Fishing trawlers in Gwadar: a lose-lose partnership?

Large-scale projects can destabilize territories and local population may not feel they own their native land anymore.  This can lead to dispute between locals and investors. This might happen in Gwadar, where some Chinese fishing trawlers are posing a threat to the activities of local fishermen that operate small boats.

Traditional fishing vs fishing trawlers

On 14 June,  Pakistan’s  Maritime Security Agency seized five Chinese fishing boats that were fishing in waters of South Balochistan. China claimed trawlers had to take refuge near Gwadar because of bad weather. But local fishermen noticed a decline of the amount of catch since the arrival of Chinese trawlers.

However, according to the Dawn, provincial and federal authorities have issued fishing licences to Chinese trawlers. If this is true, this decision may challenge the whole development of Gwadar, and shows that Pakistan has actually no long term strategy for Gwadar.

Gwadar is still an underdeveloped city in Balochistan, one of Pakistan’s poorest regions. Many communities strongly depend on fishing for their living. Locals fish usually in a sustainable way to preserve resources, unlike foreign trawlers that can overexploit fish stocks. This is a serious issue, and Pakistani and Chinese authorities need to work together to address this challenge.

A lose-lose partnership

New licences given to Chinese trawlers may lead to a bad environment for foreign investors in Gwadar. For local fishermen who are suffering from a loss of revenue because of Chinese trawlers, Chinese companies will be seen as a threat. Locals will be less likely to support new projects in their city. This will also reduce trust in provincial and federal authorities. To a certain extent, it may also increase terrorism in Balochistan.

Although some Chinese companies may gain profit from trawlers’ activities, most Chinese companies will be affected by locals’ reluctance to work for the development of Gwadar. At the end, Chinese companies may chose to invest elsewhere.

More concertation is required

New projects in Gwadar can create some opportunities for the locals. However, the newly built infrastructures and industrial plants may also threaten locals’ habits. It is important for both Pakistani and Chinese leaders to make everyone enjoy the benefits offered by the CPEC.

Pakistani authorities are already implementing projects to support locals’ empowerment in Gwadar with for example the construction of schools and housing units. There are also plans to develop the whole South Balochistan region. However, this approach needs to be adopted in every aspect of Gwadar’s development strategy. It means that NGOS and local representatives need to take part in the decision-making process regarding every major project planned in Gwadar.

Locals’ housing needs

A major question regards the accommodations of locals in Gwadar future megacity. Relocations must be limited and a sizeable portion of new housing units need to be given to locals, regardless of income. This is the best way to gain the support from the local population.   

Learning from China

In their stategy to develop Gwadar, Pakistani authorities need to closely examine the policies adopted by China in the 80’s. In most SEZs, Chinese local entrepreneurs were deeply involved in the economy. Similar strategies must be implemented in Gwadar.

 Locals make the soul of Gwadar, it must be a priority to have them on board!

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