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

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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.”

Pakistan, Turkey among nations subject to quarantine in Ireland starting April 15

Updated 54 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan, Turkey among nations subject to quarantine in Ireland starting April 15

  • Dublin joined neighboring Britain in bringing in the regime for people from countries deemed "high risk"
  • Strict lockdown in Ireland has turned one of the world's highest incidence rates of COVID-19 into one of Europe's lowest

DUBLIN: Ireland added Pakistan, Turkey, United States, Canada, Belgium, France and Italy to its list of countries where arrivals will be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine, tightening some of Europe's toughest travel restrictions to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Ireland, the only one of the European Union's 27 countries to introduce a hotel quarantine, announced it will also require all arrivals to have booked a COVID-19 test for five days after landing in addition to one taken in the days before travelling.

It followed neighbouring Britain in bringing in the regime for people from countries deemed "high risk" or those without a negative COVID-19 test. However, Britain has so far resisted calls for the inclusion of some European countries.

A strict lockdown in Ireland since late December has turned one of the world's highest incidence rates of COVID-19 into one of Europe's lowest.

Elsewhere in the continent, Norway requires a forced stay in a quarantine hotel for at least a week for anyone coming from abroad who does not own property, or can borrow the use of a property, in the country.

Armenia, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Curacao, Kenya, Luxembourg, Maldives and Ukraine will also be subject to quarantine in Ireland starting April 15, the health ministry said in a statement.

Israel, Albania and Saint Lucia were removed, having been added just over a week ago, meaning arrivals from more than 70 countries must quarantine for up to 14 days in a hotel room, or leave after 10 if they test negative for COVID-19.

The government initially stopped short of a recommendation by health officials last week to add a number of EU countries where large numbers of Irish nationals live, citing potential legal challenges around the bloc's freedom of movement rules.

Hotel quarantine rules are planned to be in place for only a few months, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said this week. Tourism groups have criticised the government for not providing an exit plan on how they would unwind the measures.

"We can see a permanent pathway out of this pandemic but can't allow variants of concern to set us back on the progress we have made," Donnelly said in a statement on Friday.

Pakistan appoints sixth revenue chief in less than three years

Updated 10 April 2021

Pakistan appoints sixth revenue chief in less than three years

  • Under IMF spotlight, country’s tax machinery is tasked with increasing tax collection by 27%
  • Tax collection is a perennial problem in Pakistan, where less than 1 percent of the population files income tax

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government appointed its sixth tax chief in two and a half years on Friday, as International Monetary Fund (IMF) scrutiny increases on the country’s woeful tax collection record in recent weeks.
The new Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) chief, Asim Ahmed, formerly a grade-21 officer of the Inland Revenue Service, will take over a less than coveted job in a country where tax collection is a perennial problem, and where less than 1 percent of the population files income tax.
Since coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan made boosting tax collection a top priority for his government, appealing to overseas Pakistanis to invest in the country and urging the wealthy to pay more income tax.
But under the spotlight of a renewed IMF program, this is a critical hour for the country’s tax machinery as it is tasked with the impossible-- to increase the collection of taxes by a whopping 27 percent in the next fiscal year while focusing collection on the basis of people’s ability to actually pay up.
With his hands tied due to an agreement between Pakistan and the IMF on the broader contours of next year’s budget, a huge challenge for the new chairman will be to finalize a balanced taxation budget while achieving a tax collection target of nearly Rs6 trillion.
Ahmed will replace Javed Ghani, who attained the age of superannuation on Friday after remaining the FBR chairman for 100 days.



Pakistan says 'happy to host' SAARC summit subject to conditions

Updated 9 min 53 sec ago

Pakistan says 'happy to host' SAARC summit subject to conditions

  • Foreign Office spokesperson says onus now on India to create environment for Kashmir oriented talks
  • Says fate of this year’s summit ‘hangs in balance’

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan foreign office on Friday said it was ‘happy to host’ Indian and other regional leaders at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) scheduled for October, but only if ‘artificial obstacles’ were removed, in a veiled reference to New Delhi.
The original 19th SAARC summit was to be held in Islamabad in 2016, but was boycotted by Indian PM Narendra Modi in the wake of the Uri militant attacks. Following this, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka also pulled out, which led to the regional summit’s postponement.
“Pakistan considers SAARC an important organization for enhancing regional cooperation. As we have ascertained earlier, whenever artificial obstacles created in the way of SAARC summit are removed, we will be happy to host,” Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry told a press briefing on Friday.
He further said the onus was now on India to create a conducive environment for result-oriented talks between the two countries.
“We believe that durable peace, security and development in the region hinge on peaceful resolution of the long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” the spokesman said.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, and the disputed Himalayan region has been the focus of an increased flare-up between the two countries since 2019.
On Aug. 5, 2019, Modi’s government took away Jammu & Kashmir state’s special privileges, provoking anger in the region and especially in neighboring Pakistan.
Jammu & Kashmir was until then the only Muslim-majority state in mainly Hindu India.
“The spirit of the SAARC Charter is violated when a member state casts the shadow of its bilateral problems on the multilateral forum for regional cooperation,” Pakistan had said in 2016 in response to India’s pull-out from the summit.
For now, the FO spokesman said, the fate of this year’s SAARC summit ‘hangs in the balance.’

Pakistan’s Hazara women strike back with martial arts

Updated 11 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan’s Hazara women strike back with martial arts

  • In Quetta’s two largest martial arts academies, a majority of students are young Hazara women
  • Say karate makes them feel safe and confident amid the violence

Hundreds of Pakistani Hazara women are learning how to deliver side kicks and elbow blows as martial arts booms within the marginalized community.

Hazaras, who are mainly Shia Muslims, have faced decades of sectarian violence in the southwestern city of Quetta, living in two separate enclaves cordoned off by checkpoints and armed guards to protect them.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, students of the Hazara community take part in a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Women must also contend with routine harassment from men, with groping commonplace in crowded markets or public transport.

“We can’t stop bomb blasts with karate, but with self-defense, I have learnt to feel confident,” 20-year-old Nargis Batool told AFP.

“Everyone here knows that I am going to the club. Nobody dares say anything to me while I am out.”

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, female students of the Hazara community warm-up before a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Up to 4,000 people are attending regular classes in more than 25 clubs in Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, according to Ishaq Ali, head of the Balochistan Wushu Kung Fu Association, which oversees the sport.

The city’s two largest academies, which train around 250 people each, told AFP the majority of their students were young Hazara women.

Many of them go on to earn money from the sport, taking part in frequent competitions.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, Mubarak Ali Shan (R), a martial arts instructor trains female students of the Hazara community during a self-defence martial arts training class, on the outskirts of Quetta. (AFP)

It is still unusual for women to play sport in deeply conservative Pakistan where families often forbid it, but martial arts teacher Fida Hussain Kazmi says exceptions are being made.

“In general, women cannot exercise in our society... but for the sake of self-defense and her family, they are being allowed.”

The uptake is also credited to national champions Nargis Hazara and Kulsoom Hazara, who have won medals in international competitions.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, students of the Hazara community take part in a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Kazmi says he has trained hundreds of women over the years, after learning the sport from a Chinese master in the eastern city of Lahore.

The 41-year-old offers two hours of training six days a week for 500 rupees ($3) but gives free classes to women who have lost a relative to militant violence.

“The Hazara community is facing many problems... but with karate we can begin to feel safe,” said 18-year-old student Syeda Qubra, whose brother was killed in a bomb blast in 2013.

Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

Updated 10 April 2021

Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

  • Information minister Shibli Faraz says no censorship in Pakistan, press enjoys “complete independence and freedom to report” 
  • In digital age, growing number of Pakistani journalists turning to Internet, particularly YouTube, to tap into platform’s ever-growing audiences

LAHORE: The last news channel renowned Pakistani journalist and TV anchor Najam Sethi worked for received several warnings from the country’s electronic media regulatory authority over the contents of his show, including one in April 2019 saying the show would be banned and the channel’s license revoked if Sethi did not apologize to Prime Minister Imran Khan for spreading “false news” about him. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not specify what news it had found to be false but said Sethi was being served the notice over a complaint filed with PEMRA council of complaints by Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

After Channel 24 was taken off air at least four times between 2019-20, Sethi knew it was time to move his talk show, Sethi Se Sawal, to YouTube where he now has over 250,000 subscribers. 

Explaining why he switched over to YouTube, Sethi told Arab News in a phone interview: “After various TV channels were restrained from hiring me in 2019 because of pressure from the government or establishment.” 

“YouTube is a breath of fresh air to avoid censorship,” he added. 

Indeed, Sethi is among a growing number of Pakistani journalists who have turned to the Internet, particularly to YouTube channels, amid what editors and reporters call a “widening” crackdown on the media. 

Journalists’ complaints range from direct edicts to editors and producers not to air opposition voices or publish news critical of the government or the military; pulling TV stations from transmission or newspapers from circulation; and targeting the advertising revenue of dissenting media. In 2018 alone, over 3,000 journalists and media workers were laid off. Thousands more have been dismissed since, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

Muhammad Usman, Director News at Neo News, a mainstream TV channel, said government advertisements to news channels had decreased by more than 50 percent since the government of Khan came into power in 2018. Two other journalists, part of senior management at top-tier news channels, also confirmed this. 

“For mainstream channels a big chunk of their revenue came from government ads,” Usman told Arab News. “Due to cuts of ad revenue, there were layoffs … In the coming days things will only get worse.”

In 2019, responding to criticism over the government reducing ad revenue for the media, then Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistani media houses needed to revamp their revenue models to reduce reliance on government advertising. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not reply to text messages seeking comment for this story. But Information Minister Shibli Faraz denied there was censorship in Pakistan. 

“There is no concept of media censorship in the country, whatsoever,” he told Arab News. “Media in Pakistan enjoys complete independence and freedom to report, be it politics, economy or any other sphere.” 

Journalists like Matiullah Jan disagree. 

On June 4, 2018, then Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference and showed a graphic linking a number of prominent journalists to an alleged troll account on Twitter through which he said they had shared anti-state and anti-army propaganda. The journalists featured on the graphic included Jan, then an anchor with broadcaster Waqt News. 

In October that year, Jan left his job amid speculation he was forced to resign over his critical views of the military. The Pakistan army vehemently denies it censors news outlets. 

Shut out from the country’s mainstream media, Jan started a YouTube channel. 

“The reason I started the channel was that at the time I had left Waqt TV; I could not write in any publication,” Jan told Arab News. “There was no job for me.” 

“What we can say on our YouTube channels would be difficult for anyone to say on a TV channel today,” he said. “In this crisis of censorship, YouTube is like a ventilator for us journalists.” 

But censorship is not the only factor pushing journalists toward platforms like YouTube; in the age of digital media, many have launched YouTube channels to tap into the platform’s ever-growing audiences. 

A 2019 profiling study by YouTube showed 73% of Pakistanis who were online watched YouTube every month and 78% of YouTube users in Pakistan said the platform was their first stop when looking for any kind of video. ‘News’ is among the top eight categories of content Pakistanis watch on YouTube, the study said. 

Journalist Imran Shafqat said YouTube had become a viable option for many Pakistani journalists, especially in an environment of censorship, because it gave them access to large audiences. 

That’s why, Shafqat said, he had rented out a small studio in Lahore and started making YouTube videos after the news channel he worked for folded due to financial constraints in 2019. 

“I have no other job right now,” he said. “I am making more money on YouTube than I ever did at any media channel.”

But authorities are beginning to keep a close eye on social media content as well now, journalists say, increasingly using laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) to crack down on those who had gone online with criticism of the government and the military. 

Sethi also said he had received numerous calls about the content of his YouTube channel, with authorities warning him to “be careful, please.” 

“To which I reply: ‘Sir, when we were talking on mainstream media you pushed us here [to YouTube]. This is not how it will work now.’”