Port will make Gwadar a prosperous city
Published: Apr 23, 2019 07:13 PM


Naseer Khan Kashani

Editor's Note:

The Gwadar Port in Pakistan is a key project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The strategic location of the port promises to be a facilitator of regional trade and development. Pakistani journalist Yasir Habib Khan, on behalf of the Global Times (GT), interviewed Naseer Khan Kashani (Kashani), chairman of Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) under the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, on how the port is going to influence development in the region.

GT: What do you think about role of the Gwadar port with regard to regional connectivity, globalization, and a shared destiny?

The Gwadar Port is an integral part of CPEC and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Located close to the international oil trade and sea shipping lanes at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside of the Strait of Hormuz, it enjoys a unique geostrategic and geoeconomic importance for all BRI countries. It provides an outlet for land-locked Central Asian countries, western China and Afghanistan through transit trade and by providing trans-shipment facilities. 

The Gwadar port, the starting point for CPEC, is the cheapest route from China to Central Asian nations. At present, Chinese exports and imports are bound to travel roughly 10,000 km from the Persian Gulf to China's eastern region. Gwadar ensures a shorter, inexpensive route for shipping oil and gas from the Middle East and minerals from Africa. With spirit of BRI and CPEC, "Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan" is on the cards which will transform Gwadar into a hub for industrialization, commercial activity and international marine trade. I believe that fortunes will trickle down to the grassroots level, uplifting the lives of common people, equipping them with market-oriented skills, unleashing job opportunities, increasing educational and healthcare facilities and make them available for all households.

GT: The Gwadar port is a CPEC linchpin, a flagship BRI project. In your opinion, what is the potential impact Gwadar port will make by unleashing modern trade and industrial facilities nationally, locally, and regionally?

The Gwadar port is watershed development in the materialization of BRI. It is the genesis of a giant leap that China has envisioned. If Gwadar works, CPEC will work and if CPEC works, BRI will work.

Currently, Pakistan has two main operating international deep-sea ports: the Karachi Port and Port Qasim. During the coming years, their capacity expansion programs are unlikely to keep pace with the expected demand growth. In particular, the Karachi Port has significant physical limitations and will not be able to grow at the same speed as national growth demand in the coming decades. 

These limitations result mainly from its location, which is within the city of Karachi itself, and has seen very rapid growth over the past years. In the case of Port Qasim, although having a large physical space for expansion, its possible development speed is hampered by its up-stream location, over 40 km from the open sea, resulting in long turnaround times for visiting ships. This is not a problem for cargo linked to industries located near the port, but it carries cost-disadvantages for cargo that have origins and destinations elsewhere.

Given the situation, the Gwadar Port is the answer of all future demands of modern cargo handling techniques, state of the art storage and high-tech logistic facilities.

GT: How much are you satisfied with the pace of progress, flow of money, working relationship with Chinese officials engaged in various development plans including the Gwadar Airport, Special Economic Zone, power plants and other projects?

To make the Gwadar port more functional, a number of projects are underway. Among them, the construction of the Gwadar International Airport, construction of East Bay Expressway, Infrastructure Development for Free Zone, construction of breakwaters, dredging of berthing areas and channels, coal-based power plant, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute, potable water, China-Pakistan Friendship Hospital (upgrades on existing 50-bed hospitals), Clean and Green Gwadar and Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan. The projects are in different stages of completion. Some recently commenced and others ready to takeoff.

As far as completion is concerned, let me be frank. Internationally, port development is considered very technical and strenuous job demanding long time and patience. It requires high-tech coastal engineering, state of the art dredging techniques, and modern craftsmanship. 

The Gwadar port, built on world class standard operating procedures, will have to pass through phases and processes which are globally carried out in the development of any port in the world. As per the master plan, it will take 20 to 25 years to develop the port entirely.

GT: There is criticism that the development of the Gwadar port is part of a clandestine plot for Pakistan to fall into a "debt trap." What is your take on this?

The Gwadar port was never a creepy colonization project that has been negatively portrayed by enemies of Pakistan and China. It is not a debt trap that would make Pakistan incapable to repay the loan and allow China to take over national assets, especially control over the port. Conversely, China has unleashed a bonanza of trade concessions under CPEC to help Pakistan address its economic problems.

CPEC funds are available in the shape of government-to-government loans, investment and grants. With the Gwadar port, financial facility is not a debt but rather a grant-based investment.

GT: Since China began managing the Gwadar port with the CPEC launch, lobbyists working against China-Pakistan relations have been raising an alarm that security issues will be a stumbling block. How do you see security dynamics and conditions? 

Gwadar is home to over 2 million people. With the inception of the Gwadar port, Pakistani and foreign investors have been pouring into the city, and their numbers rise daily. Daily life and transportation has become quite smooth. Chinese as well as local manpower working on various projects feel safe in the Gwadar Port City as multi-level security has been put in place. 

Recently, two big events including the ground-breaking for the new International Gwadar Airport and the Gwadar Expo 2019 took place in a peaceful manner. Except for the Ormara terrorist tragedy on the Makran Coastal Highway where many innocent people were killed, overall, security arrangements are up to the mark. 

Such cowardly acts of violence can never dampen the spirit of development for the Gwadar port, because as a nation, Pakistanis stand united against the menace. Though non-state actors are actively trying to derail CPEC, especially the Gwadar port, by trying to create a trust deficit between Islamabad and Beijing, it is a source of satisfaction, and the Pakistani government, army and Chinese authorities have complete confidence with one another on safety issues. 

GT: When will Gwadar open for tourism?

Gwadar is widely appreciated as a land of warm water with long sunny coast, unexplored beaches, mesmerizing mountains, old-styled boat-making markets and bustling local culture. GPA is taking all necessary steps to promote tourist activities in the city. However, everything is demand-driven and tourism has its own special dynamics. Unless every basic requirement is fulfilled, the tourism industry will take time to leap forward. 

With the progress of the Gwadar port, all allied industries, especially real estate, will gain traction. Commercial activities will attract local and international people. This will serve as a catalyst for the hotel, recreational, and food industries. Once this momentum begins, Gwadar will be ready for tourism opportunities in a befitting manner.

GT: What do you think about the significance of the Gwadar Smart City Master Plan? What are its key features and spillover effects?

Much awaited Gwadar Smart City Master Plan is at final stage following strenuous planning and insightful review between the China and the Pakistan counterparts. It is expected that any rational apprehension by concerned ministries and departments have been figured out and resolved. 

Hopefully, the master plan will be unveiled next month if everything moves accordingly. New maps and guidelines for the development of the smart port city have been broken into three timelines: 2025, 2035 and 2050.

The key focus of the master plan over the next five years is to make available the basic civic necessities of a modern city. It is designed to revamp the economic development triggering socioeconomic activities at the district level and transform Gwadar into a prosperous city. 

The project will strategize industrial and commercial plans to attract foreign investments. It is likely that Gwadar will be linked with the national grid soon as required modalities have been discussed and finalized to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity besides initiating the 300 Mega Watt coal-based power project.

Emphasis on land and zoning, road networks, water and sewage lines and security cameras to improve command and control systems has been given priority.

GT: Wherever huge development work begins, local environment and eco-system are compromised. In your view, how is GPA handling these issues under your chairmanship?

GPA is sparing no effort to improve the ecological environment to materialize the dream of shaping Gwadar as an ecologically sound city. In collaboration with Chinese engineers and environmentalists, green technologies will be applied to municipal development and building a better eco-system.

The government has vowed to plant 1 million trees to advance afforestation in five years. The trees that will be planted will have better resistance against saline water. To ensure common participation to make the initiative successful, GPA has talked to local politicians and lawmakers to inspire everyone to join the movement. Unless the public owns the project, turnaround cannot be sustainable.

In first week of May, GPA will kick-start a social mobilization drive to inspire people, and it is hoped that the results will be encouraging.

GT: How will GPA change Gwadar into an oasis and improve the living standards of local people by equipping them with new trends and skills and creating new jobs?

The government is impressed with the Chinese vision of a green economy. We will try to follow the Chinese vision to reclaim land from sand by promoting vegetative cover, establishing forests (afforestation and reforestation), controlling desertification, developing severe weather-resistant cultivable lands and uplifting the lives of locals through innovating husbandry, pharmacology and tourism.

China has done wonders by rehabilitating China's ecological system, promoting China's eco-civilization and green economy at the national level, and boosting a global green civilization, the betterment of eco-environments in barren and desolate areas, poverty eradication and green economy development by utilizing cutting-edge technology. GPA has set this model for development with Gwadar to make this happen.

GT: After Saudi Arab's investment in refinery and oil complex in the strategic Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, there are reports that more foreign investors have shown robust interest in Gwadar. How do you weigh the flow of foreign investment and its meaningful effects?

The government does not have any reservation against any foreign player investing the Gwadar port. If required modalities are met, with those interested in launching their businesses, GPA will help facilitate the process. 

Initially, five investment companies for industrial activities in the port's free zone have lined up. Three are Chinese, while two are Pakistani. Licenses have been issued to these companies which will indulge in the manufacturing of high-density steel pipe, electric motor bikes, one is a fish processing plant, and while two are edible oil companies.