It was a long time dream of Pakistan authorities to make Gwadar port — a small but strategically located fishing port — into mega duty-free port and free economic zone like Dubai port, so reliant on major China’s investment the mission is almost achieved as very soon the Gwadar Port is capable of handling large trade of Pakistan with all the regional and international countries.
Gwadar Port will be able to handle about one million tons of cargo annually by the end of the year. With expansion plans under way, the port will become South Asia’s biggest shipping center within five years, with a yearly capacity of handling 13-million tons of cargo. By 2030, it will be capable of handling up to 400-million tons of cargo annually.
Gwadar Port in Balochistan, located on the Arabian Sea near Iran and the mouth of the Persian Gulf will soon become a regional commercial, industrial and shipping hub, under the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The Corridor will give China a shorter, secure trading route, via Pakistan, to the Middle East. At the same time it will be also boosting Pakistan’s economy. But the irony is that the recent climate change is playing havoc to port progress and making it water hungry and thirsty. The rains have almost stopped. In the past it used to rain much more often and in every season. Now Gwadar is facing severe water issues. The main reservoir dried up two years ago, and water must now have to be brought from a more distant source. Some of the water coming in is contaminated, leading to an increase in waterborne illnesses such as hepatitis.
Currently the Gwadar peninsula is home to about 100,000 people. With the economic development the area’s population is expected to grow to 500,000 by 2020, according to the port authority’s website. On one side of the peninsula is the deep-sea port, built by the Chinese state-owned China Overseas Holding Company. While on the other side lays the local harbor. To help solve the water shortages two desalination plants have been built in the port, with Chinese expertise. The smaller can provide 200,000 gallons of potable water per day to the port, while the larger one, recently completed in the adjacent duty-free zone, can supply double that amount. Both plants rely on power from generators, as there is not enough grid power in Gwadar to run them.
The Pakistan Army, tasked with protecting the CPEC project, also has laid the foundation for a large desalination plant to be built with help from the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. The plant, to be completed soon, will provide 4.4 million gallons of water a day, free of cost, to the inhabitants of Gwadar city. Providing better services, including clean drinking water, is seen as a way of helping win local support for the development push.
The Army also has brought in specialist doctors to supplement those already working at the local government-run hospital. A new road will soon connect the port to the Makran Coastal Highway, which links Gwadar to Karachi. Gwadar’s new airport will be Pakistan’s largest when it is complete.
The China Power Company also plans to open a 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant around 20km (12 miles) from the port to provide electricity to Gwadar.
Tourism has started too, and the port is prospering with visitors. The security in Gwadar has improved considerably in the last two years.
Pakistan Navy ships PNS Dehshat and PNS Karar escorted MS Tiger to Gwadar Port. The new ship container service, Karachi Gwadar Gulf Express, will connect Gwadar Port with the Middle East hub of Jebel Ali as well as the neighbouring UAE ports of Abu Dhabi & Sharjah. After embarkation of more containers of frozen sea food from Gwadar Port, the ship proceeded to Jebel Ali Port.
Chinese financial and construction effort is rapidly developing Pakistan’s strategically located Arabian Sea port of Gwadar into one of the world’s largest transit and transshipment cargo facilities.
The deep water port lies at the convergence of three of the most commercially important regions of the world, the oil-rich Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia.
Beijing is developing Gwadar as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, known as CPEC. The two countries launched the 15-year joint mega project in 2015 when President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad. Under the cooperation deal construction or improvement of highways, railways, pipelines, power plants, communications and industrial zones is underway in Pakistan with an initially estimated Chinese investment of $46 billion. The aim is to link Gwadar to landlocked western China, including its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, giving it access to a shorter and secure route through Pakistan to global trade. The port will also provide the shortest route to landlocked Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, through transit trade.
Chinese fuel imports and trading cargo will be loaded on trucks and ferried to and from Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway, snaking past snow-capped peaks in northern Pakistan.
Security concerns and India’s claims over some of the territory crossed by the massive project remain key challenges for Gwadar and CPEC in general. Pakistani and Chinese officials dismiss reported assertions that Beijing is expanding its presence at Gwadar to be able to handle naval ships and military transport planes. The collaboration has no strategic or political aims against a third country, economy and to strengthen the bilateral relationship.
Pakistan has trained and deployed about 15,000 troops and paramilitary forces to guard CPEC-related projects and the Chinese working on them. Pakistan alleges that the Indian intelligence agency has been tasked to plot subversive acts to derail CPEC.
The poverty-stricken residents are hoping new employment opportunities will be created for them in the wake of the massive development underway in Gwadar. Their difficulties are shortages of clean drinking water and hours long daily power blackouts.
Ongoing massive economic activity will change the lives of its poverty-stricken residents for the better. Fisheries processing plant is being installed at the port and arrangements are being planned to train and equip fishermen to improve and export local fish to other parts of Pakistan and China.
Economic projects under construction in Gwadar will help its people and address long-running grievances of the province of Baluchistan, where the port is situated. The largest Pakistani province has long been in the grip of a low-level Balochistan separatist insurgency. Gwadar’s existing 50-bed government hospital is being extended to 300 beds, a technical and vocational institute is being constructed, and 300-megawatts coal-based power plant and a desalination plant are being installed.
A new international airport and a six-lane international standard expressway are being built to connect Gwadar port with the rest of Pakistan and neighboring countries, including Iran and Afghanistan.
Most of the projects, including the new airport, are being built with Chinese financial grants. The rest of the projects in Gwadar and elsewhere in Pakistan under CPEC are being built with ‘interest-free’ and ‘soft- loans’ from China.
In a bid to exploit on the rise of regional integration, a Malaysian delegation on expressed its interest to help develop projects like ferry service operation, construction of dedicated terminals at Pakistani ports and establishment of industry in the Gwadar port free zone. Both countries agreed that a joint working group on maritime cooperation of Pakistan and Malaysia may be established.
CPEC and would be a transshipment hub in the future. The government had announced incentives, including income tax and customs duty exemptions for the Gwadar Free Zone Area.