Gwadar a Stalled Project
Pakistan endowed with a coast line of about 11,00 km has only two major commercial seaports i.e. Karachi and Port Qasim. Both are located at the port city of Karachi. 95% of the total annual trade of Pakistan takes place through these seaports. About 68% of this trade is handled by Karachi Port while Port Qasim handles about 32% of seaborne trade. Pakistanís sea trade is expected to increase phenomenally from 38 million tons at present to about 91 million tons by 2015. So talking solely from trade management point of view Pakistan needs to immediately enhance its port facilities. That brings to fore the need for Gwadar Port to be made fully operational.
Constructional work on Gwadar deep-water sea port was started in March 2002 with Chinese assistance. After the completion of the phase-1, Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) signed a contract with Concession Holding Company a subsidiary of Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) for development and operations of the port for next forty years. They were to invest US $550 million in next five years for the development of the port. That essentially could not materialize due to incompetence of the Ministry of Port and Shipping. To cover up the slackness, Pakistan Navy was blamed for not making available 584 acres of land needed for development. The ploy was to cover up lop sided agreement between GPA and PSA for which sole responsibility rests with MoP&S. Non functionality of the Gwadar Port tells a tail of insincerity and willful apathy on the part of the government officials. Non development of rail and road infrastructure connecting the port with hinter-land of Pakistan and the land grabbing spurs in and around Gwadar stand testament to such notions. Certain quarters even whisper that the Minister for P&S on purpose looked the other way as development of Gwadar port would have reduced the importance of Karachi Port Complex.
Gwadar located at the gate of Strait of Hurmoz enjoys unique strategic importance. About 36,000 ships transit through this area per year. By virtue of its location on international sea line of communication it is best suited for trans-shipment facility. It provides Central Asian States and China with the shortest route to all weather hot water port. For China the distance to Middle East and Africa will reduce to about 2500 km from about 10,000 km at present. Similarly for Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan the distance to Gwadar would be 1400 km as compared to 1800 km to Mediterranean sea. Development of Gwadar Port may not be in the interest of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran as its full development is likely to effect their businesses.
With the news that PSA is pulling out of the contract with GPA there are speculations that the fresh contract would be awarded to China. That would be a welcome development as they had invested heavily in the project so they will like to make it a success. International quarters have reservations on such a contract between Pakistan and China due to strategic location of the port. Nevertheless, Chinese probable would be glade to shoulder this responsibility as about 60% of their energy requirements come through Persian Gulf and transit along this sea-lane. Moreover their presence at Gwadar would provide them an opportunity to monitor shipping activity in this sea line of communication especially that of India.
Instead of being pulled into international chess-game Pakistan must guard its own interests. Earlier the port is made fully operational better it would be for Pakistan. Towards fulfillment of this objective Pakistan needs to pursue an early conclusion of the agreement with Chinese authorities for its operation and development. At the home front, government should refrain from trading allegations and maligning its own institutions. Gwadar port presents a great opportunity that can turn the fate of the people of Baluchistan for better. To accrue the full benefit of this project crash programs needs to be developed to link the port by rail and road to the hinter-land the country. Pakistan has reached a stage where it can no longer remain slave to foreign sponsored insurgency and defer constructional works of national importance like connecting the port with national communicational infrastructure. Government needs to pickup the courage, for sure people of Baluchistan will support them as the developmental works will unfold in their rather neglected province.