Gwadar Port: An opportunity in waiting!
Posted by Faheem Belharvi
Our visionary founding leaders saw through an opportunity of great benefits in this small Omani town of Gwadar as early as 1954. For the purpose, newly born state of Pakistan purchased this small fishing town, which was geographically contiguous anyway, for a partly $3 million in 1958.
This small costal town located on the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf was seen as a major trading and energy hub on the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. For Pakistan, it was to be an alternate to Karachi Port which was located some 460 Km to its south east, and for landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs), the nearest to warm waters of the Arabian Sea for trade and energy supplies. In fact, the centuries old Great Game of the Russian Empire envisaged its landings to the warm waters of Arabian Sea around the same areas. However, the dream of our founding leaders of making Gwadar, a truly regional hub was kept pending until the turn of the new millennium; “for strategic reasons.”
In any case, the construction of Phase-I of Gwadar Deep Sea Port commenced on 22 March 2002, at a cost of some $248 million by the Chinese firm. President Musharraf takes the credit of finally launching the project of Gwadar Deep Sea Port and predicted it to be a beginning of an era of economic progress for Pakistan as well as the coastal belt of Balochistan.
He then inaugurated the Gwadar Port on 20 March, 2007. The completion of the Phase-I of Gwadar Port meant that the Bulk carries of 30,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT) and container vessels of 25,000 DWT could be berthed and do business on the port. Musharraf government saw the completion of Phase-I of Gwadar port as an opportunity to boast its valued strategic location to engage any renowned international port operators.
Finally, the contract of Gwadar Port operations was awarded to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) on 1 February, 2007. According to the terms of contract, the PSA was to invest some $550 million over the next 5-10 years, however, the dream to see Gwadar Port as the regional energy and trade hub remains unfulfilled till to-date.
The construction of Phase-II started in 2007 at a cost of $932 million with an aim of establishing a Bulk Cargo Terminal with the capacity of 100,000 DWT, a Grain Terminal and two oil terminals.
The work continued at snails pace while the government contemplates withdrawing the port from PSA’s control due to its failure to operationlize the port with promised investment. Reportedly, PSA has agreed to hand over the ports administration after the Government of Pakistan terminated its contract on technical grounds as well as for violation of contractual obligations.
Pakistan now plans to hand over the Gwadar Port operations to Chinese firms so that its development and functioning could be expedited. There is no denying that till to-date, Gwadar Port has not been able to make any significant contribution in Balochistan or Pakistan’s economy, in spite of its invaluable strategic location and immense potential of being a gateway for trade and energy corridor for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs).
I believe, only we are to blame ourselves for the painstaking lethargy and complacency that nearly all the stakeholders have shown towards the development of Gwadar Port. Allah Almighty has blessed Pakistan with this golden port named Gwadar and we, unfortunately have miserably failed to exploit it true potential. The delayed development of the Gwadar Port is denying the people of the area of employment opportunities and related economic benefits.
I would sincerely urge upon all stakeholders including Ministry of Ports and Shipping, Gwadar Port Authority, the provincial Government of Balochistan to shun their differences and work together to remove the impediments related to land issues, and control of administration and authority.
This would certainly help realize the dream of our founding leader by making Gwadar Port, a truly trade and energy hub of the region, bringing peace, progress and prosperity for the people of Pakistan in general and people of Makran and Balochistan in particular.(Zia Siddiqui)