Categorized | Gwadar Highlights

Gwadar: A Critical Strategic Asset

Posted on 27 December 2008


Dr Ali Mohammad

After a long spell of bad news, the country welcomes the official opening of Gwadar port on December 21, 2008. Gwadar is one of the most important projects in the country. Situated on the helm of the Indian Ocean, it can control strategic supplies to and from the region. Moreover, the Indian Ocean is destined to be an important theatre for action during the next several decades as the major powers’ supply lines for energy and trade run through here. It is no accident that all nuclear powers send their submarines to patrol the Indian Ocean. From economic viewpoint, it is expected that increased trade activities at Gwadar port would increase business activities in Balochistan and would create job openings in many sectors. It is expected to become a hub of economic activity for the country and for the region.

Gwadar is situated on the coastal line of Makran, which extends in an east-west direction with a total length of over 600 km. The known history of Makran starts some three thousand years from the time of prophet Dawood (AS). The region was also under the reign of many powers – from Alexander the Great to Arabs Muslims, the Mughals, the Safavids, the British, the Buledais, and the Gichkis. In the late the eighteenth century, the Khans of Kalat transferred Gwadar to Muscat in perpetuity. Due to the great dedication of the Government of Pakistan, Gwadar was reverted back from Muscat to Pakistan in 1958. In 1977, Gwadar became one of the three districts of the Makran Division. Although in 1961 the government of Pakistan had realized Gwadar as a potential port, it was not until 2002 that the Gwadar Port Project was initiated.

In addition to security reasons, the other major objectives of this project were: (1) diversification of shipping potentials, (2) development of major industrial complexes, and (3) integration of this area with the rest of the country and our Northern neighbors, China, and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Gwadar has great significance for Pakistan, China, Iran, and India. Firstly, for Pakistan, Gwadar has immense strategic potentials. The planned Gwadar naval base, along with the Jinnah naval base at Ormara, will serve as alternatives to the naval facilities at Karachi. In times of war, the facilities at Gwadar and Ormara prevent the risk of being blockaded by India as was witnessed in 1971. Moreover, when Gwadar port is fully developed, it will be the key shipping and mass trade venue to the CARs and China. Also, significant attention to transportation and communication projects in the country has a direct impact on local, regional, and national development. This project is expected to help develop many remote areas of Balochistan and integrate these areas with the rest of the country. More recently, the realization of a traffic glut at ports in the Persian Gulf has made it more imperative that Pakistan plays a useful role in facilitating the smooth flow of trade between the Gulf countries and the rest of the world. Its proximity to the Persian Gulf and its continued instability, and the emergence of the new CARs has given Gwadar an immense geo-strategic importance. As for the Chinese interests, Gwadar will provide it access to the blue Waters and along with the so called “String of Pearls” — Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and the South China Sea — will meet China’s defense and energy needs.

From the start of this mega project, Pakistan received generous assistance from China, which assisted in the completion of the first phase of the Gwadar deep-sea port in 2004. China is also looking forward to developing an energy corridor including oil and gas development, oil refineries, petrochemical plants, and associated storage facilities. To fulfill these objectives, she is assisting Pakistan develop strategic facilities at Gwadar port. China has recently allocated some fifty billion dollars under the vision Trade and Energy Corridor for construction of a Railway Line from Gwadar to Kashgar, road network, fiber optics, and gas and oil facilities. Gwadar is also significant to Iranian and Indian interests in the area. Iran is developing its Chahbahar port. India is helping Iran in building this port and over a 200-kilometer long road to connect Chahbahar with Afghanistan. India is eyeing this Iranian port as its own shortest route to Central Asian markets. India also perceives her involvement in Chahbahar to be a counter balance to Chinese influence in Gwadar and the region. Thus, for Pakistan, certainly history is in the making. Gwadar is set to become a hub of shipping, commercial and industrial activities. It is destined to be the most important upcoming coastal town located in proximity to the three most strategically and economically important regions of the world — the oil rich Middle east, the region where over 2.5 billion people live, and the CARs which are bestowed with abundant natural resources. The port also comes as a much-needed national requirement in the wake of the rise in cargo traffic at Karachi port, while the overall maritime traffic for Pakistan is expected to rise by 300 % by 2010.

Gwadar Pakistan’s largest infrastructure project where billions of dollars have already been invested and much more is in the pipeline for roads, railroads, a new international airport, power plants, a water desalination plant, and real estate development.

Gwadar is truly a gift to Pakistan and the world. It is now up to the present government to ensure the continuity of this very important project. However, we would like to warn the government of a few problems that have constrained Gwadar’s timely development. Firstly, there have been serious delays in the development of the port (the first phase was completed in seventy-two months as against an initial plan of one-half that time). Every effort must be made to ensure timely completion of projects as every delay costs the country billions of dollars. Secondly, the Pakistan Government must be cognizant of Indian and American games, which include playing on the sentiments of Balochi nationalism. Some Balochi people may be alienated and may be thinking that they have been left out of the benefits of their assets, but it is a problem that Pakistan can handle. It is hoped that the political leadership will make every effort to pacify feelings of alienation among Balochi people and make them feel that they are full partners in the development activities and receive full benefits such as job and income opportunities of this mega project. Thirdly, many people have shied away from investment in real estate and business ventures as the news of fraud and cheating have surfaced over the last ten years. This has not only cost huge losses to investors, but has also discouraged many more who could have brought a lot of investment in the area in commerce, agriculture, and industry. We welcome recent steps by the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) such as cancellation of permits of many illegal outfits and controlling issuance of NOCs. Similarly, development of economic and social infrastructure — marketing infrastructure, financial institutions, licensing facilities, and social services – should be ensured to encourage potential investors.

Lastly, at a time when successive governments postponed or cancelled previous government projects due to their selfish interests, we have seen examples where governments sometimes rise above such selfishness and forge ahead with projects of national interest. The nation is grateful that all the successive governments who supported the country’s nuclear and missile programs have enabled Pakistan to develop an effective deterrent against outside aggression. In a similar vein, the present government must recognize Gwadar’s geo-economic imperatives and it must be cognizant of serious opposition from some quarters who were never our real friends of Pakistan.

We urge the successive governments to continue to develop this critical national asset and implement all development schemes for the country with full commitment. Let us hope that Gwadar fulfills the dream of economic glory for the country.

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