In the changing dynamics of global architecture, the sea politics is getting complex with more focus on commercial activities and economic prosperity. Gwadar port is the warm water and deep sea port of Pakistan. It is situated at the mouth of Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and holds 2/3 world oil reserves. Historically, it was purchased by the Pakistan in 1958 from Omani Sultanate at the cost of US $3 million. During its construction phase, from 1988-1992 small port was constructed. In 2007, General Musharraf inaugurated the port. From 2007-2012, Gwadar port remained under Port Singapore Authority (PSA) but due to its poor performance, the port was handed over to China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) in 2013. Since then the construction work has been done at a rapid pace. Along with the Gwadar port, the building up of Gwadar city, Gwadar power generation plants and Gwadar International Airport are the proposed projects under development. The port has started shipment, seasonal cargo and commercial trade but it is still under construction and it has been reported that port would be fully operation till end of this year.
The port holds great strategic and economic significance for Pakistan. It is third important deep sea port of Pakistan after Karachi and Qasim ports. It is located at cross junction of international sea shipping and oil trade routes. Gwadar can act as an international trade hub for Pakistan. Gwadar port would connect three regions, i.e. Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East. It would open new job opportunities and help in the development of Baluchistan. Pakistan would be able to explore minerals, hydrocarbons, oil and gas resources of CARs. The port will attract foreign investment and tourism. It would provide foreign reserves and free trade zones and special economic zones (SEZ) that would help in the economic prosperity of Baluchistan and Pakistan. It would help to increase Pakistan’s trade and commercial activities particularly in Baluchistan province, so provincial grievances will be addressed.
Gwadar will help Pakistan to monitor the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) originating from the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Gwadar will able to control the oil sea routes and trade links among regions such as South Asia, Africa, Central Asia, Gulf and Middle East. It will provide strategic leverage to Pakistan vis-à-vis India, as the port is far from Indian reach as compared to other two Pakistani ports. Gwadar will increase job opportunities for Pakistani people and help in economic development through transit trade fee and foreign exchange reserves. Gwadar will boost up co-operation of Pakistan with other countries in oil and energy sector. Tourism, trade, hotel industry and state revenue will increase which will strengthened country’s economy. Gwadar offers tax free investments and trade, thus attracting large number of foreign investors to open new development projects and economic plans.
Asia, being the largest region has many landlocked countries and their access to sea via their own land route is very costly. Such countries look out for shortest routes for the purpose of international trade. China is an example whose western part is thousand kilometers away from its Eastern seaports. Through Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC), China would benefit from the nearest Gwadar port. Kashgar is 4500 Km while Gwadar is 2800 km from the Port of Shangai. The port would provide China an access to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs). The Strait of Malacca can be blocked by India but Gwadar would provide an alternate sea route. Gwadar can act as an alternative route to Indian Ocean or South China Sea routes. Pak-China Relations will improve, as Chinese Premier on his bilateral visit to Pakistan in May 2013, referred to Gwadar as “Economic Corridor”. Similarly, Gwadar has the potential to serve as a regional hub and it would also provide better trade routes to the landlocked Caspian region.
The port for the time being is facing many challenges such as lack of connectivity, under developed infrastructure and associated facilities. There are security concerns which need to be addressed. Presently, India is using all tactics to counter the development of Gwadar port. It is heavily investing in Iranian port Chahbahar, with the investment of US $85 million. After lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, India is keener to work on Chahbahar as it considers Gwadar port as part of Strings of Pearl strategy aimed to encircle India. India wants to reduce Chinese influence in the region. India is attempting to reduce economic importance of Gwadar. It has built roads from Afghanistan to connect with Chahbahar for instance, Zaranj-Delaram road. It clearly indicates that India would try its best to hinder the construction of silk route from Pakistan. It has already raised serious security concerns on the construction of CPEC. However, Pakistan seriously needs to address these challenges and expedite its work on Gwadar Port which is a key to economic prosperity, regional connectivity and maritime development for Pakistan.