How Balochistan's Coastal Highway Cut Awaran Off From the Rest of the World

A deserted Turbat road.  Pictures courtesy: Aziz Ahmad Jamali

A deserted Turbat road. Pictures courtesy: Aziz Ahmad Jamali

This post is based on original reporting in Urdu by Shabbir Rakshani and is translated by Adnan Aamir for Balochistan Point. It is published on Global Voices as a part of a content-sharing agreement.

Turbat Road was once a cacophony of honking, noise and bustling businesses.

The road connected Pakistan's largest city Karachi with the southern Balochistan city Turbat, which has an international airport.

The popular road went through Awaran, the poorest district in Pakistan's poorest province Balochistan, and many towns in between. The road helped connect the impoverished district to the outside world.

The 278 kilometre (173 mile) road transported passengers and goods to Karachi and had become a lifeline for people living in settlements along the road, especially in Awaran home to more than 125,000 people.

Today, Awaran is a completely different place from it was 12 years ago. According to people who live there now, the unpaved and unmaintained Turbat Road is a quiet stretch, used by barely 10-15 vehicles at a time. Mir Abdul Rasheed, who lives in Awaran, says a coastal highway built more than 300 kilometres away in 2003 destroyed his district's economy.

Awaran is sprawling, incredibly under-developed and mostly cut-off from the world. According to a government profile from 2011, the 25,000 kilometre square district has few paved roads, no gas connection, and electricity is unavailable in most parts of Awaran. This district has no industry and relies basically on farming.

Along the Turbat Road, there used to be a host of small tea shops, restaurants, and repair shops. If you weren't a farmer in Arawan you worked or owned one of these places on Turbat Road.

Pictures courtesy: Aziz Ahmad Jamali

Another scene of Turbat Road. Picture by Aziz Ahmad Jamali for Balochistan Point. Used with permission.

That changed in 2003. The coastal highway built during President Pervez Musharraf's administration, runs through the scantly populated Makran coastal belt and connects Karachi with the upcoming well-financed port city Gwadar in southern Balochistan. The highway does not go through Turbat or Awaran.

When the coastal road was completed, traffic on Turbat Road dried up, as traders shifted to the new well-maintained highway that connects them to Karachi.

Rasheed, the resident from Awaran, claims the 635-kilometer-long coastal highway only benefits settlements in two small towns in Gwadar district – Pasni and Ormara – where the combined population is about 50,000. He says Turbat Road went through many more populated areas and benefitted hundreds of thousands of people. “If Turbat Road had been upgraded during Musharraf’s regime, then Awaran's fate today would be totally different,” Rasheed told The Balochistan Point. Besides Awaran, the road also went through Lasbella district, home to 300,000 people.

With a newer, more modern road now available, truck drivers abandoned Turbat Road, saying its lack of asphalt and generally poor condition made it unsafe. As the traffic disappeared, the businesses along the road have also closed, taking with them jobs that kept whole towns afloat. As the years have passed, the commercial centers along Turbat Road have also become ghost towns, and the entire region's economic landscape has changed.

Moula Baksh, a resident of Gishkor in Awaran district used to run a restaurant in Turbat. He recounts that his restaurant did very well from 1985 to 2003. “I used to earn rupees 25,000-30,000 (USD 250-300) a day and I employed 15 people,” Mr. Baksh told The Balochistan Point. After the construction of the coastal highway, Moula Baksh had to close down his restaurant and let go of his employees.

People living along Turbat Road relied on it to access various daily necessities, including Iranian oil, which changed the fortunes of local traders. Abdul Samad, a farmer also based in Gishkor, told The Balochistan Point, “When Turbat Road was functional, farmers of Awaran could get oil at cheap prices and transport their agricultural goods with ease. The coastal highway has ruined agriculture in Awaran and now oil is available at four times higher rates.”

Local sources told The Balochistan Point that this atmosphere of abandonment has encouraged some men to pick up weapons and join the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan. Awaran district is believed to be on the frontline of the armed Baloch independence movement.

On September 23, 2013, a devastating earthquake flattened Awaran and killed about 500 people, rendering homeless another 200,000, further exacerbating Awaran's economic plight. People in Awaran told The Balochistan Point that they demand that the government rebuild Turbat Road, which would ideally reconnect them to the outside world.

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