Threats to Gawadar Port, a Game Changing Project in Asia
After decades of neglect, the economic potential of Pakistan’s newly developed southwestern port of Gawadar, begins to play out in Asia with far reaching geo-strategic implications.
Islamabad and Beijing have finally put their geo-strategic and economic agenda into action despite emerging rivalries among regional countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf who fear their seaports may be overshadowed once Gawadar port becomes fully functional.
Gawadar Port in Brief
Gwadar Port is at the mouth of Persian Gulf and at the top of the Arabian Sea. It is situated near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a busy trading and oil shipping lanes. Gawadar is 75 kilometer east of Pakistan’s border with Iran and 380 kilometer northeast of Oman across the Arabian Sea. It is not very far from ports in Dubai. It is the nearest port to western China, the landlocked Afghanistan and onwards Central Asian States. The sea regions surrounding Gawadar port are at the center of almost two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves.
Back in 1954, Pakistan identified Gawadar as a potential site for seaport. Pakistan bought Gawadar in 03 million dollars from Oman in 1958 ending its over 200 years rule over this strategically important sea enclave.
In 2006, China developed Gawadar port and Islamabad finally handed over its control to Beijing in early this year.
A Game Changer Economic Corridor in Asia
During a State visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to China early this month, both countries signed eight bilateral economic agreements. The most important among these agreements is to construct 2,000 kilometer long road along with tunnels, rail and lay down pipeline from Gawadar port to the Chinese city of Kashgar in Xinjiang province in northwest of China.
Enthusiastically described by both sides as the “Pak-China Economic corridor”, this long term project would cost an estimated 18 $ billion.
As many as 80 percent of China’s oil imports and around 40 percent of its other key imports pass through the Strait of Malacca. The US could potentially shutdown Strait of Malacca given its alliance with Singapore, therefore, Gawadar port would be potentially an alternative sea route for Beijing to import oil from the Middle East to China’s landlocked far-west.
The full development of Gawadar port along with commercial infrastructure to link the port city to the rest of Pakistan and other regional countries, would go a long way to help China to monitor the sea-lanes from the Persian Gulf since about 60 percent of Beijing’s energy requirements pass through from there.
Certainly, there are concerns of regional countries that their seaports may be overshadowed once full economic potential of Gawadar port plays out to western China through north of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian States via southwest and northwest of the country. Therefore, this port could work as a regional economic hub by providing potential access point to landlocked Central Asia States via Afghanistan.
Once Afghanistan becomes stable, Gawadar port would substantially reduce shipping charges, the war torn country has been bearing to get its imports from Pakistan’s other sea ports in Karachi and Chabahar port of Iran in West of Afghanistan.
Gawadar port would also be the shortest route to landlocked Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to ship their dry cargo while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan can export their liquid cargo through pipelines which can potentially be laid down to connect landlocked countries.
New Delhi fears that the port of Gwadar may serve China and Pakistan as a Listening Post to monitor the Indian naval activities. India has gone public to express its “ deep concern” over China controlling Gawadar port. New Delhi feels encircled by Beijing which has extended its geo-strategic and economic clout around the Indian Ocean as Arabian sea.
China also funded a port in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is next in the line to seek Beijing’s help to set up seaport. And perhaps these were one of the leading reasons that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to describe Pak-China Economic corridor project as an unfolding “ game changer” across regions in Asia.
Underlying Threats to Gawadar Port Development
The economic dividends of Gawadar port are linked with the overall security situation in the region. The biggest threat to potential economic benefits of Gawadar port comes from southwestern and northwestern regions of Pakistan along with eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s southwestern region is rife with insurgency from tribal Bloch separatists who want more control over mineral rich Baluchistan province bordering with Afghanistan. Islamabad blame India and privately the US for sheltering and funding Bloch rebels in Afghanistan from where they cross over border to perpetrate violence in southwest Balochistan province where Gawadar port is strategically located.
Similarly the Taliban insurgency is rife in both southwest and northwest of the country.
Islamabad’s best hope is that with the exit of NATO forces from Afghanistan, the violence in the entire region would come down as the militants would lose the very cause they have been fighting against the US and its ally Pakistan after 9/11.
The geo-strategic landscape is becoming clear in the region. As per Pentagon’s own leaked classified assessment, the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban are likely to return to power in Kabul after the US leaves the region in 2014. Therefore, sooner or later , the peace is likely to be restored in this part of the world which is must to bring economic dividends of Gawadar port.
The full development of Gawadar port and its allied infrastructure in the region would take at least ten years more depending on how fast both Islamabad and Beijing execute key economic projects in this regard. And by then hopefully, there would be politically and economically stable governments both in Islamabad and Kabul to reap the economic benefits of mega Gawadar project.
The writer is a senior print and TV journalist based in Islamabad. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy. Email: email@example.com