Tuesday June 18, 2024

Gwadar question

By Shakeel Ahmad Ramay
July 31, 2023

Gwadar, once a backward and destitute area, is transforming. The CPEC is leading this transformation. Geolocation and geoeconomics are turning Gwadar into a connectivity hub. Geopolitics has further enhanced the importance of Gwadar. Pakistan was always cognizant of the importance of Gwadar.

Thus, Pakistan started working with China to exploit full potential of Gwadar even before signing the CPEC. With the launch of CPEC, work was accelerated. The CPEC magnified the importance of Gwadar Port by terming it the jewel of the crown of CPEC. Advanced Journal of Transportation published a study in 2019. It highlighted Gwadar will be the competitive hub of connectivity. It will be beneficial not only to Pakistan-China, but also Oman, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, France, Kuwait, Germany, the Netherlands etc.

The land-locked Central Asian countries are also looking at Gwadar as an opportunity to connect with the world. They are working with Pakistan to formalise different agreements to benefit from Gwadar Port. Pakistan and Central Asian countries also have initiated different projects to connect with Gwadar.

For example, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have signed a contract to build a railway line, which will connect Uzbekistan with Pakistan. The link will also open Gwadar Port to the rest of Central Asian states.

According to findings of the Asian Institute of Eco-civilisation Research and Development, Gwadar will offer opportunities to Pakistan to attract foreign direct investment. The special economic zones at Gwadar will act as a pull factor along with other SEZs in Pakistan.

This observation is based on the facts and data. For example, Pakistan can bring investment from the ASEAN region by using the competitive location of Gwadar Port. The analysis highlighted that by establishing industry and business in Pakistan, ASEAN countries will be more competitive in the EU market. The major contributing factor would be a substantial reduction in travel time.

The travel time from Port of Klang, Malaysia, Bangkok Modern Terminal, Pulau Sebarok, Singapore, Bekapai Terminal, Indonesia and Port of Hanoi, Vietnam to Hamburg Germany is 39.4 days, 43.7 days, 40.1 days, 45 days and 47.1 days respectively. In the case of Gwadar Port, the travel time will be only 29.4 days which will help reduce cost of transportation and enhance competitiveness.

We use the example of EU because, right now, the EU is the biggest trade partner of ASEAN (export, 120 billion EUR and import 69 billion EUR).

Thus, Gwadar Port will act as hub of connectivity and bring multiple benefits not only for Pakistan but also for other regions – ASEAN and Central Asia. It will usher a new era of growth and development, which will help countries tackle problems of poverty and inequality. In other words, it will help the world achieve sustainable development goals.

Despite such huge benefits, one cannot understand why some countries are working day and night to malign Gwadar Port. They are portraying Gwadar Port as a strategic initiative, or more precisely a naval base for China. It is not true, as there is no sign, leave alone plan, that Gwadar Port is a strategic initiative. Pakistan and China have categorically rejected such self-assumed perceptions. Unfortunately, opponents are not giving any head to this, and keep on propagating against Gwadar Port. Now, they quote the presence of Pakistan security forces as an example to prove their allegation of strategic dimension of Gwadar. Pakistan had to deploy security forces to provide security and tackle the issues of terrorist attacks.

As it is common knowledge opponents of Gwadar Port, especially India, are encouraging terrorists and supporting sabotage activities. Pakistan has to deploy security forces, which opponents do not like at all. They feel Pakistani security forces are not allowing their proxies to get any tangible results. That’s why they are propagating against the Gwadar Port.

The allegations are baseless, but the opponents will continue to run such malicious campaigns. They think it will help them create a bad image of Gwadar and impact the work on Gwadar Port. The best way for Pakistan to counter this strategy would be expediting work on the development of Gwadar Port, special economic zone and speeding up implementation of Gwadar Master Plan.

For that purpose, Pakistan needs to start devising a right set of policies and implementation of instruments. It should start by working on simplifying the institutional framework.

Second, engage local communities and focus on development of the area. It will help expedite work on Gwadar Port and SEZ. The best way to engage local communities would be to solve their problems and accelerate implementation of Gwadar Master Plan.

The implementation of the plan will help cater needs of local communities and create new livelihood opportunities for them. It is good to note Pakistan has started engaging the community and distributing cheques among the fishing community.

Third, Pakistan-China needs to devise a comprehensive marketing plan to highlight the importance of Gwadar Port and the special economic zone at global level. It will help bring more business to Gwadar and attract FDI in the special economic zone.