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Balochistan has cultural outlook for trade boom

Balochistan has cultural outlook for trade boom

Interview with Sardar Shoukat Popalzai – President, Balochistan Economic Forum

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Profile:

Sardar Shoukat Popalzai is President of Balochistan Economic Forum. The Balochistan Economic Forum is a think tank-cum-business & economic policy advocacy forum established in 1992 and presently striving for the economic development & attracting investment in the province of Balochistan. The Balochistan Economic Forum has been designed to familiarize the national & international economic community with opportunities for trade and investment in the province of Balochistan. Since its inception, the Balochistan Economic Forum has played an important role in attracting foreign investment in the province of Balochistan and it continues to be the main powerhouse behind integrating foreign investment and has completed 29 years of its meritorious services this year.[/box]

PAGE: Which sectors of economy need investment in Balochistan?

Sardar Shoukat Popalzai: Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan covering 47% of the country’s area, but is home to only 5% of the country’s population. Its strength is in its wealth of natural resources, the vast rangeland, the coastal belt with 750km of as yet undeveloped coastline, and rich mineral and hydrocarbon deposits. But this enormous resource potential remains untapped, and Balochistan lags behind other provinces in economic development. Average household incomes are low as there is little industrial activity and employment opportunities outside agriculture and mining are limited. Balochistan needs foreign and local investment to develop its economic sectors. There are greater investment opportunities in all sectors of provincial economy. The provincial government needs to improve security situation and create an environment through granting attractive incentives for seeking foreign investment particularly in horticulture, livestock, fisheries and mining.

According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Balochistan has more than eighty mineral resources with significant deposits. Balochistan possesses great unexplored potential of metallic and non-metallic minerals, besides, Balochistan has a significant natural gas resources but large-scale mining has failed to take off. Foreign firms have been put off by security fears and a high-profile litigation case with Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta over RekoDiq, one of the world’s biggest undeveloped gold and copper mines, in the province.

The province is rich in natural resources, but it is still underdeveloped region. There is huge potential for development in the livestock and dairy sectors, as the province can earn a substantial amount of income by exporting the products in these sectors to the lucrative markets in the food deficit region — particularly Afghanistan and Central Asia. It has tremendous potential for development of horticulture, particularly the fruit farms. The land along coastal belt has enormous potential for development of shrimp farming and processing projects, which can play a vital role in fisheries development in the province.

Balochistan makes up 70 percent of Pakistan’s total coastal belt. According to an estimate, 60 species of fish and 10 of shrimps, including the best in the world, are found in the province. The province is known as the country’s fruit basket, as it produces millions of tons of fruits annually. The province contributes country’s 90% production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60% of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34% of apple and 70% of dates. While apple, apricot, cherry and peach are high delta fruits, the grape, olive, pistachio and pomegranate are low delta fruits grown in the province. The province produces dates of 130 varieties. Balochistan’s huge yield potential of high quality deciduous fruits can efficiently be tapped by making investments in establishing ‘crop specific zone’ and ‘fruit processing units’ in the province.

PAGE: What is the state of investment in the real estate sector of Gwadar and other cities of Balochistan?

Sardar Shoukat Popalzai: The landscape in Gwadar has changed dramatically in recent years and that growth is set to continue to bring Gwadar in line with other cities around the world thus bringing the port in line with international standards. It’s no wonder that investors are drawn to the Gwadar property market from both a commercial and residential point of view. Property prices will rise considerably as further investment and infrastructure is developed. The beginning of 2020 was looking bright the Gwadar port took transit from Afghanistan and fishing cargo for the first time while the Pakistani government still maintains a strong commitment to further its Master Plan project. Growth in Gwadar has been rapid since building development is booming with the airport, oil refinery and power plants on their way and numerous meetings between the Chinese and Pakistani governments promise continued investment for the long term future.

Investors are enormously encouraged that Gwadar has a massive potential for financial growth. Gwadar real estate prices can only be expected to rise in the years to come, so it’s advisable to get in early in what is essentially a ‘ground floor’ scenario.

The comparisons to Dubai are very real and that’s why Gwadar should be seen as such an exciting investment opportunity. Another prosperous city Gwadar is comparable to is Shenzhen in China. Back in the 1980s and 1990s Shenzhen was the fastest growing city in the world. Like Shenzhen, Gwadar started life as a small fishing village whose value as a port location was eventually recognised. More parallels exist with both Gwadar and Shenzhen being granted special economic free zone status. Huge investment was poured into Shenzhen and while property buyers continue to target the city, much of that investment has now switched to Gwadar.

The major cities including capital city Quetta of Balochistan province are also at the verge of real estate boom, since, the urbanisation is taking place with development of infrastructure and is attracting particularly the people settled overseas from the province of Balochistran.

PAGE: How much investment has been made in the infrastructure of Balochistan?

Sardar Shoukat Popalzai: The infrastructure of the province is gradually developing but still lags far behind other parts of the country. Tourism remains limited, limited farming in the east as well as fishing along the southern Arabian Sea coastline are other forms of income and sustenance for the local populations. Due to the tribal lifestyle of population, animal husbandry is important, as are trading markets found throughout the province. Though the province remains largely underdeveloped, there are currently several major development projects in progress in Balochistan, including the construction of deep sea port city the strategically important town of Gwadar. The port is projected to be the hub of an energy and trade corridor to and from China and the Central Asian republics.

Also in 2015 a motorway has begun construction South West in Gwadar District to Quetta then to Ratodero this motorway will connect many towns into major high ways and cities. Also the northern city of Quetta a freight service is being commenced to Iranian city of Zahedan this service will give better opportunities to business community and locals. Not only that the local traders will be given special concession. Overall spending in infrastructure construction, energy expansion, and routes development would unshackle bottle necks to drive connectivity, trade and growth in the province of Balochistan.

PAGE: There is a prevalent assumption that there is plenty of potential in the tourism sector of Balochistan. Do you think ample investment is underway in the tourism sector of Balochistan?

Sardar Shoukat Popalzai: The tourism industry is increasingly holding an important place in the global economy. In the year 2019, the contribution of travel and tourism to global GDP was 8.9 trillion US dollars, making 10.3% of total global GDP. Countries across the globe are diversifying their economies by allocating more and more space to tourism. Pakistan, despite having immense potential for tourism, is sadly lagging behind in highlighting its hidden potential for it. Within Pakistan, Balochistan province, despite being the largest province by space (making up 47% of Pakistan), has paid the least attention towards promoting tourism and is lagging far behind other provinces of the country.

Geographically, Balochistan is a land of varied landscapes including mountain ranges, deserts, and a coastline of about 770km. It exists in the southwest of Pakistan and shares a border with two important Muslim countries, Iran and Afghanistan. Due to its vast geography and landscapes of different natures, it experiences the coldest weather in certain areas like Ziarat Valley and the hottest weather in the deserts of Kharan and Chagai. Besides being home to a wide array of precious minerals, the province produces different qualities of fruit in huge quantities and thus is dubbed as ‘fruit basket of Pakistan’. Important among them are dates, apples, almonds, etc. An important mountain range called Suleiman-Kirthar mountain range, rising beyond 3000m at a few points, lies between the Balochistan plateau and Indus Valley. The scenic beauty of Ziarat Valley alongside its snowy weathers in winters and cool breezes in summers, the awe-inspiring waterfalls of Pir Ghayb, the unmatchable view of frozen Hanna lake in winters, the serenity of Kund Malir beach, and the worth mentioning beauty Istola Island are few glimpses of Balochistan inherent beauty.

All this uniqueness can be well employed by the government to attract tourists from across the country and other areas of the world. From an archaeological point of view too, the importance of Balochistan cannot be overlooked. It has been home to an ancient civilization Mehargarh. Dating back to almost 7000 BC, the civilization is also called as ‘mother of Indus civilization’. The site attracts tourists interested in mysteries of the ancient world across the globe. Besides, the structures made by Britishers during their reign in Subcontinent also hold important value for tourists. Fort Sandeman, constructed in Zhob in 1860, serving as a military Garrison, is one among them. Similarly, Khojak Tunnel, 3.8km long, counted among long railway tunnels in South Asia, and mysteries attached to it can whet the curiosity of tourists if highlighted by the Government.

The cultural richness of Balochistan holds much importance from tourists’ point of view. Being contiguous to Iran and Afghanistan and absorbing wholesome effects of cultural diffusion, the culture of Balochistan has a wide array of colours. The tribal spectrum of the province makes it unique in intangible culture i.e. hospitality, love, respect. The handicraft of Balochistan enjoys worldwide popularity and is a good source of income for home confined females. Besides, the festivals celebrated here specially Sibi Festival attracts tourists from all corners of the country. Despite all this potential, the share of tourism in provincial revenue is almost negligible. There are multiple reasons behind this dismal reality. Important among them are the lack of access to tourist points, absence of lodging facilities, lack of proper highlighting of worth visiting the place, etc.

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