By K J M Varma
Beijing, Jan 16 China said on Thursday that it was "pleased" to see Pakistan''s strategically located Gwadar port, the centre of its crucial economic corridor, has started handling transit cargo to Afghanistan from this week.
The transhipment of goods to Afghanistan through Gwadar port, which offers a much shorter overland link, particularly to southern regions of the war-torn nation, assumed significance as it is located close to Chabahar, the Iranian port being developed by India to ship its cargo to Afghanistan.
The reports from Pakistan said the Gwadar port, which is being developed by Beijing as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has begun handling transit cargo headed to and from landlocked Afghanistan.
"We are pleased for the new progress achieved in the development of the Gwadar port," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here.
"We support Gwadar port in playing a bigger role in promoting regional goods and trade cooperation. It is proven that the CPEC not only benefits both China and Pakistan but also regional connectivity and economic cooperation," he said.
The CPEC connecting China''s resource rich Xinjiang province with Gwadar port is regarded as the flagship project of the BRI, which is aimed at furthering Beijing''s influence abroad with infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments all over the world.
The initiative also led to allegations of smaller countries reeling under mounting Chinese debt after Sri Lanka gave its strategic Hambantota port in a debt swap to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease.
Officials said the first ship full of Afghan cargo containers reached Gwadar on Tuesday. The containers will be loaded onto trucks for transport to Afghanistan through the Pakistani border town of Chaman.
Afghanistan relies on Pakistani overland routes and Karachi and Port Qasim ports for international trade under a bilateral deal with Islamabad.
As Pakistan has closed the land route for Indian goods to be transported to Afghanistan through the Wagah border, India has started developing Chabahar port in cooperation with Iran for its shipments to and from Afghanistan.
China, which is trying to promote trilateral cooperation with Pakistan and Afghanistan with attempts to resolve their differences over the Taliban, plans to take the CPEC projects to Afghanistan.
India has protested to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
China in recent weeks also tried to arrange peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban but the meeting failed to materialise as the militant group''s representatives failed to turn up. KJV ZH ZH