Pakistan’s Gawadar port: A game changer economic corridor in Asia

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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 geostrategic implications. Gwadar Port is 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 kilometre east of Pakistan’s border with Iran and 380 kilometre northeast of Oman across the Arabian Sea. 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 centre of almost two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves.

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Back in 1954, Pakistan identified Gawadar as a potential site for seaport. Pakistan bought Gawadar in $3 million 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.

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 was to construct 2,000 kilometre 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 per cent of China’s oil imports and around 40 per cent of its other key imports pass through the Strait of Malacca. 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 Gulf since about 60 per cent of  Beijing’s energy requirements pass through from there.

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.

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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.

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 Baloch separatists who want more control over mineral rich Balochistan province bordering with Afghanistan. Similarly the Taleban insurgency is rife in both southwest and northwest of the country.

A Special report submitted by our Friend Engr. Shahid Mahmood

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