According to a news report, on 11th of November the Pakistani government held a grand ceremony during which 1.52 sq. km of the Gwadar Free trade zone was transferred for the legal use of China Overseas Holdings Limited (COHL) for a rental period of 43 years. Some expect that this transfer will be extremely significant and may result in Gwadar becoming Pakistan’s Shenzhen.
The geographical advantages offered by Gwadar become apparent with a single glance of the map: Situated in south-west Pakistan, bordering the Arabian Sea close to the Iranian border, it is just 400km from the Strait of Hormuz, the principal global oil shipping route and the entrance to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. Gwadar has a natural geographical advantage: It stands at the confluence of three important regions: the Middle-East (with the biggest oil reserves in the world), South Asia (with a very high population density) and Central Asia (with its rich resources). Moreover, Pakistan’s Balochistan province, to the South West of which Gwadar is located, is expected to become the junction/confluence of the onshore energy Silk Road and the maritime Silk Road. Given Gwadar’s proximity to the Strait of Hormuz (situated between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, through which 40% of the world’s oil tankers pass, Pakistan’s government is looking at using Gwadar as a strategic pivot to cut into Central Asia, South Asia and western parts of China for transfer of energy resources.
As a result of Gwadar’s advantageous geographical location, it can act as a free port for transfer of oil. Moreover it can develop into the terminus of natural gas pipelines from Iran, Qatar and all of Central Asia. Gwadar port will undoubtedly play an important role in China’s future energy security strategy.
Talk of the contribution of the CPEC to the OBOR and Pakistan’s close connection with China’s Xinjiang region and neighboring countries like Afghanistan, Iran, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, etc. builds confidence in these countries and territories in the OBOR area and, at the same time, is also of utmost importance for the success of the OBOR (proposal).
The Western and Indian media always exaggerate the so called “military function” of Gwadar , because of their wishful thinking, to allow India to bring up the “threat” and play up their contention that Gwadar will become China’s crucial military base in the Indian Ocean, with the Chinese Navy acquiring one more docking station and refuelling stop. So much so that the Indian media states that China will take over the strategic Gwadar port and “alter the rules of the game” and that it is a “significant jewel” in China’s “string of pearls strategy”.
However, these suspicions are unfounded. Considering the early stages of construction and development of Gwadar over recent years, a few rational and intelligent Indian scholars and think-tanks have expressed a dispassionate opinion and have acknowledged that the economic gains of Gwadar port are much more far reaching than its military utility.
The development of Gwadar port by China and Pakistan does not mean that they are pointing a sword at India. The construction of the Gwadar Port has several positive aspects for India. Not only will it bring benefits to the economy of the Indian areas bordering Pakistan, it will also enable the OBOR to be linked to India’s Mausam Project and Spice route. Just as the joint declaration of Chairman Xi’s Pakistan visit states, the OBOR proposal is a new model of territorial collaboration and South-South cooperation and will make the entire Asian region prosperous and bring about an opportunity to bind all countries in a glorious collaboration
This author believes that to a large extent Gwadar bears the weight of Pakistan’s future and is the vital pivot for making Pakistan’s economy boom and realizing its development dreams. As one of crucial parts of the CPEC’, the port can not only satisfy Sino-Pak trading needs but also serve the South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East regions. It can become an important trading center and promote economic development within Asia and develop economic connections outside Asia. It can also push the construction of the Bangla-India-Myanmar-China economic corridor.
The author heads the South Asia and Central Asia desk at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and is the Director of the South Asian research centre at Tongji University