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Growing Chinese stakes in Gwadar

Published on 2nd Mar, Edition 9, 2015

 

Becoming an operator of Gwadar Port, China is consistently increasing its stakes in Gwadar, a strategically located port city in southern Balochistan. The port has been built with Chinese assistance of more than $220 million and over $66 million has been contributed by the Pakistan authority. The port has full potential to become one of the most user, and trade-friendly ports of the world with its 4.7-kilometres long and 206-metre wide approach channel, 595-metre diameter turning basin, three 600-metre long multipurpose berths and other state-of-the-art cargo handling equipment.

Last year, the financing and development of Gwadar International Airport was taken over by China from Civil Aviation Authority. This airport would have a terminal of 1 million passengers capacity; a 3,600 m x 60 m runway and its associated taxiways; approximately 62,000 sq.m of parking area; a cargo terminal with a capacity of 50,000 tons per year; a parking lot for 800 vehicles; a control tower; and the associated buildings and services.

In 2013, a Chinese delegation visited Islamabad to hold crucial talks on laying an oil pipeline from Gwadar Port to Western China. The proposed pipeline, which is a part of China-Pakistan corridor, could be extended and connected with Iran, which has already offered to supply crude oil. In the proposed corridor, Gwadar Port is likely to become a major outlet for trade between the China, Central Asia and the Gulf region. After construction of the proposed rail, road and pipeline projects between China and Pakistan, Gwadar Port will handle most of the oil tankers to China. In the present age of globalization, Gwadar has greater scope and tremendous potential to emerge as distribution and logistics hub in the region. It is because of its geo-economic importance that Gwadar was highlighted as the future port of global investors at an international conference on ‘Free zones, science and technology parks, enterprise zones’, held in Brussels in 2007. The conference was jointly organized by World Free Zone Convention (WFZC) and World Customs Organization (WCO).

Gwadar port would help bring Balochistan’s coastal areas into the economic mainstream of Pakistan. It will catalyze the development process in the province bringing it at par with other provinces.

Development of an integrated transport system and future road and rail links to CARs and rest of the country will enhance the local peoples’ access to new vistas of development and prosperity. Gwadar Port will open up the hinterland. Besides, serving as transshipment hub, it would promote the development of a refinery and petrochemical complex and other industries. ECO highway, coastal highway and other mega projects in road sector will connect Gwadar port with Central Asian states, Gulf sheikdoms and rest of the country.

In 2010, China declared Kashgar, an important transit point on the ancient Silk Route and a gateway between China and Pakistan, as Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The proposed Kashgar SEZ would develop Xinjiang into a major trading hub and more energy and economic integration with South and Central Asia. The SEZs in Gwadar and Kashgar and the rail and road connectivity between the two proposed SEZs would have great economic, political and strategic implications for the whole region. On one hand, the two countries are working on laying the strategic Havelian-Khunjerab railway track in the difficult terrain of Karakoram connecting China with Pakistan from Gwadar in Balochistan. On the other hand, there are proposals to connect the Pakistan Railways with the trans-Asian railway network that will link the two countries through rail networks. This will facilitate trade to the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Russia and China and beyond.

A fully operational seaport at Gwadar will revolutionize the communication sector of Balochistan. It will entail a multi-directional network of road communication not only in Pakistan but the whole region. The development of road links between Gwadar and the Central Asian States and also China’s Xinjiang province will give distinction to the port of becoming the nearest mother port in the region.

Establishment of railway link with Gwadar to Taftan in Iran via Saindak has been planned. A parallel road from Gwadar to Saindak, running parallel to the Iran-Pakistan border will make it the shortest route to reach Central Asia from the warm waters of Arabian Sea. Another 515-km long highway connecting Gwadar via Panjgur, Kharan, Chaghi and Rabat up to Herat in eastern Afghanistan is on the drawing boards. This would link up Pakistan directly by road with the CARs.

The coastal highway will link the Gwadar port with the hinterland and lateral roads, rail links, water supply and power supply schemes. Makran coast has great economic potential. Its land can be utilized for farming. Its tremendous potential in mining and offshore exploration in oil & gas sector cannot be denied. It has great development potential for wind power stations. It has also vast potential for development of ports, fishing and boat building industries. Industrial zones and projects for mineral development, oil and gas exploration and exploitation have also been planned in the area.

Makran coastal highway is the proposed northern route. It is the principal transport corridor. The industrial land has been allocated along the coastal highway with a view that these areas would not pollute the urban environment for their location on the northeastern part of the town.

What has so far impeded China to carry out its ambitious plans to turn the port into a hub port is the worsening security situation in Balochistan, which is facing an insurgency-like situation. Presently, Balochistan faces multi-faceted violence. It suffers from a separatist insurgency and violence on ethnic and sectarian lines. It is not the ports and pipelines which will bring peace and stability in the country but it is peace which will actually materialize the projects vital to economic progress and prosperity. Balochistan has ever remained on the political periphery of the country. The province has ever been at the receiving end. The long history of neglect and discrimination against Balochistan and the military operations undertaken in the past and the one currently underway has turned it into a mega sensitive province.

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