CAN GWADAR BE LIKE SHENZHEN 16 SEPTEMBER 2017

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is poised to boost development in Pakistan. But CPEC can substitute neither the need for institutional reforms nor the importance of domestic investment. However, amid extreme positions taken by supporters and opponents of CPEC, the space for meaningful dialogue on exploiting the project’s benefits has been squeezed.

Henceforth, I aim to highlight an important aspect of CPEC: the newly-planned Gwadar city.

Gwadar city is expected to hold a key position in the CPEC’s trade route and China’s Belt and Road initiative. Many Pakistanis believe that the city will look like Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, and the list of such cities goes on and on. What is missing amid all these comparisons is a dialogue on governance and design of the proposed city.

Why is it important to raise this question now? Because Pakistan has proven incapable of managing its cities as engines of growth. Pakistan is one of the fastest urbanising countries with numerous mega cities, yet these cities are still being governed in a colonial fashion. Federal and provincial governments continue to poorly manage the cities through a top-down approach. Both service delivery and commercial activities are marginalised due to a lack of governance capacity. Furthermore, even megapolises like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, and Islamabad lack city-based economic development bureaus.

If Gwadar is also going to function under the prevailing administrative arrangements, then we should not expect it to look like Shenzhen. It would not make sense to appoint as executive head of Gwadar city’s government some earlier serving in Lasbela or Loralai. The governance style and challenges in Gwadar city will be different. Whenever it comes to city design, our planners assume that it is all about the demarcation of residential, commercial and industrial areas along with construction of a few bridges, roads and an airport. What is least thought about is who will reside in the city? What will the residents do? What will be the future concentration of industries and firms? How will the societal fabric of the city evolve? Or, what would be the approach for developing public spaces?

The concept of a smart city is not about use of information technology only. Rather, it envisages an improvement in the quality of life and livelihood of the citizenry
Yes, we are eagerly looking forward to a few Chinese and other international firms to move to Gwadar but we keep ignoring that these firms will need a city governance structure different than that of Karachi and Lahore. In this regard, three challenges will need special attention: First, building new infrastructure — for education, health, and transportation. Second, it will be a tedious task to attract innovative firms and skilled labour force. Third, Gwadar’s local population will need to be integrated into city’s governance. The city administration will have to ensure credible governance, an enabling business environment, and a conducive city design to attract professionals, and above all, ensure prosperity of the local people. The knowledge economy of the city (just like Shenzhen) would need a confluence of talented professionals and innovative firms. Where would both come from?

As parallels are being drawn to Shenzhen and Dubai, let’s have a look into a few aspects of governance in these cities. China has developed Shenzhen as a laboratory of urban governance and economic reforms. The governance system and economic rules in the city were different than rest of the Chinese cities. Shenzhen is the first city in China to initiate political competition and public debates for nomination of its mayor. The experimentation to introduce market economy in China also started in Shenzhen. Though federal government started Shenzhen as a special economic zone but the city government was empowered to make decisions and attract suitable investors.

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is another relevant example. UAE considered it important to introduce credible and efficient judicial system as a key to attract capital and financial industry. Hence, DIFC is an autonomous region with its own three-fold legal system for civil and commercial matters. The judges of DIFC courts can come from around the world with an international commercial law experience. There was also a partnership between DIFC and London Court of International Arbitration. The alternate dispute resolution system of DIFC has been delivering effective results.

The above models may not be applicable in their entirety to Gwadar city but they inform us about deliberate efforts undertaken by China and UAE to design innovative governance structures for special economic zones of Shenzhen and DIFC, respectively.

Moreover, a unique challenge for Gwadar city is that unlike Shenzhen and DIFC it does not have a large city in proximity. Nevertheless, there is a great opportunity for Pakistan to experiment a customised urban design and governance framework in Gwadar as an island of excellence. This framework can then be followed by other metropolitan cities.

It is appreciable that the process of redevelopment of the master plan of Gwadar, as a smart city, has started. But it is essential to highlight that the concept of smart city is not all about use of information technology. Rather, it envisages an improvement in the quality of life and livelihood of the citizenry. There are also developments regarding engagement with the local people of Gwadar for educational opportunities and social development. These signal cognisance of the federal government to develop Gwadar as a competitive city and to share the dividend of prosperity with local residents.

However, a professional and capable local government will be needed to let Gwadar city thrive. The success of port cities depends on both port operations and city’s competitiveness. Hence, there is a need to bring the governance and city design of Gwadar at the forefront of the dialogue on CPEC.

If Gwadar is going to function under the prevailing administrative arrangements — then we should not expect it to look like Shenzhen

 

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is poised to boost development in Pakistan. But CPEC can substitute neither the need for institutional reforms nor the importance of domestic investment. However, amid extreme positions taken by supporters and opponents of CPEC, the space for meaningful dialogue on exploiting the project’s benefits has been squeezed.

Henceforth, I aim to highlight an important aspect of CPEC: the newly-planned Gwadar city.

Gwadar city is expected to hold a key position in the CPEC’s trade route and China’s Belt and Road initiative. Many Pakistanis believe that the city will look like Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, and the list of such cities goes on and on. What is missing amid all these comparisons is a dialogue on governance and design of the proposed city.

Why is it important to raise this question now? Because Pakistan has proven incapable of managing its cities as engines of growth. Pakistan is one of the fastest urbanising countries with numerous mega cities, yet these cities are still being governed in a colonial fashion. Federal and provincial governments continue to poorly manage the cities through a top-down approach. Both service delivery and commercial activities are marginalised due to a lack of governance capacity. Furthermore, even megapolises like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, and Islamabad lack city-based economic development bureaus.

If Gwadar is also going to function under the prevailing administrative arrangements, then we should not expect it to look like Shenzhen. It would not make sense to appoint as executive head of Gwadar city’s government some earlier serving in Lasbela or Loralai. The governance style and challenges in Gwadar city will be different. Whenever it comes to city design, our planners assume that it is all about the demarcation of residential, commercial and industrial areas along with construction of a few bridges, roads and an airport. What is least thought about is who will reside in the city? What will the residents do? What will be the future concentration of industries and firms? How will the societal fabric of the city evolve? Or, what would be the approach for developing public spaces?

Yes, we are eagerly looking forward to a few Chinese and other international firms to move to Gwadar but we keep ignoring that these firms will need a city governance structure different than that of Karachi and Lahore. In this regard, three challenges will need special attention: First, building new infrastructure — for education, health, and transportation. Second, it will be a tedious task to attract innovative firms and skilled labour force. Third, Gwadar’s local population will need to be integrated into city’s governance. The city administration will have to ensure credible governance, an enabling business environment, and a conducive city design to attract professionals, and above all, ensure prosperity of the local people. The knowledge economy of the city (just like Shenzhen) would need a confluence of talented professionals and innovative firms. Where would both come from?

As parallels are being drawn to Shenzhen and Dubai, let’s have a look into a few aspects of governance in these cities. China has developed Shenzhen as a laboratory of urban governance and economic reforms. The governance system and economic rules in the city were different than rest of the Chinese cities. Shenzhen is the first city in China to initiate political competition and public debates for nomination of its mayor. The experimentation to introduce market economy in China also started in Shenzhen. Though federal government started Shenzhen as a special economic zone but the city government was empowered to make decisions and attract suitable investors.

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is another relevant example. UAE considered it important to introduce credible and efficient judicial system as a key to attract capital and financial industry. Hence, DIFC is an autonomous region with its own three-fold legal system for civil and commercial matters. The judges of DIFC courts can come from around the world with an international commercial law experience. There was also a partnership between DIFC and London Court of International Arbitration. The alternate dispute resolution system of DIFC has been delivering effective results.

The above models may not be applicable in their entirety to Gwadar city but they inform us about deliberate efforts undertaken by China and UAE to design innovative governance structures for special economic zones of Shenzhen and DIFC, respectively.

Moreover, a unique challenge for Gwadar city is that unlike Shenzhen and DIFC it does not have a large city in proximity. Nevertheless, there is a great opportunity for Pakistan to experiment a customised urban design and governance framework in Gwadar as an island of excellence. This framework can then be followed by other metropolitan cities.

It is appreciable that the process of redevelopment of the master plan of Gwadar, as a smart city, has started. But it is essential to highlight that the concept of smart city is not all about use of information technology. Rather, it envisages an improvement in the quality of life and livelihood of the citizenry. There are also developments regarding engagement with the local people of Gwadar for educational opportunities and social development. These signal cognisance of the federal government to develop Gwadar as a competitive city and to share the dividend of prosperity with local residents.

However, a professional and capable local government will be needed to let Gwadar city thrive. The success of port cities depends on both port operations and city’s competitiveness. Hence, there is a need to bring the governance and city design of Gwadar at the forefront of the dialogue on CPEC

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