The Chabahar-Gwadar Conundrum

The prevailing sense of elation about the supposedly ultra-bright prospects of the Gwadar-CPEC projects has in recent times been dampened by news about the expected rise of  an adjoining port, a mere 70 kms away across the border in Iran. The signing of a trilateral MOU between India, Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate Indo-Afghan trade through Chabahar has added to the speculation. It is thus important to analyse such conjectures before they fully embed themselves  in our collective consciousness and thereby mislead the country into a knee jerk response with potentially disastrous consequences.
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Safeguarding the Vital Links in Sea Trade

Nothing encapsulates, and perhaps embodies, the spirit of globalisation better than world trade, most of which is carried out via the medium of the sea. Maritime trade can thus be said to be the pivot around which the global economy as well as our collective social well-being actually revolves. The enormous natural resources on land, coupled with a matching industrial capacity for value-addition, are not worth much were it not for a corresponding ability to trade freely over a terrain which, despite being used for common benefit, is still vulnerable to hybrid criminal threats.
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Gwadar in Focus

Gwadar has had a turbulent yet lonely history. Though it has been visited, and even nominally managed at times, by the Macedonians, the Ummayad Arabs, the Omanis and even the British, it managed to retain its own identity till the turn of the last century. It goes to the credit of the inhabitants that they didn’t permit the Portuguese to establish a foothold there in the late sixteenth century, at a time when the latter’s grip on the maritime trade of the entire Indian Ocean region was virtually uncontested. Gwadar’s modern history can however be traced to the sanctuary given there to Sultan Said when he had lost out on a power struggle with his brother for the throne of Muscat across the Strait. Though the Sultan eventually managed to wrest control of Muscat 14 years later in 1797, he never really let go of Gwadar and continued to exercise jurisdiction there through an appointed Wali. Imprints of the Omani slave trade are still visible.
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Seawater Intrusion in the Indus Delta and Associated Hazards

Seawater intrusion into the once-fertile Indus Delta has unfortunately become a way of life, simply because almost everyone not directly impacted by this phenomenon has started taking it for granted and very few are willing to do anything about it. This has resulted in substantial damage to the ecology and biodiversity of the environment, as well as the regional economy and more specifically, the livelihood of the local inhabitants.
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Gwadar and CPEC – Reality Check

This is a subject which deserves to be tackled with utmost seriousness, as it is one in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, and where rhetoric is found to trump reality every time. It will thus be my endeavour to present as realistic and pragmatic a picture as possible to enable this vital issue to be better understood in an wholesome perspective.

That the port of Gwadar and the interlinking corridor are vitally important to the country has been established beyond doubt. The trick lies in converting this vision into a viable reality. To do so, our foremost consideration should be to learn from history by analysing the fate of similar prestigious maritime-related projects, like for instance Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works Ltd, Port Bin Qasim and its adjoining steel mill and the on-going Karachi Deepwater Container Port. All were preceded by hype similar to the one we now hear about Gwadar and all of them are hardly success stories to warm the heart: some are floundering, some barely getting by, while the last one mentioned, the Karachi Deepwater Container Port, which is still struggling for closure, is destined to be headed for failure. The point worth understanding is that building ports and shipyards does not ipso facto make a country a great maritime power; running them well, does.
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Gwadar Glimpses

Part 1 –  1973 to 1981

My first look at Gwadar in early 1973, needless to say, was not a pretty one. Heat, dust and despondency hung in the air. As soon as the ship’s boat hit the shallow gradient of the clay and gravel beach and as we waded onto it in knee-deep water, dragging the boat behind us, the stench of rotting fish hit us in the face. The sprawling beach on the Gwadar East Bay, apart from being littered with decaying fish remains, also featured colourful fishing boats hauled up for maintenance and fish of peculiar shapes salted and left to dry in the burning sand. Small fishing craft dotted the confines of the bay. Fish appeared to be the staple diet of the community, as beyond a few snacks and a local bottled drink of some sort, nothing worth eating or drinking could be located in the nearby market. At the entrance to the market was a prominent pan shop presided over by an imperious and imposing lady. The sun was relentless and the area hardly witnessed any rainfall. Water was a scarce commodity, with the British-era desalination plant, which relied on the rays of the sun to cleanse the seawater of impurities, being ill-maintained. Many dug-up wells yielding brackish water, could be seen sealed after expending their utility.
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The Last Maritime Frontier

Pakistan’s crowning glory this year(no, it’s not international cricket coming back to the country after a prolonged hiatus) is a little acknowledged achievement: winning the UNs endorsement for extension of Pakistan’s continental shelf up to 350 miles from the coastline(or baseline, to be more precise). This is all the more creditable since Pakistan is the first and only nation amongst the Indian Ocean littoral states to have achieved this landmark. This was not accomplished overnight, but through painstaking efforts spread over two decades.

Most of us land-lubbers who frequent beaches get to realise that the land does not abruptly end where the sea begins, but forms a steady gradient underneath. Such a natural extension of the land mass into  the sea is known as the continental shelf, which ends only when the gradient takes a steep nosedive.
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The Containerised Trade Revolution

Arguably the greatest revolution in the field of maritime transportation since the advent of sea-going steamships in 1819 took place when the first containerised shipment left Port Newark in 1956. It is said to be the brainchild of an American trucking magnate Malcolm McLean, who came up with the idea of using uniform metal containers to provide seamless continuity to land and sea transportation. The concept passed the litmus test of cost-effectiveness, let alone convenience, when he discovered that the costs involved in the utilisation of his first prototype container ship was nearly 35 times less in comparison to loose cargo on a standard ship. There was thereafter no looking back for McLean, and as he moved on to bigger and even bigger container ships, his Company, Pan American, began dominating the market.
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Maritime Opportunities

Introduction

The global maritime industry is arguably the largest and the most all-encompassing sphere of human endeavour. The distressing part is that Pakistan’s share of this multi-trillion dollar pie is woefully inadequate.

Those entrusted with national planning in Pakistan never tire of speaking about the country’s central geographical location. Our military keeps discussing our superior strategic orientation. Our economists speak in glowing terms of our geo-economic potential.

All this I’m afraid is just idle chatter until we are able to exploit these natural advantages to our benefit. The sector which best epitomizes our yearned – for potential but is currently a picture of neglect is that of the maritime sphere. Our lack of awareness about this domain can be gauged from the fact that even supposedly enlightened individuals would be hard-pressed to name more than two aspects associated with the maritime spectrum.
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Maritime Missteps

The maritime domain is a fascinating one. Just as there are maritime marvels enveloped in its folds, it also features equal doses of maritime missteps. The recent case studies which follow will hopefully enable the readers to get a better feel of recurring tragedies in its hostile environment.
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