The number of security check posts on the Makran Coastal Highway has been reduced
ince the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2016, Gwadar has become the most visited city in Balochistan. The port city has been promoted as the centre stage for the CPEC, which is a key part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It’s imperative for journalists to visit this town frequently to get a sense of the reality.
In April 2016, Pakistan and China signed $46 billion worth of projects related to energy, infrastructure, industrialisation and port development. The basic idea was to connect Kashghar in Xinjiang province of China with Gwadar in Balochistan province of Pakistan. Under the CPEC the Gwadar port was taken over by a Chinese company. A 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant, a free trade zone, a desalination plant and an Eastbay expressway were to be built under the CPEC.
Flight operations to Gwadar are limited. Currently, there are only three flights per week to Gwadar from Karachi. These are small ATR planes and there are frequent cancellations. There are no flights to Gwadar from Quetta or Islamabad. Therefore, the most convenient way to travel to Gwadar is by driving from Karachi via the scenic Makran Coastal Highway (N8).
On Monday noon, I and a group of journalists started our journey from Karachi to Gwadar. We had hired a car from a local rent-a-car service provider based in Gwadar who has eight cars. The business is good and the cars are mostly busy shuttling passengers between Karachi and Gwadar. It takes nearly two hours to get away from the busy traffic of Karachi and reach Makran Coastal Highway at the Uthal zero point.
While traveling on the highway, the journey is calm and peaceful. At the same time, it is very hot these days so that only a high-quality air conditioner can make the journey pleasant. The scenic beauty is breathtaking, especially the sand beaches of Kund Malir and the curves and turns of Buzzi mountain pass.
Currently, only three flights to Gwadar operate per week from Karachi. These are small ATR planes and there are frequent cancellations. There are no flights to Gwadar from Quetta or Islamabad. Therefore, the most convenient way to travel to Gwadar is by driving from Karachi via the scenic Makran Coastal Highway (N8).
Our driver advised us to have lunch before getting on to the highway because there is no quality hotel on the entire coastal highway. We accepted the advice and later discovered that there is no quality restaurant on the entire 520-kilometre highway. The highway also lacks basic facilities that one expects for visitors to a port city like Gwadar. There are no service areas with washrooms and fuel stations. Cellular phone connectivity is also limited, which is highly inconvenient.
There is very little traffic on the coastal highway. Sometimes one can see no other vehicles on the road. This shows the limited level of commercial activity in Gwadar. One can see a limited number of cargo trucks on the road coming to and from the border crossing with Iran.
A pleasant part of the experience was the limited number of security check posts on this route. From Karachi to Gwadar town, there were only two check posts: one at Agor and the other at the entrance to Gwadar. Last year, there had been at least seven checkpoints on the road.
People of Gwadar credit Maulana Hidayatur Rehman for the reduction in the number of check points. In December last year, Rehman had led a long sit-in near the entrance to Gwadar Port. His demands had included a reduction in the number of check points and treating the people of Gwadar with respect at the check posts. The change has made the journey more comfortable and made Gwadar a more attractive place to visit for tourists from Karachi.
We reached Gwadar late in night. We had reservations at a famous guesthouse in the town. At that time, there was no electricity and generators were used to provide electricity. When the electric supply resumed, there was fluctuation in the voltage and air conditioners did not work properly. In the absence of air conditioning the humid heat made it very uncomfortable. It is unfortunate that Gwadar has yet to have reliable electricity supply.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and the economy. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir.