Fishermen hope, and worry, as China builds giant port in Pakistan’s Gwadar

1 / 5
Over thousand people are associated with boat making profession who manufacture boats on the west bay, locally called Paddi Zirr (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
2 / 5
China-Pakistan Government Middle School Faqeer Colony, Gwadar is one the several projects to educate youth to produce local employees for jobs in different projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, official Sohail Asgher told Arab News (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
3 / 5
The Express Way that connects Gwadar port with Coastal Highway was hurdling fishermen from using East Bay, however, authorities after protest by the fishermen agreed to build three bridges and breakwater for passage of the fishermen (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
4 / 5
Gwadar Port became formally operational on 14 November 2016, when it was inaugurated by Pakistan's Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. However, the port has yet to start commercial operation. (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
5 / 5
A large number of Gwadar’s population depends on fishing to for their livelihood (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
Updated 01 May 2019

Fishermen hope, and worry, as China builds giant port in Pakistan’s Gwadar

  • Port expansion has already displaced 800 fishermen who live on or close to the bay, construction of expressway deepens anxiety
  • Maritime affairs minister says government has adequately addressed all of the fishermen’s concerns

GWADAR: For over two decades, Pakistani officials have promised to transform the poor coastal village of Gwadar into Pakistan’s version of Dubai, or a second Shenzhen, a tiny fishing community in China that has developed into a sprawling megacity.

Gwadar, in the restive Balochistan province, forms the southern Pakistan hub of a $62-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) of infrastructure and energy projects that Beijing announced in 2014. The project is a flagship of China’s Belt and Road initiative to build a new “Silk Road” of land and maritime trade routes across more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.
So far, Beijing has pledged vast aid for Gwadar — which overlooks some of the world’s busiest oil and gas shipping lanes — and is building a commercial deep-water port there. A school has already been constructed and $500 million more in handouts have been promised, including $230 million for a shiny new airport. A hospital, college and badly-needed water infrastructure will also be built with Chinese grants.
But locals, particularly Gwadar’s fishermen, are worried. The expansion of the port has already displaced around 800 fishermen who live on or close to the port. Now, the construction of the Gwadar Eastbay Expressway is deepening worries.
“This is going to deprive us of our source of earning,” Muhammad Akber, a 71-year-old fisherman, said at Dimi Zarr on the east bay of the port. “Fishing has been our profession since the days of our forefathers. But the way we are being pushed out, we may lose this.”
Until 2007, what is now being built into a commercial port was a tiny jetty jutting out into the Arabia Sea. In March of that year, military ruler General Pervez Musharraf officially inaugurated the port, promising to make it a gateway for trade with Central Asia. China provided 80 percent of Gwadar’s $248 million initial development costs. Pakistan’s two other ports are at Karachi, 450 km to the east.
The first round of displacement of fisherman occurred then as construction of the port began in 2007. Now as the Chinese have picked up the expansion plans under the CPEC project, an expressway is being built to connect the east bay of the port directly to the Makran Coastal Highway.
The east bay is where a majority of fishing takes place, Akbar explained, and construction of the expressway has disrupted work.
Earlier this year, the government said it would allow three passages for boats underneath the expressway so that fishermen were not disturbed. Locals have largely accepted the proposal but fear persists that once the port is fully functional, the fishermen’s livelihood will be the last thing on the government’s mind.
“We haven’t avoided making any sacrifice [for CPEC] as we believe in development and we want development. But we also strongly believe we must be the first and prime beneficiary,” Akber said.
Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Ali Haider Zaidi, said the government had addressed all the concerns of fishermen.
“The Gwadar Development Authority has acceded all demands for design changes to the Eastbay Expressway by including three bridges and a breakwater to its design,” Zaidi told Arab News. He said the government was also constructing two fishing jetties at Surbandan and Pishukaan and assured that fishing on the east bay would not be disturbed due to the construction of the bridges and the breakwater.
Zaidi said the Prime Minister’s flagship ‘Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme,’ launched this month, included 110,000 apartments for the fishermen of Gwadar who would also get health insurance cards in the near future.
“The Pak-China Vocational Training Institute (PCVTI) is being constructed with a Chinese grant of $10 million so that fishermen can acquire the necessary skills for port-related services,” he said. “Once the port is fully operational and the CPEC route is completed … it will attract other investments such as hotels and tourism, which will create job opportunities for local fishermen and their families,” Zaidi said.
But the people of Gwadar say they have heard all these promises before.
“Long before Musharraf inaugurated the Gwadar port in 2007, we were asked to see a dream of a beautiful new life,” Nasir Raheem, a youth activist and resident of Gwadar, told Arab News. “We dreamed but nothing changed.”
“Who knows what we will get from this massive project?” he said.
The skepticism is not without reason. Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest but poorest province, plagued for decades by a low-level insurgency by separatists seeking autonomy and control of gas and mineral resources. The province also has the country’s largest gas reserves and is rich in minerals, including copper and uranium. Militants often attack pipelines, power transmission cables, railway tracks, buses and military and government installations. They also oppose the construction of the port.
Though the security situation has improved in recent years and many separatists have surrendered, attacks continue. Earlier this month, a separatist group pulled 14 members of the Pakistani armed forces off a bus and shot them dead on the province’s southern coast.
Balochistan also has some of the worst health indicators in the country. About 62 percent of its population does not have access to safe drinking water and more than 58 percent of its land, which makes up 44 percent of Pakistan’s total land mass, is uncultivable due to water shortages.
“Prosperity is a combination of many things: better health care, best education and employment. We want prosperity,” said Dad Kareem, another fisherman. “Our hospitals don’t offer more than treatment for fever and cough.”
Many also complained about the lack of transparency in executing projects in Gwadar.
“The people don’t believe the government is serious,” said Ahmed Iqbal Baloch, the president of the Gwadar Builders Association.
In 2016, Pakistan welcomed the first large shipment of Chinese goods at Gwadar, where the China Overseas Ports Holding Company Ltd. took over operations in 2013. It plans to eventually handle 300 million to 400 million tons of cargo a year and develop seafood processing plants in a nearby free trade zone sprawled over 2,281 acres.
Anticipating development, many locals sold their lands. But property prices have continued to rise two- to four-fold on average since 2016 and many now feel they were pushed to let go of their properties at much less than the market price.
Baloch from the Gwadar Builders Association insisted that once the port was fully functional, the major beneficiaries would be the people of Gwadar.
Shahzeb Khan Kakar, Director General of the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA), said work on a water distillation plant with the capacity to produce 5 million gallons per day was just getting started. Separately, two dams were already providing 50 million gallons of water to the parched city.
Currently, Iran is supplying 100 megawatts of electricity to Balochistan’s Makran division, of which Gwadar is a part. This, locals say, is insufficient and there are often month-long power breakdowns.
Kakar said these issues would be resolved once a 300MW coal power plant was built under the CPEC portfolio. Prime Minister Imran Khan has also ordered that Gwadar be connected to the national grid.
Officials also said locals’ complaints that they were getting jobs in CPEC projects were unfair.
Jiand Baloch, a spokesperson for the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), said almost 95 percent of the staff employed at the Authority was Baloch and a sizeable number were from Gwadar. Arab News could not independently verify these figures.
Baloch said more locals would be employed in the Authority once planned free trade zones were fully functional and other CPEC projects, including the vocational training institute, were completed.
Sohail Asgher, a deputy director at GPA, said the youth of Gwadar would be taught 101 new trades at the vocational institute to prepare them for employment at the industrial zone.
“A single batch will produce around 5,000 skilled workers, both males and females,” Asghar said.
Engineer Dadullah, a resident of Gwadar city and project manager at the Free Trade Zone, said around 700 locals were already employed at the industrial zones. “More will get jobs as it expands,” he said.
But Faisal Baloch, a local youth who lives near the port, said the government needed to follow a policy of transparency to gain the trust of the people of Gwadar.
“Hollow claims in the past have left us with little reason to believe the government’s claims today,” he said. “Let’s wait and hope to see what we get from CPEC.”

Gas outages during Sehri, Iftar times pile on misery for Karachiites

Updated 23 March 2023

Gas outages during Sehri, Iftar times pile on misery for Karachiites

  • Gas supply company says annual decline in reserves creating demand-supply gap
  • Citizens burn tyres, block traffic at Karachi's Golimar area to protest gas outage

KARACHI: Enraged citizens took to the streets in anger on Thursday to protest against gas supply disruptions during Sehri, Iftar times in the Golimar area of Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

According to a report prepared by Pakistan's Petroleum Division last year, the South Asian country has already utilized 66.6% of its total gas reserves, leaving only 33.4% untouched. 

Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with demand during the winter season peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against a local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.

Reportedly, misery piled on for residents living in Karachi's North Nazimabad, New Karachi, Nagin Chowrangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and other areas of the city as they geared up to observe the first fast of Ramadan on Thursday but found little to no gas to light stoves. 

Angry protestors blocked a main road at Golimar that connects southern and central Karachi, burning tyres, shouting angry slogans and causing traffic congestion. 

Speaking to Arab News, Imran Rao, a resident of the city's Gulshan-e-Hadeed neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, said the low gas pressure was not enough for him to cook food. 

“There is a gas crisis in our area, and our relatives living in Gulistan-e-Jauhar said they were also getting very low [gas] pressure," he said. "The gas is not enough to light the stove,” Rao added. 

The government-owned Sui Southern Gas Company's (SSGC) Head of Corporate Communications, Salman Ahmed Siddiqui, admitted there was an “issue of gas supply” in the city. 

“Today was the first Sehri, there might have been a few issues in some areas,” Siddiqui told Arab News, adding that the SSGC was trying to manage the load. 

“We are trying our best to manage the load in the context of the overall shortage in the system due to annual depletion of gas reserves,” he added.

The power supply company, in a statement issued on Thursday, said gas pressure would remain low from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as it was facing a shortfall of 250 million mmBtu. 

“Hopefully from tomorrow onwards all supplies will be streamlined as per the given schedule,” the SSGC said in its statement, adding that supply during Sehar and Iftar hours would be ensured. 

"Every year, there is an evident shortfall in the supply of gas system of Sui Southern Gas due to an annual decrease of eight to ten percent in the country's gas reservoirs," the statement said. 

On Wednesday, the Pakistan’s power ministry announced uninterrupted power supply during Sehri, Iftar and Taraweeh prayer times throughout the country in Ramadan. 

However, a resident also said his neighborhood was subjected to power outage during Sehri time. 

“Our area plunged into darkness during Sehri despite announcements that there would be no load-shedding during these hours,” Muhammad Younus, a resident of Karachi's Steel Town area, told Arab News. 

The city's main power supply company, K-Electric, did not respond to Arab News' request for comment. 

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

Updated 23 March 2023

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

  • The last date for submitting Hajj applications in Pakistan is March 31
  • Over 179,000 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani banks have received over 26,000 Hajj applications from March 16 to 22, the country's religious affairs ministry said on Thursday, as the deadline to apply for the spiritual pilgrimage nears.

The Hajj is a spiritual journey that every Muslim adult must undertake once in his lifetime, to the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, if he is sound of mind and financially and physically able to do so. It is one of the important five pillars of the Islamic faith.

The deadline to apply for the Hajj pilgrimage will expire on March 31. This year, 179,210 pilgrims from Pakistan are expected to travel to the kingdom after Riyadh restored Pakistan's pre-pandemic Hajj quota and also scrapped the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage. 

"Banks have received over 26,000 [Hajj] applications till March 22," Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said in a statement. It added that the government would issue further directives to banks to facilitate pilgrims in the process after receiving their feedback. 

The ministry added that overseas Pakistanis would also be able to submit their medical fitness certificates that they received abroad. It said Hajj pilgrims who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus, can submit their applications after receiving a single dose of any of the vaccines approved by the kingdom. 

"However, they will have to get themselves fully vaccinated before departure and submit their certificates," the ministry said. "Apart from NADRA, any foreign vaccine certificate will also be accepted."

The ministry said that to accept Hajj applications, specified branches of designated banks would remain open on Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26.

It said that pilgrims would have to buy the "Qurbani" [sacrifice] coupons in Saudi Arabia themselves, adding that the Pakistani Hajj Mission in the kingdom would facilitate them in doing so.

"The Qurbani coupon costs between SR700-1,000," the religion ministry said, adding that Hajj pilgrims would be informed when they would be required to submit their passports or get their biometric for the journey done. 

"Hajj applications will only be processed through selected banks," it added. 

'Art has no boundaries,' says Pakistan's Ali Xeeshan on designing wedding dress for Indian actress

Updated 23 March 2023

'Art has no boundaries,' says Pakistan's Ali Xeeshan on designing wedding dress for Indian actress

  • Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker bought the dress for a whopping Rs1,800,000 ($6,359) from Ali Xeeshan
  • Bhasker, who married an Indian politician last month, wore the dress at her Valima reception this week

KARACHI: Top Pakistani designer Ali Xeeshan, who recently designed a wedding outfit for famous Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker, spoke about their collaboration on Thursday, saying art had no boundaries and the people of India and Pakistan had "the same DNA."

Bhasker, a prominent Indian actress who has starred in Bollywood flicks such as Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu, Veere Di Wedding, Manto, and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, tied the knot with Indian politician Fahad Ahmad last month. 

Earlier this week, the two held a Valima reception in the Indian city of Bareilly. In a Twitter post, Bhasker revealed Xeeshan had designed her dress, saying that the Pakistani designer had it delivered to her all the way from Lahore to Bareilly, via Dubai, Bombay and New Delhi.

Bhasker said in her Twitter post that she had "long marveled" at Xeeshan's talent, adding that his "warmth and generosity" made her admire him.

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the past seven decades, two times over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that both sides claim in full but administer only parts of. 

Cultural exchanges between the two nations have almost entirely ceased since August 2019, when India revoked the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, prompting Islamabad to cut diplomatic and trade ties.

“We [Pakistan and India] have the same DNA, we eat the same food, we breath the same air, we are cut from the same cloth,” Xeeshan told Arab News on Thursday. 

“I’m an artist, I am [a] visual person. Art has no boundaries," he said, adding that tensions between the two countries exist due to political reasons. "Our family systems are the same. We are both very passionate nations.” 

Xeeshan says he has a lot of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu clients based in Canada and other parts of the world. 

“Because of internet and social media, the world has become so small. I don’t think these boundaries will last forever," he said. "The passion is there; the mutual admiration is there. This [the boundary] is mostly in our heads.” 

Speaking about the process of getting the dress made, Xeeshan said Bhasker reached out to him a month earlier to discuss the dress. 

“I liked Swara [Bhaskar] anyway. I liked how gutsy and bold she was. Unafraid, unapologetic,” he said, adding that the Bollywood actress informed him she was getting married to a "Muslim boy."

"We just connected. It was easy."

The ivory gold outfit worn by Bhasker on her big day was mutually finalized by Xeeshan, his team and Bhasker. He went to Dubai to deliver the dress and since the actress couldn't travel, Xeeshan's team managed to deliver it to her in India. 

According to Xeeshan, Bhasker bought the dress for a whopping Rs1,800,000 ($6,359).

"It [the outfit] was understated and yet it was flamboyant. I loved how the dupatta was wrapped around her. It was a very Muslim nikkah outfit,” Xeeshan said. “We have named this design Rajkumari so it has that grandeur, that old school charm to it. It wasn’t trying to be a statement outfit.” 

Xeeshan asked Swara to give him a few lines to write on the dupatta (long scarf) for the groom. 

The designer said the dress was hand-made, adding that his team had to bring its most senior artisans on board "whose generations are working with us.” 

The dress, Xeeshan said, was 70% ready when Bhasker placed her order. Usually, he said such "star articles" take about six months to make hence the base is usually prepared while the order is customized according to the client's needs. 

“It was designed and curated considering her personality,” he said. “She just wanted it to be warm. This is something she could give to her next generation, it could be her heirloom piece," Xeeshan added. 

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2023

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

  • Eight others were injured during free flour distribution in northwestern Pakistan's Charsadda city
  • Decades-high inflation in Pakistan has pushed prices of basic food items out of many people's reach

PESHAWAR: One person was killed and eight others injured during a stampede for free flour in inflation-wracked Pakistan on Thursday, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
The price of basic food items has rocketed in recent months, with inflation at a near 50 year-high as the country grapples with a balance of payments crisis that has seen it forced back into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
“Nine people were trampled and were taken to hospital where one person died,” said Muhammad Arif, police chief for Charsadda in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the incident happened.
Arif said hundreds of people gathered at the local market for the handouts, one of hundreds of distribution points set up by the government during Ramadan.
Millions of low income families across the country are registered under the scheme.
In a nearby district, a man died and four others were injured when a wall they were sitting on collapsed as crowds amassed for free flour.
Authorities told AFP it was not clear why the wall collapsed.
Pakistan’s finances have been wrecked by years of financial mismanagement and political instability — a situation exacerbated by a global energy crisis and devastating floods that left a third of the country under water last year.
The South Asian nation is deeply in debt, and needs to introduce tough tax and utility price increases to unlock another tranche of a $6.5 billion IMF bail-out and avoid defaulting.

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

Updated 23 March 2023

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

  • PM Sharif last week announced government's plans for fuel pricing scheme to help poor
  • Package envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel, reducing prices for the poor

KARACHI: Pakistan is drafting a fuel pricing scheme aimed at helping the poor, the petroleum minister said, a programme that some economists fear could hinder a crucial International Monetary Fund pay out needed to prevent economic collapse.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif first announced the government's plans for fuel pricing last week.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters his ministry had been given six weeks to draft the relief package, which envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel and using that money to reduce prices for the poor who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

"It is not a subsidy. It is a pricing scheme. It is a relief programme for the poor," Malik said. A ministry spokesman said the price difference would be in the range of 100 Pakistani rupees (around 30 U.S. cents) a litre for the rich and the poor.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

The government has implemented several fiscal measures, including devaluing the rupee, lifting subsidies and raising energy prices as preconditions for the agreement, which the finance minister said this month was "very close".

The resident IMF representative, Esther Perez Ruiz, said this week that the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

She said the fund would ask the government for more details about the proposal, including how it will be implemented and what protection would be put in place to prevent abuse.

Asked about the IMF's concerns, Malik said the scheme was not a subsidy. "We haven't heard any concerns from the IMF," he said. "It is same like we did in the gas sector, and that was okay with the IMF," he added.

Earlier this year, the government implemented different prices for natural gas based on the amount of fuel consumed.

Economists said the scheme could derail the progress Pakistan had made so far in negotiations with the IMF.

"It seems this was not discussed with the IMF and, therefore, could delay the staff level agreement," said former central bank deputy governor Murtaza Syed.

($1 = 282.7200 Pakistani rupees)