Gwadar cooperation opens up Central Asia to global marketplace

By Aftab Hussain Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-16 20:25:04

There have been hot discussions since Pakistan decided in September to provide operational control of the Gwadar port to China.

The decision has been welcomed by many in Pakistan and is seen as a giant step in further consolidating Pakistan-China friendship. With its critical strategic location, the port provides the shortest possible sea route to the Central Asian republics and connects the Middle East with China, Central Asia and Russia.

In 2007, operational control of the port was given to Singaporean company PSA International for 40 years, but the firm could not fulfill the commitments made, and decided to pull out.

Much of the world's oil moves through the Strait of Hormuz, close to Gwadar, giving it the potential to be turned into an energy hub.

China is heavily dependent on oil from the Gulf to fuel its expending economy and production. At present, the oil it receives passes through a very long route. It starts in the Strait of Malacca from where it reaches China's east coast and is transported overland to western China. This transportation is very costly. Gwadar provides a cheaper and shorter route.

Nevertheless, China is not the only beneficiary of the Gwadar port. Landlocked Central Asian states are also set to make significant gains. Tajikistan can transport its gas to the world, once the pipeline is extended to the port. For Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the shortest possible route to the sea is through Gwadar.

And Afghanistan's gateway to the world has always been through Pakistan. For a stable economy, this land locked country needs an opening to the sea, and Gwadar has the potential to provide that. Pakistan and China will not get the sole benefits of the development of Gwadar. Instead, the whole region will prosper.

The two countries intend to build a railway link between Xinjiang and Gwadar. This will not only enhance the mobility of goods, but also cut the cost of transportation by road.

There is an existing railway link between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and the three countries have decided to extend this railway link to Europe.

If China agrees, the railway link from Xinjiang to Gwadar can be connected to the current Iran, Pakistan and Turkey rail link.

This will provide Chinese goods with another route to European markets.

The development of the port is a cause of concerns for many countries in the region, especially India. The port and a naval base at such an important strategic location enhance the importance of Pakistan. India is already trying to increase its influence in the Arabian Sea and does not want any competitor. It feels threatened by the development of the port.

New Delhi is pressing hard to increase its influence in Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia, but once the port is developed, all these states will be dependent on Pakistan and will no longer remain under Indian influence.

The closer Pakistani-Chinese strategic partnership is already seen by India and the US as a threat to their interests in the region.

The US is increasing its influence in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the Strait of Malacca, and is empowering India to stand against China. The superpower has concluded many defense and strategic agreements with countries in the region. This is seen by defense analysts as an attempt to contain China and block its mobility in the Southeast Asian region.

According to Pakistan Economy Watch, a "willingness on the part of Beijing to take control of the port will encourage investment and professional handling of port operations. It will bring two countries closer and promote social and economic development." Gwadar remains the only safe and feasible option which provides China an opportunity to counties with its economical activities to the external world.

The author is a researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

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