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جمعہ، 31 اگست، 2012

Gwadar Port and other issues

According to a newspaper report the granting of a no-objection certificate by our government has enabled the Singapore Port Authority (SPA) to quit the 40-year contract for the management, operation, maintenance and development of Gwadar Port.Perhaps, there has been disappointment on both sides which prevented full development of the port and in these circumstances, it is just as well that SPA is ending its contract, paving the way for a new entrant, presumably from China.

Somewhere along the line, there has been talk about a 584-acre land held by Pakistan Navy, which the new port operator would require in order to develop the port fully. However, according to a press release from the Ministry of Defence, in the larger national interest, Pakistan Navy has voluntarily offered the land for alternative (port) use and negotiations are under way for a suitable replacement plot of land to be handed over to PN. Hopefully, this matter will soon be resolved in an amicable manner.

During discussions on the issue, a participant of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Ports and Shipping expressed concerns about the Chinese, mentioning irregularities at the Saindak Copper-Gold Project.

The obvious answer is to strengthen controls at our end and not just to blame the Chinese. Without commenting on whether what was alleged did or did not happen, I would say that the golden rule to keep in mind in such cases is that a fool and his wealth are easily parted.
And come to think of it, the non-Chinese investors are not all saints and angels. I heard of a case where a western company was prospecting for oil in an African country. For a very long time, it kept sending large containers of soil samples back home for laboratory testing. It was accidentally discovered towards the end of the project that the company had in fact been extracting and sending home precious stones and not soil samples. And mind you: this would not be an isolated case. I would not go to the extent of claiming that cheating by the western companies would be the rule rather than an exception but I would certainly say that it is a very common practice among them and invariably these are officials in the victim country who assist them in achieving their objectives, enriching themselves in the process, at the cost of hapless fellow citizens.

I just read an appeal by Pakistan Association of Automotive Parts & Accessories Manufacturers detailing the adverse effects of the import of 54,000 used cars in the year 2011-2012. On probing the issue, one would perhaps be told that the decision had been made in order to protect the public against the monopolistic attitude of the local car manufacturers who raise prices frequently, and to give the public greater choice by extending the range of cars available. However, even if local cars cost more, these are preferable because of employment opportunities the local car manufacturers and their sub-contractors provide to the masses. Moreover, to the extent that car contains locally manufactured components, which can be substantial, the money remains within the country as against the new or used imported cars that have to be paid in full in foreign exchange. Worse still, the government is reported to be considering allowing import of 7-year-old cars as against the present limit of 5 years, and also to reduce duty on luxury cars. In a country like ours which has meagre foreign exchange resources, the right approach would have been to impose prohibitive duties on big gas-guzzlers because of the added strain they put on foreign exchange while they remain on road. The move would even contravene one of the canons of taxation which says that the broadest shoulders should carry the maximum burden, meaning highest tax should be borne by the people who are best able to pay it, and here we are reducing tax on luxury cars.

Coming back to Gwadar port, I would be rather pleased if the Chinese took it over because I am sure they will not only concentrate on the port but will also develop the whole of the mineral-rich Balochistan province, for which they have the necessary expertise as well as the finance. The additional jobs thus created in Balochistan could also reduce the extreme poverty levels and the feeling of deprivation in the province which, if not arrested, could over time end in the separation of the province at which the United States and its agents are working hard. As it is, our government does not seem to be in much of a mood to go beyond the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-Balochistan package the benefits of which did not filter through to the masses and which came nowhere near the level of effort which is required to arrest the rapidly deteriorating situation in Balochistan.

Moreover, Chinese are our trusted allies and additionally, their interests in the region also coincide with those of ours as against Americans and other western countries which are busy redrawing the maps of Muslim states, with nuclear-armed Pakistan being their special target.
The Chinese are humble, they do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and do not throw their weight about, unlike Americans who borrow heavily from the Chinese and yet try to dominate them, while taking countries like Pakistan in their stride. I saw the work of Chinese people in Africa in the form of an 1860 kilometre railway line to connect land-locked Zambia to the port of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. The project took seven years to complete which was a record time in view of the fact that the track passed through thick African forests. The joy and sense of achievement of the two teams that had started from Tanzania and Zambia and met half-way, was often shown on African television and was worth-seeing. I have the pleasure of having travelled on that railway.

I hope and pray that our officials develop a capability to decide matters strictly in the larger national interest. 


By S R H Hashmi

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