Gwadar: A future economic hub

Dr Muhammad Khan

Owing to its strategic location and God gifted natural resources, the Balochistan Province of Pakistan has always been at the centre stage of regional and global politics. The famous writer and geographer, Robert D. Kaplan describes the province of Balochistan as, “One key to its fate is the future of Gwadar, a strategic port whose development will either unlock the riches of Central Asia, or plunge Pakistan into a savage, and potentially terminal civil war.”
Unfortunately, Pakistan could not unlock the riches of the Central Asia and Caspian yet. However, it has experiencing the wide spread instability and law and order situation in the province of Balochistan, ever since the developmental work on the Gwadar port started in 2002. However, now, there is an improvement in the law and order situation in Balochistan and with the Chinese taking over the Gwadar port in 2013, the full operationalisation of the Port in near future, it is expected that, economic activities will further enhance.
Since the Port is strategically located near the shipping lanes (route), connecting three main continents; Asia, Africa, and Europe, therefore, it has attained the status of a key strategic and commercial port. Indeed, over 60% of global trade and transportation of oil tankers takes place through the neighbouring waters of Straits of Hormuz, the Gwadar port presents itself as the best alternative and the storage port, as it can handle the major ships and oil tankers. “The 14.5-meter draft of the port will be able to accommodate up to “fifth-generation” ships, including Panamax and mother vessels.” Furthermore, the Gwadar deep-sea port has the potential to remain operative throughout the year and can handle large ships of carrying oil. Being a junction between energy efficient and energy deficient countries, it can facilitate both China and India, the growing economies of Asia in connecting them with energy rich Middle East and Central Asia. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), connecting the Gawadar with Kashgar has further enhanced the strategic and economic significance of the Gwadar Port.
CPEC is a project with immense economic and geo-political potential. The plan has been referred to as a watershed moment, not only for Pakistan, but also for entire region, as it will change the geo-strategic and geo-economic landscape of the region. However, it is also feared that clashing geo-economic interests may lead to undesirable competitions at regional and global level. In view of perceived Sino-US competition and latter’s efforts to entangle the former, the CPEC project attains further geopolitical significance for the stakeholders. Besides, there is a commonality of interest between United States and India, particularly against the rising global status of China. These converging interests of a US and India is creating security challenges for Pakistan and China. For ensuring its security, Pakistan, there is a need for a comprehensive security approach, employing all elements of national power (EONP) to ensure its timely completion.
Indeed, CPEC is an important regional component of “One Belt One Road” initiative by China. Though President Xi Jinping unveiled the concept of ‘One Belt one Road’ during his speech in Kazakhstan (Nazarbayev University) on September 7, 2013, however, the idea has rooted over the decades, emanating from the economic development of China and its desire for a strategic outreach to Europe and Africa in addition to Asia. It is revival of historical Silk Route, keeping in view the requirements of modern means of communication and infrastructural demands. The manifestation of One Belt one Road would be; “setting up of a geopolitical and geo-economic Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) connecting China to Europe by land and sea.” Enormity of Chinese economic development and growth of highways and railroad network propelled her to extend this to have a linkage of hinterland with Europe, Africa and later with US apart from Asian regions, starting from regional integration of Euro-Asia.
The arrest of Indian spying agent, Kulbashan Yadahav has further confirmed that, how India, along with some regional countries and major powers are involved in the destabilisation of Pakistan and oppose the CPEC. International actors, opposing the Port and CPEC have directly or indirectly contributed towards the destabilisation of the province of Balochistan. Local Baloch population was provoked in the name of Baloch sub-nationalism that the Federal Government is compromising their rights over their own land. Upon heavy funding by rivals of the port and particularly India, some mislead elements of the Province even acted as desired by the powers behind them.
Fortunately, over the past few years, there has been a lot of change in the perception of the local Baloch population. Gradually they are coming out of the influence of India and other spying networks of the regional and other major major powers. The Baloch youth in particular have a realisation that it was a plot to harm their interests and sabotage the Gwadar port. Indeed, according to ‘Resource Curse Theory’ abstracted from the famous book, of Richard Auty, ‘Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies’ “No doubt, natural resources are desirable, yet, can distort the economy to such a degree that the benefit actually becomes a curse.” This exactly has happening in Balochistan province of Pakistan. Those eyeing on the resources or are apprehensive of Pakistani gains have been conspiring against the state of Pakistan at regional and global level.
The Gwadar Port aimed to become, a regional and global maritime hub. Domestically, the fundamental factor behind the development of the port was to stimulate the economic growth in the northern and western parts of Pakistan. Regionally, the port provides the shortest possible approach to Arabian Sea to China, the landlocked Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan for their transhipment facilities. However, globally, it is the best alternative and a storage port, owing to its potential to handle the major ships and oil tankers. The Port will play a major role in the regional economic development and prosperity. It is therefore desired that, rather becoming rivals, India, and other immediate neighbours of Pakistan should play a positive role in the completion of CPEC and operationalisation of the Gwadar Port. It indeed is a win-win situation for all.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.

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