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Are Pakistan & China Turning War-Torn Gwadar Into Another ‘Dubai’?

“Locals fear that war-torn Gwadar may become a fenced and armed ‘Disneyland’ for the Chinese and Pakistani armies.”
Image of Chinese flag (R) and Pakistani flag (L) used for representational purposes. | (Photo: Arnica Kala / The Quint)  

It made headlines some time ago: Pakistan, in all probability on behalf of China, is fencing Gwadar. In early December 2020, the residents of the Baloch town woke up to discover ‘another brick in the wall’ or, to be precise, another attempt to cage and jail them.

A large metal fence stretched 24 kilometres lengthwise from the north of the old airport to Balochistan Broadway Avenue, and from there it cut straight to the sea. It divided in the process — into two halves — houses and private buildings. The Baloch have been protesting about the umpteenth violation of their human rights and civil rights, about thousands of people deprived of their livelihoods because they are no longer able to go fishing, because the ‘developing’ city is beginning to look like an open air jail to its residents. And for what reason?

According to the 'master plan' for Gwadar, widely advertised by the government, the city should be broadly divided into three zones: Gwadar Port Free Zone, GIEDA Industrial Zone and EPZA export processing zone.

The fencing is part of the security plan for these areas. But guess what? None of the fences is anywhere near those places. It makes sense, according to locals, only if you keep in mind that the primary goal of security is to keep the Baloch out of the development zones and to keep the Chinese safe. Because the Chinese, along with the Pakistani army and government, are trying to launch Gwadar — the capital of a contested, war-torn, under-developed and poverty-stricken area — into becoming the next ‘Dubai’.

Gwadar Smart Port City’s ‘Master Plan’

A golf, shopping and investor’s paradise, ‘Gwadar Smart Port City’ is the key project under the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and will span over 300 sq kms. But if one looks at the plan, the local Baloch have no role in it at all.

The master plan includes, besides ‘1.2 million high paying jobs’ — from which the locals will not benefit — the development of: ‘Luxury resorts, waterfront golf courses and shopping malls’.

The website also claims that: “Not a single piece of land is owned by the government”. True. But just look at who's developing the projects and what they claim. Quoting randomly: “In the long-term, Gwadar’s population is set to exceed two million people. According to the new master plan, expatriate professionals will make up 80 percent of this population. These professionals will be attracted to Gwadar due to high paying jobs, a tax free environment, high-tech industries, mega shopping malls, and Pakistan’s largest international airport... Gwadar is set to become Pakistan’s first weapon and tax free city. With high expectations for Gwadar’s future in becoming a regional trade hub, a robust security environment will be developed to ensure security for foreigners, expats and locals in Gwadar. The security plans include CCTV, vehicle management, urban video and alarm networks, and police management programs....Pakistan’s first tax-free haven will see grand theatres, a university city, waterside shopping and leisure promenades, parks, beaches, five star hotels and a cruise ship port linking Muscat, Dubai, Doha, Bahrain and Jeddah.”

“The master plan also outlines the plans for a luxury waterside golf course, as well as Gwadar Tower and its surrounding mega development, expected to be the tallest building in Pakistan.”

What Is The China-Pakistan Investment Corporation? What Is It Developing?

The China-Pak Golf Estates, one of the jewels of the master plan crown, is being developed and advertised by a company called CPIC: China-Pakistan Investment Corporation. It is a self proclaimed 'award winning' real estate investment firm based in London, one that none of the major actors in the real estate scene in UK has ever heard of. The composition of the board members is very interesting: Lt General Sahabat Hussain, Perveiz Adhgar who's a former rear admiral of the Pakistani Navy, Zeeshaan Shah ‘founder and CEO of ONE investments’, after he participated in ‘The Apprentice’ UK Season 9. Plus ‘Lord’ and ‘Sir’ duo, who have been intricately involved in the past with China, and, finally, Ryan He, a ‘veteran investment expert’, who has extensive experience with institutions in China.

The CPIC is developing, besides the golf courses, the ‘International Port City’, and is looking for investors.

Their website claims: “The $150 million, mega Gwadar port development covers 3.6 million square feet and offers a mixed-use, gated development at the heart of Gwadar to cater for locals, expats and Chinese professionals expected to be working there in the future. This new development provides everything needed to live, work and play within a secure, gated community and will have Gwadar’s first Chinese Temple”.

Adding elsewhere: “Gwadar is also widely recognised as a safe and secure city so there are no concerns about the wellbeing of its residents. Some 9,000 Pakistani army soldiers have been deployed here along with 6,000 para-military forces personnel making it one of the most secure locations in the whole of Pakistan”.

Gwadar: A ‘Fenced & Armed Disneyland’

All this confirms the worst fears of the local population. First of all, they want to cut Gwadar out of the rest of the region: the city will become a fenced and armed ‘Disneyland’ for the Chinese and Pakistani army, while the locals will be cut off from any sort of development in the future. Not only this, the rest of the region will be left in absolute poverty, even worse than before.

Keep in mind that most of Balochistan doesn’t even have access to medical structures, clean water, gas or electricity. The residents’ ethnic ratio will be altered forever, with huge repercussions on politics and administration.

And while the master plan ensures development of beaches, shopping malls and private clubs, the rest of the city and the region will be left in the hands of State-sponsored goons, jihadis and sectarian killers, even more than before.

As a local commented: “With a full-fledged insurgency in the province, with the local Baloch seeking freedom from Pakistani human oppression, the ‘Chinese dream’ in Gwadar is unlikely to move forward. This would explain the ongoing fencing, killing of Baloch activists abroad”.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)


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