Beyond the shadow of a doubt, development of Gwadar Port constitutes the lynch-pin of the greater China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It speaks volumes of the time-tested and all-weather friendship between the two countries and further fortifies the strength of the China-Pakistan relationship. With Pakistan’s two major Ports-Karachi and Qasim- operating to their capacity, Gwadar promises to eventually handle one million tons of cargo annually, while also providing significant industrial, oil, and transportation infrastructure. Being hailed as a “monument of Pakistan-China friendship,” Gwadar Port offers a gateway to the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is only 107 miles (172 km) from Chabahar across the border with Iran and, now, both ports are being developed into maritime hubs by China and India, respectively, triggering what is being called the New Great Game in South Asia. The CPEC is aimed at linking Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar on the Makran coast of Baluchistan, the largest province of Pakistan. It is expected to bring economic prosperity to the region and is part of President Xi Jinping’s “dream of national rejuvenation.” He Lifeng, Chairman of National Development and Reform Commission-China, said in a message, “The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an important loop in the larger chain of Belt and Road Initiative(BRI), and would enable the possibility of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Route”.
At the time of Pakistan’s independence, Gwadar as a principality had been in the possession of the Sultan of Oman for almost 200 years. It had been given as a gift to Oman by the then Khan of Kalat in 1783. From 1863 up to independence in 1947, it was administered by a British assistant political agent on behalf of the Sultan of Oman and the small town comprised only a few fishing villages. After independence, at the urging of the Pakistan government, the Khan of Kalat requested the Sultan of Oman to return Gwadar to Pakistan. Oman is reported to have sold Gwadar to Pakistan for $3 million on September 8, 1958. Since December 1958, it has been an integral part of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan and is now being developed into a deep-water port with Chinese assistance as a living monument of their relationship rooted in history. Pak-China friendship has generally been described as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.” The two countries have closely worked in various sectors including development of ballistic missiles. They also have a strong relationship in manufacturing military hardware and most of Pakistan’s weapons and equipment now come from China.
The relations between the two have become even closer with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), turning into a real game-changer
The relations between the two have become even closer with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), turning into a real game-changer. They have, together, been constantly persuading and negotiating with Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia to join CPEC for mutual interests. The $62 billion project will link Xinjiang Province of China with Gwadar port on the Makran Coast west of Karachi. Gwadar port and its allied connectivity network is a watershed initiative taken by Pakistan to create secure and accessible trade routes for regional economic integration. Geo-strategically located at the cross-roads of oil rich Middle East, heavily populated South Asia with a huge consumer market, and the energy rich Central Asian Republics (CARs), Pakistan can hugely benefit from the immense trade traffic generated by Gwadar Port. This potential can, thus, be gauged by the global trade trends. Global maritime trade trends indicate the growing need of additional ports to accommodate and channelize the rising maritime trade. The 2017 issue of United Nations’ Review of Maritime Transport reports an increased demand for shipping services as a result of 2.6 per cent increase in world seaborne trade. The overall seaborne trade volume was estimated at 10.3 billion tons, reflecting an increase of over A260 million tons of cargo. Similarly, there has been a record increase of 12.6% in the world container port traffic and it will further increase more than twice and will reach 371million TEU by 2024.
Furthermore, with the growing industrialization of global economy, there has been a parallel demand for energy sources like coal, natural gas and oil to sustain economic growth. Various credible studies suggest that there will be high demand for natural gas and oil in the coming decades. It is projected that the demand for natural gas will increase by 2.75 percent annually and that the demand for oil will remain unabated. These global trade trends and rising energy demands necessitate the construction of additional ports. Owing to its strategic location, the deep sea Gwadar port has the potential to serve as the hub that helps in meeting these growing demands and aspirations for energy sources, alternative and secure routes to the oil rich Middle East as well as the CARs. Besides, Gwadar port has substantial military benefits for Pakistan. Around 95% of its import and export is done via sea routes. Currently, most of Pakistan’s import-export has to be carried out near Indian border in the east. This has serious consequences of naval blockade and other acts of aggression in case of a conflict with India. In such a desperate moment, Gwadar being further 460 km away from India provides an indispensable alternative to the Karachi port complex.
Thus, Gwadar Port offers Pakistan military the much needed maneuvering space and response time in case of urgency. Cognizant of these threats, Chinese and Pakistani naval forces have resolved to enhance security cooperation in the Indian Ocean, as indicated by the sale of eight submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Thus, given the important geo-strategic location, the positive global trade trends and the increasing global demand for energy resources and secure routes, Gwadar port is destined to earn huge revenues once it is fully operational. It can safely be inferred that the Port has huge socio-economic and geostrategic benefits for the country provided that its peaceful use is ensured. The Port is certainly going to become the propeller of prosperity for the impoverished Baluchistan province and the country at large.
In this regard, it is absolutely necessary that all state institutions including the elected government, the military, judiciary as well as media play a positive role in ensuring the wellbeing of the inhabitants of marginalized and disadvantaged regions like Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. It is reassuring to know that the incumbent regime in Islamabad has shown its singular commitment by setting up an autonomous CPEC Authority as recommended by the Senate Special Committee on CPEC. The Authority is all set to manage the internal challenges of planning, financing and coordinating between institutions, provinces and agencies to establish synergies, build momentum and thus fast-track the desired outcomes. Furthermore, the Authority is also committed to rationalize tax regimes, ensure infrastructure and energy provisions, and address transparency of contracts in order to maximize gains from CPEC and its pivotal project, Gwadar Port. In a nutshell, Gwadar deep-sea Port is envisaged as a regional hub for trans-shipment which could significantly contribute to the socio-economic development of Pakistan and, thus, become the gateway to glory. He who lives will see it happening and that too very soon.
The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!