Gwadar can be win-win project for both Pakistan and China

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a round table conference Thursday said that the Gwadar Port would be mutually beneficial for both Pakistan and China as well as for many other regional countries.

The roundtable discussion on ‘Gwadar: Current Status and Future Prospects’ was organized here by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in collaboration with the Pakistan Study Center and 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 maintained one of the largest merchant ship fleets 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 would 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 had 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, he added.

He said that Pakistan needed to proceed on the project on war-footings and start using the port to the fullest of its potential.

He said that the port’s close proximity to the Persian Gulf’ which provides 60 percent of worlds oil and overlooking the strategic lines of communication, added to its value.

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, he added.

He said that the local population was also not averse to the port project and saw it as a window of opportunity and employment for their future. Other participants viewed that the transit route through China towards Central Asia would offer the most viable option for international trade to the 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, they noted. 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 Pak