AFTER the inauguration of the Gwadar seaport by President General Pervez Musharraf, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) has begun its operations. Addressing a gathering of local people, the president also announced Rs10 million for education, health and sewerage schemes and a 'Marine College' to be built in the port city.

As a ‘mega magnet’, Gawadar will attract businessmen, skilled and unskilledworkers from other three provinces and abroad. This will result in an influx of outsiders into the sparsely populated province. The grandiose schemes and projects that have been announced will need at least one million people. Gwadar has now a population of nearly 60,000.

But there are no two opinions that the port would contribute to the provincial economy and living standards of the local people would also improve. Yet the concerns of the local population needs to addressed expeditiously to remove all kinds of apprehensions.

The locals fear a change in demography of the province through a large-scale influx of outsiders. They are concerned that they would become a minority in their own province. The nationalist parties also fear that the natural resources of the province would go under the control of outsiders.

Many point out the “disconnect” between a modern city port of Karachi and Sindh’s rural hinterland- the striking contrast between the relative affluence and stark poverty. Similarly, with the development of Gwadar as regional trade hub, there would develop a disparity in incomes between Gwadar and the rest of the districts in the province. In order to cope with such a future scenario of economic inequities, there is an urgent need to establish small and medium industrial enterprises in other parts of the province also. And more important, there is need to impart trade skills to the localpeople to help them join the mainstream economic activities.

Gwadar port will open up the hinterland. The770 km long coastal belt extends from the mouth of Hub River near Karachi right up to Gwadar Bay near Chahbahar in Iran. The port would help bring Balochistan's coastal areas into the socio-economic mainstream and will serve as a catalyst for fast track development of the province. The establishment of special economic zone, free trade zone, and export processing zone (EPZ) would attract foeignl investment.

Development of an integrated transport system-road and rail links to CARs and rest of the country- will enhance the local peoples’ access to new avenues for their development and prosperity. For landlocked Central Asian economies, Balochistan offers access to new resources and markets and the prospect of more rapid growth.

Gwadar port would provide Afghanistan and the CARs the shortest and fastest access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. Any movement of goods to and from the province will benefit Afghan transit trade. It will also increase the export of minerals, dry fruit and other goods from the province. But much would depend on how fast the situation in Afghanistan is normalised..

The people of Mekran who are associated with fishing and agriculture, especially growing of dates will have access to easier transportation for date export to foreign markets.

The local people are concerned over land ownership in Gwadar as stories circulate about the poor being deprived of their land for a song. Many believe that the government should allow leasing rather than outright sale of the land, with rentals flowing to the local people.

UAE is an example where the local population can be seen enjoying the real estate boom due to the business receiving a boost after arrival of investors and corporates from different parts of the world.

Not to ignore the sentiments of the local population, the government needs to develop low cost housing scheme with all civic facilities . This uplift in their living standard would help in winning their confidence and making them partners in the development of the province.

According to officials, Mekran coastal highway is being extended up to Iranian border. The highway, linking Karachi on the east with Jiwani to the west, close to the Iranian border, has been completed at a cost of Rs10 billion. The coastal highway will ultimately link Karachi with Iran and thus open a new and shorter trade route between the two countries. The coastal highway leading to the Iranian border would also help increase Pakistan's trade with Iran and the region.

There is a dire need for qualified and professional port staff for successful marketing of the port management to potential customers, building of export processing zone, trans shipment and warehousing facilities, fixing of port tariffs for shipping companies.. Can Balochistan provide the required human resources? Locals fear that government could use the pretext of technological backwardness of the people justifying the recruitment and appointment of outsiders in different capacities in the port-related projects.

The technological backwardness in Balochistan is likely to go against the interest of local people .The ground realities call for a rational and long-term planning for development of human resources. Creating technical hands and building capacities among local people would be a great service to the people of this backward province.

In June 2005, the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan had approved the recommendations of its sub-committee on ‘Balochistan Current Issues’ headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. The committee’s development and incentive package for Gwadar included the following recommendations:

* fishermen disturbed because of the construction of the Gwadar port would be relocated and given compensation;.

* 5.4 per cent of Balochistan’s quota in the federal government jobs, agreed to after 1998 census, would be implemented. In the job quota, people of Gwadar would be at the top of priority followed by Mekran and then the rest of Balochistan;

* the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court would be asked to investigate the alleged irregularities in the sale of land in Gwadar;

* settlers in Gwadar would have the right to vote in local polls only and

not in elections to the provincial and national assemblies;

* only Baloch citizens would be appointed heads of the Gwadar Port Authority and the Gwadar Development Authority;

* sixty per cent of the members of the Board of Governors of the Gwadar Authority would be residents of Balochistan.