Islamabad: Viewing Gwadar as a strategic location for China to the disadvantage of other global powers was a mere misperception. The economic prospects were definitely there for both the countries and it will be mutually beneficial for Pakistan and China as well as for many other countries across the region.
This was the crux of a round-table discussion held at Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad on Thursday on the topic of “Gwadar: Current Status and Future Prospects” in collaboration with Pakistan Study Center, Sichuan University, China. Senior research associate of IPS, Commander (Retd) Azhar Ahmad and Chinese analyst Professor Zhou Rong were the main speakers while former ambassador Arif Ayub chaired the session. It was attended by a number of maritime experts, concerned officials, researchers and students.
The participants viewed that if China was interested in establishing its strategic presence in the Arabian Sea, it could have availed other options already available to it. China maintains one of the largest merchant ship fleet and if the management of port operations was with Chinese and related infrastructure was provided by the government, then the location of Gwadar was such that it will definitely attract Chinese ships which would trans-ship into the Persian Gulf. Hence, a Chinese company was best suited for the port operations at Gwadar, while the predecessor company had no such interest with respect to this port.
Presenting a survey of historical and geo-strategic significance of Gwadar Azhar Ahmed said that Pakistan has always neglected its maritime sector and had paid the price in a number of ways including economic and strategic. Gwadar possesses great potential and its handing over to a Chinese company has offered an opportunity to undo some of the mistakes Pakistan has made in past years and should not be missed. Pakistan needs to proceed on the project on war-footings and start using the port to the fullest of its potential. The leadership needs to show political will and determination to national interests.
He further said that the port’s close proximity to Persian Gulf which provides 60 percent of world’s oil and overlooking the strategic lines of communication adds value to the port. It was much less vulnerable in case of any strategic threat. Several reports have shown the economic viability of the port but to meet the envisioned targets, the port needs further development of its infrastructure and connectivity with the hinterland. Contrary to what was generally projected, local population in the area was not averse to the port project and see it as window of opportunity and employment for their future, he informed.
Other discussants viewed that the transit route through China towards Central Asia would offer the most viable option for international trade to western part of China which lays at long distance from Chinese ports in the east as well as for Gulf countries and Central Asian states.
The government needs to build road and railway linkages to use Gwadar as an alternative port for the country and to offer its utilities to regional land-locked states. A comparison was made with other regional coasts to show that the port is located at a place where it offers the best option for trans-shipment.
There were a number of other aspects too which came under discussion including putting up a coastal refinery and it was recalled that such a project was jointly conceived by Pakistan and Iran. It was suggested that the idea could be translated into operation through assistance of China.
Khalid Rahman, DG-IPS concluded that the Gwadar port project, if handled with wisdom and dedication, would contribute significantly to the development and security of the whole country and particularly of Balochistan.