Gwadar is a name to keep in mind for those who do not already know it. Situated in Balochistan-by-the-sea, it consists of humble fishing villages about to be transformed into a real estate gold coast. It all began when Pakistan’s rich and famous started buying property in the peninsula which juts out into the Arabian sea, and when China put down USD 250 million to build the Gwadar Sea Port.
Entire swaths of barren land, sand dunes and craggy hills on both sides of the newly built Makran Coastal Highway that snakes in all the way west from Karachi have been sold out, occupied or allotted. Money has been changing hands and many peasants are suddenly millionaires, while the middlemen have become billionaires. Today, villagers move about with their goats in brand new pickups. One hears stories about unexpected stacks of notes being stuffed into jute bags in adobe houses, and livestock munching away at some of the cash. Never in their wildest dreams would the Gwadarians have imagined that their barren coastline might eclipse real estate values in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
But questions have begun to crop up about the validity of the entire exercise. Does the acerage being picked up actually belong to the sellers and developers, most of the latter from Karachi and central Punjab? At the time of independence, Gwadar was not even a part of Pakistan. The region was ruled by Muscat’s royal family and it was only in 1958 that it was sold to Pakistan for a sum of 90 million rupees. The government of Pakistan ought therefore to be the rightful owner of the real estate. This also seems to have been the belief of a bench of Balochistan High Court when a property case was brought before it.
Strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, and right next to the oil- and gas-rich Iranian border, Gwadar presents tremendous opportunities as a future hub of trade and commerce for the growing economies of West, South and East Asia and the land-locked Central Asian Republics. That is why the Chinese have built the port.
It is certain that Gwadar port will develop, but will the coast? And will the local fisherfolk and tribes people benefit when the boom finally arrives, whether in fact they do or do not own the land?
So much for soft borders
… Just put down the phone after having spoken to a very polite ‘Khan Sahib’ at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi (dialled 2611 0601).
R: Aslam aleikum! Aap kya tourist visa dena band kar diye hain?
K: Wo to dono hukumat faisla karenge phir . . .
R: Main nahi samjhi itne log cricket dekhne gayen-aayen. Wo kis visa pe then?
K: Wo sirf usi time ke liye special visa tha. Dono mulk ka ye faisla tha.
R: To ab aap kis log ko visa de rahen hain?
K: Sirf ‘blood relations’ ko.
R: Main to wahan ki kisika ‘blood relations’ nahi hoon. Par mera shauhar wahan hai. Mujhe aap visa nahi denge?
K: Aap ka shaadi kab hui thi?
K: Aap ko to hak banta hai Jane.
- Aapko hum kyun rokenge?
R: Kya aap business visa de rahen hain?
K: Han. Par uske liye Home Ministry se permission lena padta hai.
R: Badi meherbani ji. Achha main kin se bat kar rahi hoon?
K: Main Khan hoon.
R: Khuda Hafiz Khan Sahib.
K: Allah Hafiz ji.
So that’s that!
NO TOURIST VISAS BEING GRANTED TO INDIANS.
AND ACCORDING TO KHAN SAHIB, INDIA IS NOT GRANTING TOURIST VISAS TO PAKISTANIS.
SOFT FOR WHOM?