Pakistan today has a distinction few countries have: it is home to one of the most exciting, strategic projects promising to reshape the face of the region and possibly the world.
Think on a grand scale: the Suez Canal, 1869; the Panama Canal, 1914; the Karakoram Highway, 1966; or, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, 2014, the world’s highest railway track, linking Beijing to the heart of Tibet.
And now there is CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, 2019. When completed, Gwadar will do something similar: change the traditional ancient trading routes between China, Central Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Europe. This gigantic project requires vision, determination, political will, and funding. All of these things are available. The commitment of Pakistan and China to this project is solid and unquestionable. However, Pakistan needs one more thing to make Gwadar truly successful: a clear vision for how to position this Arabian Sea port as an international city in Pakistan. To do this, Pakistani politicians, bureaucrats, and the military need to get creative, to dictate the necessary changes to ensure that Gwadar turns out according to plan, and not according to luck.
Gwadar’s ultimate destiny is to become an international city, a hub for trade and finance, a centre of shopping, fine dining, and a cultural centre. A cosmopolitan city that displays Pakistan’s international spirit. To achieve this, Pakistani decision makers need to introduce a set of domestic legal and administrative initiatives that go with such an ambitious project, and simultaneously prepare the Pakistani nation for this new experiment by exciting them about the future.
positioninggawadar.jpgPakistan needs to look at a combination of examples of international cities that act as trading, cultural and entertainment hubs: Dubai, Singapore, Bahrain, Istanbul, Macau, Shanghai, London, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. The idea is not to look like any of these cities. The purpose is to learn from the successes of these cities to design and create a Pakistani experiment of success in Gwadar that resembles no other city but learns from the best practices worldwide.
Why an International City?
There are many types of international cities. The model proposed here is of a cosmopolitan Pakistani city under Pakistani laws tailored to ensure growth and success.
Let us be clear about one thing: Pakistan is late in the game. Countries from Bahrain to Egypt and to Malaysia have created attractive models of international seaport cities that thrive on trade and offer a cosmopolitan experience. And there is Dubai, which has inspired spinoffs in Oman and Qatar. Iran is coming in the race, too. Expect Iran to learn heavily from Dubai, Doha and Bahrain and remodel Chabahar or Bandar Abbas accordingly as Tehran opens up after the successful implementation of the nuclear agreements.
It will be a tragedy if Gwadar turns out to be just a docking yard with cranes, containers, and warehouses. With its beaches, its beautiful weather, and the majestic desert mountains nearby, Gwadar deserves to be Pakistan’s first international city that offers itself as a trading hub, a financial, cultural and entertainment centre and a melting pot.
Pakistan needs to study successful examples to pick best practices. For example, laws in Gwadar will have to be different from the rest of Pakistan for everything from commercial licenses to residency requirements to property ownership.
One of the first things Islamabad will have to deal with is the question of rural-to-urban migration. A new city with vast opportunities will attract rural population shifting from all over Pakistan to the new city in search for blue-collar jobs. To control this eventuality, Islamabad could introduce special Residency Permits for Pakistanis from other parts of the country as well as foreigners who wish to reside or do business in the city. Unlike cities in the West and the Middle East, which are mostly countries with lower population mass than Pakistan, we have to learn from successful Asian examples of internal migration control. The idea is to regulate the flow of people, not to block it.
Pakistan can see the Chinese example. Cities in China have long regulated population movement into cities through family registration or residency permits. China is relaxing some of the internal movement controls from January 1, 2016. Having achieved its objectives of helping major cities grow in an organized way, China is modifying the policy to address some unintended side effects.
The Pakistani government can sensitize the public through an advertisement campaign explaining how organizations and disciplines are key to Gwadar’s success on the international stage. The success of Gwadar can spawn similar urban experiences across Pakistan, maybe not on the same scale but offering a similar level of work and life experiences. This will excite Pakistani citizens, show them a bright future, and help them accept the model of an.
international city in Gwadar.
The Urban Residency system, known as Hukou in China, is not perfect, and is tailored to suit China’s condition and society. But Pakistan can study the examples and come up with something more suitable to Pakistani conditions.
The internal security system of Dubai is very effective. Local police is trained in dealing with locals and foreigners, and has effective mechanisms in place to check crime, smuggling, and other forms of anti social behaviour. Members of different nationalities visiting and working in the city have direct links to the Dubai Police through multiple channels. Dubai’s city government knows that the police force must instill respect and fear in order to maintain the city’s status as a safe place for tourists, visitors, executives and the workforce.
Since Gwadar has great beaches within the city and nearby, Pakistan should study the examples of tourist resorts in Oman, Malaysia, Bahrain, Dubai, and Egypt to develop this untapped potential of Pakistani coastal regions.
Gwadar Government Structure
For an international city that wants to be known as a financial centre and trading hub, and attract talented residents from Pakistan and abroad, Gwadar’s local governing structure should encourage resident businessmen, traders, business owners, financiers, artists, and others to become part of the governing bodies of the city. Those who run the city should have a strong stake in it. The system should be designed in a way that guarantees transparency and participation. What the governing system should not have is political corruption as seen in other parts of Pakistan, which is of a devastating scale. Also, since this is a national project that would benefit all Pakistanis, political parties need to be sensitized to keep our brand of chaotic street politics away from the new city.
The Government of Pakistan and the Provincial Government of Balochistan can work together to promulgate a Gwadar Basic Law, or a Gwadar Constitution, to give the new city a definitive legal character. The idea is to have a strong involvement from the federal and provincial government to steer the governing structure in the new city in the right direction and help the Gwadar local government mature and take charge. One of the excellent sets of governing law in this context comes from Macau. For example in Macau, the local government is headed by the Chief Executive of Macau; he or she is appointed by Beijing upon the recommendation of an election committee. Members of this election committee are nominated by corporate and community bodies in the city of Macau.
One set of Pakistanis who should visibly feel the benefits of the new emerging city are the original residents of Gwadar and nearby areas. Islamabad can offer to educate their children, offer crash training courses to young adults so that could be the first to work in the new city development projects, offer them housing schemes on long-term concessional rates paid for by family members working in the Gwadar and CPEC projects. Pakistan’s strategic position offers opportunities but also creates enemies. We have seen this happen since Independence in 1947. Though this is an unavoidable reality but one that can be managed.
It is natural that one or more strategic players in the region wants to see Gwadar and CPEC projects derailed. This cannot be done through military means, at least not under the current circumstances, so the next best option is to make it controversial within Pakistan and exploit the weaknesses in our political system [foreign funding, foreign links] to create impediments for Gwadar/CPEC.
The external enemies of this project will exploit existing fault lines. The government of Pakistan must nip any grievances in the bud before the issue grows and takes root. Members of the Pakistani political parties, trade bodies, the media, and civil society can receive regular briefings on the progress. These briefings should be well prepared, and can counter any attempts to make Gwadar and CPEC projects controversial. It is time to get creative about Gwadar and CPEC. These are grand strategic projects and the Pakistani vision about the future should be equally grand.
The author is a researcher, journalist and a public policy commentator. [email protected]
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