bulk cargo importers now look at Gwadar as an option. Currently, the Trading Corporation of Pakistan is importing fertilizer through the port. Unlike Karachi and Port Qasim, there are no delays here. “Demurrage on charter ships can be as high as $50,000 per day,” says one official. That is why it is making more sense to import through Gwadar.
Port Singapore Authority (PSA) which is running the port, however, says that Gwadar cannot realize its full potential until the M-8 highway, which will connect Gwadar to Awaran and Ratodero and onwards to Punjab and beyond, is built. It was first billed for opening in 2006 and now this has been pushed to 2011. The port was supposed to open when the highway was built. So there is understandable anger that this has not happened.
There is much anger in Gwadar, with many town dwellers saying that the fortunes of the city have evaporated with the departure of President Musharraf. Once touted as the “Dubai of Pakistan,” Gwadar is now being seen as the “Mirage of Musharraf,” by people who invested millions into the town in the hope that one day it would be the most happening place in the country. So far it has only been a long wait.
Property prices are an indicator of the gloom. In the most prestigious housing area of Gwadar, the Singhar Housing Society, estate agents say that property prices for a 500 square yard plot in Phase 1 have dropped from Rs2.4 million to Rs1.6 million. Similar falls have been witnessed elsewhere too.
But Haji Abdul Qadir, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, disagrees with these sentiments. He says that Musharraf did deliver on many counts. For one, under his government the grand Coastal Highway was built which connected the town with Karachi, and opened up endless possibilities.
Qadir, who owns a seafood processing factory, has trebled production owing to the highway. “Before, it took three days for my products to reach Karachi. Now it takes one day,” he says. About real estate prices, Qadir says that speculators made a killing. “Now prices will once again rise, but at realistic levels.”
The chamber president says Gwadar’s potential as a port city will be realized once its deep sea port is fully operational. “People have to be patient.”
Gwadar still holds great promise owing to its location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. Using binoculars, sitting at the grand Pearl Continental Hotel which is located on a mountain overlooking the sea, one can spot the super tankers that make their way in and out of the Persian Gulf.
But the hotel is largely empty as both tourists and businessmen have been scared away by political troubles in Balochistan. The hotel, says one employee, is “barely surviving.”
The Town Nazim, Abdul Majid, says that this is all false propaganda created by “vested interests.” Majid says Gwadar is one of the most peaceful towns in the country, and is almost crime free. “The problem is not violence,” he argues “it is corruption.”
Majid says that the writ of the local government continues to be challenged by the centre. He says he has no money to repair roads and drains and the Gwadar Development Authority, which is supposed to work on infrastructure, has limited its development works to the outskirts of the town There is some truth in what Majid says. It is true that the war being fought by the Balochistan Liberation Army has not reached Gwadar yet. There have been no attacks on installations or government functionaries.
But there is anger. In comparison to other parts of the province, there is a higher rate of literacy. But with that comes frustration, as there are few jobs available. Many companies and government departments have brought in people from other parts of the country and this has only fuelled resentment amongst the locals.
With its historic ties with Oman, the young men who hang around the Gwadar Club and on the pristine beachside, say that their goal is to find work in Muscat. Or to go to Karachi which is about 700 kilometers away.
Salim Baluch, who works at Gwadar Port, says he fears that the frustration of the young men can be exploited by political forces. He is one of the few who have got jobs at the port; otherwise too many outsiders are employed here. “You give an advertisement today and hundreds will answer it. People want work. But the government is doing nothing.” Many in Gwadar feel that the benefits that should come to them are being taken away by outsiders. This feeling is prevalent in other parts of the province too. So far, however, it has not translated into violence. Analysts fear that there may not be much more time to make amends.