This is the story of the time in the early 80s when Gwadar was a small, sleepy fishing town of hardly 20,000 people. A time when General Pervez Musharraf, the mastermind of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), was probably a low-ranking officer in the Pakistan Army. A time when the land value in Gwadar was virtually equal to zero even in the area where the current deep seaport is located.
However, two things have not changed in Gwadar for the last 40 years or so despite the fact that the then fishing town is now being boasted as the gateway of the CPEC, the so-called game-changer project in China’s One Belt One Road infrastructure initiative worth 60 billion USD.
One, there was an acute shortage of fresh drinking water back then and there is still no drinking water today. Second, there was a Pakistan Navy Base (PNS- AKRAM) to protect the precious coastal belt of Makran located at a corner of the famous Koh-e-Bateel near Junbeel area, which has now been expanded to capture almost half of the Koh-e-Bateel. With the advent of the CPEC, plans have been underway for grabbing more land so that the Navy fleet can be stationed on land rather than the waters. Ironically, if someone accounts for the land allocated for all security agencies in the town like Navy, Coast Guards, Maritime Security and the list goes on, half of the master plan will be done with.
The real idea of this small anecdote is not to cry about the chronic water shortage in Gwadar or complain against the Navy’s insatiable thirst for more land; in fact, it is to introduce my favorite water tanker which had this task of supplying fresh drinking water to the personnel stationed at the Naval base.
This old Bedford truck of early 60s used to pass near our house daily in the evening as we played soccer. For us, the kids, it was a source of amusement as it intermittently produced a peculiar sound resembling that of a fart. We were told that it was not a matter of shame for the people at PNS AKRAM to fart in public, but we wondered why the water tanker would do such a thing.
Another unique feature of this tanker was that the tank itself was so old, rusty and had so many holes that it used to leak water all the way from the nearby water source (maybe Shadi Kaur near Pasni) to the base, leaving a track of spilled water, probably enough to sustain 10 to 15 houses in the Mullah Band ward.
As this engine farting and water spilling amusement became a part of my daily routine, my life took another turn when I was enrolled at the High School Gwadar after passing the 5th grade. There, I would often see some senior boys making a lot of noise about pani do bijli do… warna korsi chor do (give us water, give us electricity, or leave the government). They would boycott the classes every now and then to do a jalsa (public gathering). Initially, it was fun and it was a reasonable excuse for me to bunk the classes and play more soccer. But this new source of amusement soon turned to tragedy. On April 21, 1987, I heard gunshots and three noise-makers including a young girl and a woman were killed for whining about pani do bijli do.
This tragedy made me realize that the tanker farts were probably a taunting gesture meaning “we have water and we are not giving it to you.” This taunt was complemented by the spilling of water all the way, as it was like rub salt on our wounds. Their message was clear: Don’t you dare make any noise as we don’t just fart. We can also fire live bullets.
One may argue, how come a country on the brink of bankruptcy with only a few weeks of foreign exchange reserves to pay its import bills can actually jeopardize a 60 billion USD project, which they themselves portray as a game changer, by giving these noise makers a chance? It doesn’t make any sense as the water supply for the CPEC gateway city can easily be ensured with around 100 million dollar investments or so (less than 0.16% of the total CPEC project) in the form of a water desalination plant or laying water supply pipelines from the city to the Mirani Dam or Shadi Kaur.
The answer lies in the political power set-up or the governance model of the country where the entire structure is skewed towards safeguarding the interest of the particular elite class. A simple review of the correlation between real economic development and the political governance structures of developing countries such as DR Congo, Nigeria and South Sudan, and developed economies such as Singapore and Taiwan proves that real economic development is a matter of governance rather than being just resource-rich.
“Pakistan- the Economy of an Elitist State” by Dr. Ishrat Hussain is a good read to understand why it is almost impossible that this country can make real economic development under the current set-up. If anyone has any doubt on this argument, they can have a glance at the economic indicators of Bangladesh, which took its separate way in 1971, compared to that of Pakistan.
For the Baloch, it has been proved time and again that this power structure, in the case of Balochistan, mimics the behaviour of a classic colony where the oppressor is so intoxicated with power that it is directly manifested in their attitude . The do not even try to hide it. Otherwise, can anyone find any logic behind shelling and killing a 80-year-old man who always tried to be part of the status quo and who was about to die anyway? This attitude is the real impetus behind the Balochistan conflict.
One learned fellow put this in a very simple equation, saying had the Baloch been given five percent share of their resources and 10 percent of respect from the masters, there would have never been a Balochistan conflict.
Another naïve argument against the constant whining of the Baloch goes like Balochistan has a provincial assembly and its own local government structure where local Baloch representative are in charge. The fact is this fleet of farting tankers disguised in the shape of the provincial government and the local bodies have no authority of decision making . They know it and they have accepted it as normal. Their only goal is to remain in power.
It is not like all the Baloch are such opportunists. The fact of the matter is the boys only handpick the type who, in order to remain in power, do whatever they are told to. They don’t even give a damn about the basic human rights of the native people.
The helplessness of so-called Baloch representatives with the fact that, as the kill-and-dump operations linger on, they have not been able to raise any reasonable outcry for the release of thousands of Baloch missing person during the last 15 years.
The failure of this overall ruling structure is evident in the case of Reko Dekh, probably the 5th or 6th largest copper and gold mine project with an estimated reserve of 600 billion USD. Where on earth a project of such magnitude and wealth is bogged down into a quagmire of legal disputes and ended up owing 5 billion USD as penalty which is equivalent to the amount the country received as a bailout package from the IMF in 2019.
To keep things simple, let’s stick to the issue of water shortage in Gwadar and the track record of farting tankers. Keeping in mind the short-term memory of people, here are some headlines from the archives of Dawn News during the last 10 years:
Date Fart Fart Detail Fart Source
These empty claims and announcements right from the top, even the centre of real power, to a project director should present a clear picture of this hoax system which is a farce at the cost of people’s misery.
How more ridiculous things can get that a federal minister inaugurates a desalination plant in January 2018 and boasts the same as a gift from the CPEC, while just after two month the army chief kicks off the construction of another plant for Gwadar with the support of the UAE and the Swiss government to ensure water supply within eight months.
In reality, Gwadar water issue was temporarily resolved only because that it rained during the 2018 winter.
Therefore, the Baloch expecting any good from their representative in parliament need to see this mirage surrounding them. It should be very loud and clear that there is no way a real economic development or standards of living could be uplifted within this governance structure. This is true not for Balochistan, but also for other regions of Pakistan.
In Gwadar’s case, the Pakistan Navy has now arranged a fleet of bigger and louder tankers, as the old one went out of order a long time ago.
Ahmed Kulmeer is a Canada-based risk manager in the banking sector. He hails from Gwadar.