Gwadar is said to be the jewel of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). We see two contrasting worlds when we talk about Gwadar. With the Phase-1 being completed, the area has become a business center with development projects such as desalination plants which are set to resolve Gwadar’s never-ending water crisis. An imported coal-based power plant is also scheduled to be constructed which will provide 300 MW of electricity to the city. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) progressing at a rapid pace, it won’t be long when we see Gwadar as a global trade hub, the question remains, however, whether the contrast will continue to exist or not. The new airport, being designed, will be the largest in Pakistan. but for now one has to settle for the old airport. The drive from the airport along the newly built corniche is breath-taking.
The Portuguese watchtower in the old part of Gwadar:
Gwadar has always had an interesting history. After the Portuguese left in the 16th century, for almost two centuries it was owned by the Sultan of Oman. In 1781, the Khan of Kalat granted an exiled prince of Muscat the revenues of Gwadar as maintenance, while he lived on the Makran coast. The prince later returned to Oman and became the Sultan, but he did not return Gwadar to Kalat. In 1839, the British conquered Kalat. After Pakistan came into being in 1947, the Pakistani government once again took up the question of the ownership of Gwadar. Finally, Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Sir Feroze Khan Noon entered into negotiations with the British, which resulted in Gwadar being returned to Pakistan in 1958.
Today, the idea is to capitalize on Gwadar’s location near the Persian Gulf and turn it into a high-tech duty-free zone and regional shipping hub. The state-owned China Harbour Engineering Company Group is working at a furious pace at the deep sea port.
The deep-sea port:
After the completion of Phase I and four ships being handled in a month work on Phase II have begun which will expand the port. With its smooth roads, greenery, the port seems just like another developed country. The Chinese workers live in their own China Town inside the port, and in a span of just six months, they have completed a brand new Business Center, complete with hotel rooms, an auditorium and office spaces inside the duty-free zone.
The new Business Center in the duty-free zone:
In the lobby is a large marble mural showing the map of Asia with China in pink and Pakistan sticking out in green. A line of dots, which light up at night, shows the new trade routes to be created by CPEC, from the west of China, through the high mountains, and down across Pakistan to Gwadar and beyond to the Middle East by ship.
The lobby of the Business Centre with the map of China and Pakistan:
The deep-sea port has now been dredged to a depth of 14.5 meters, and ships are regularly coming in to berth. The people working for the Gwadar Port Authority say there has been a lot of progress in the last two years. The duty-free zone opened up in January this year and already they have held a large expo at the Business Centre.
There is now two state of the art desalination plants inside the port built by the Chinese. The larger one, which can provide 254,000 gallons of clean water per day, has just signed an agreement with the Government of Balochistan to supply water at Rs0.80 a liter for the people of Gwadar. Now the tankers can fill up here and no longer need to go all the way to the Mirani Dam. The Pakistan Army is also hurriedly making a large new desalination plant with the assistance of the UAE and Swiss governments, which will provide the local people with 4.4 million gallons of water per day soon after Ramazan.
Chinese engineer sampling clean water from the new desalination plant:
An imported coal-based power plant, which will supply 300MW of electricity to Gwadar, is also being constructed by the Chinese around 20 kilometers from the port. There is also talk of getting electricity from nearby Iran, and opening up the border for trade and visitors. The Army has supplemented the local hospital, bringing in specialist doctors, while the security in this area has also vastly improved.
Currently, there are security check posts all over Gwadar, and everyone carries their ID cards with them. Baloch nationalists have opposed this new development but in the last two years, the Army, which is guaranteeing the security of CPEC, appears to have taken control of the area. Gwadar and CPEC are in fact vital to Pakistan’s future economic survival, and they are just as determined as the Chinese to ensure this dream becomes a reality.