By Iftikhar Hussain Jazib
A small port was constructed in Gwadar in 2004, it was handed over to China Overseas Port Holding Company in 2013, as a flagship project of CPEC, and the port went through a major expansion to become centre of attention in the world. Gwadar Port has a potential to generate 70 billion $ revenue for Pakistan only. The association of China with this Port has increased its importance manifold, as China is 2nd largest economy of the world. So, Global trading and economic actors see it with ambitions. However, for rivalry with China, some major powers are also suspicious due to its geo-strategic location, it is in the near reach of Gulf States and Central Asian Republics. To the benefit of the people of Gwadar, Port’s economic potential and strategic importance are the talk of the town in the power centres of the world.
Among the countries suspicious about Gwadar Port, India is the most troubled in the region. Gwadar Port has made economic blockade of Pakistan impossible for India, frustrating its plans to develop hegemony in Arabian Sea. It has resorted to negative propaganda regarding CPEC and it is sponsoring terrorism in Balochistan. Moreover, India is focal in disseminating misapprehensions regarding military use of Gwadar Port by China, stirring fears in global power centres. China has repeatedly denied that CPEC has military designs and Pakistan have categorically stated that it would never allow military use of Gwadar Port. However, some quarters are also opposing CPEC and Gwadar Port due to its huge economic potential. International trade wars have disturbed liberal economic order based in the harmony of interests. Economic rivalry and trade conflicts between China and America led block have also made some Western countries apprehensive about CPEC and Gwadar Port. As a consequence, some European states have given asylum to fugitive dissident leaders of Balochistan. Hopefully, prevailing complex interdependence will bring back harmony of Economic interest and global actors would support CPEC as well.
The economic potential of Gwadar Port and free zone is huge and many states are ambitious about it as well. The land locked countries, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics have become eager to join CPEC because Gwadar Port could provide them quick and easy access to sea for trade. Russia and Iran are also convinced about success of CPEC and international importance of Gwadar Port. Saudi Arabia, along with China, is highly interested in setting up an oil refinery in Gwadar. Against this backdrop, Pakistan and China are developing Gwadar in a big way to facilitate massive economic activity and they are also preparing people of Gwadar to reap the dividends of financial boom.
Pakistan and China have created Gwadar Free Zone to speed up the trading activities. 50 Chinese and Pakistani companies have started activities in Free Zone and 50 more Chinese companies are under the process of registration. It is estimated that Gwadar Port and Free Zone could create more than 40 thousand jobs. In addition, realising the needs of development, China has undertaken a number of special initiatives in Gwadar. East Bay Expressway, new Gwadar International Airport, China-Pakistan Vocational and Technical Training Institute, China-Pakistan 300 Bed Friendship Hospital, 1.2 million Gallons per Day desalination water plant, and a number of other infrastructural development projects are some of the China-funded schemes.
The construction of East Bay Expressway have been completed. It connects Gwadar Port with Makran Costal Highway. Thus, Gwadar has been connected with all the logistic facilities in the country. The developments on new Gwadar International Airport are going on rapidly and it would be completed in 2023. A modern airport, it would complement trading activities in Gwadar Port and Free Zone, besides providing national and international traveling facilities to the people of Gwadar. CPEC is all about developing road infrastructure and the transportation sector in Balochistan is the foremost beneficiary. In many layers, better connectivity among the districts in Balochistan, high speed routes with other provinces and an international sea port and airport will best serve the interests of local transporters, traders, farmers and small industries in Balochistan.
Pakistan and China want to give maximum jobs to local people in Gwadar Port and Free Zone. For this purpose, China-Pakistan Vocational and Technical Training Institute is being established to train youth for suitable skills to enable them for these jobs. Under CPEC, the proposed sites for industrial zones in Baluchistan would include major cities of the province, it will become a market and a destination for new investment, making it a regional hub for trade, transportation, and economic activity. All these schemes would raise the living standards of common people in Balochistan.
The energy requirements of Gwadar Port and Free Zone have led to investment in power sector and 17mw electricity is produced in this premises. Furthermore, 300mw coal fired power plant is under construction in Gwadar. As a goodwill gesture, China have provided around 7 thousand solar panels for Gwadar to mitigate the energy needs of local population. These solar panels have been installed in the houses of poor and the neediest persons in Gwadar. Moreover, a concern for the health of local population, the construction of China-Pakistan 300 Bed Friendship Hospital, shows a deep human side of developments in Gwadar. In addition, a series of installation of desalination water plants is in the process to provide clean drinking water to local people. Indeed, Gwadar have become the heart of Pak-China friendship and government of China and businessmen are taking keen interest in the development and social uplift in Balochistan.
With full potential of Gwadar Port and Free Zone, the city would be equated with mega—cities like Karachi and Dubai. Karachi has got its glory due to the its port, it is the preference of the elite of Balochistan for being a metropolitan, while labourers term it as “the mother of poor” for its labour intensive commerce and industries. In the same fashion, Gwadar Port and Free Zone will certainly alleviate poverty in Balochistan.
M.Phil International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University, writer is a freelance contributor, Twitter handle @radiant_j_007