Prime Minister Sharif’s efforts to reinvigorate the Gwadar port project are facing resistance from residents led by Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch
Local resistance at Gwadar port
Overtures made by the ruling dispensation to China, however, run the risk of failing if the government cannot resolve simmering discontent with the local fishing community.
The emergence of Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch, a local Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader who has gained considerable popularity, is complicating the government’s efforts to speed up port development works.
Rehman, who is from the local fishing community, has threatened to close the strategic port of Gwadar if the government fails to fulfill the promises it made in the agreement signed in April this year to end a sit -in a month in port. town.
The main demands of the Gwadar rights movement include the liberation of the Balochistan coast from the trawler mafia, the opening of border points in Gwadar, the elimination of drug trafficking and the removal of unnecessary checkpoints by the Pakistani army.
An inactive port
Gwadar is a port city located on the southwest coast of Balochistan, Pakistan. The city is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea opposite Oman.
The Gwadar Port project was conceptualized in 2013 when a little-known state-owned company, China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), acquired the port for 40 years on behalf of Pakistan. The port is the crown jewel of the CPEC project, and it is where the two countries hope the logistics of inbound and outbound goods will be handled for an international market.
Despite Gwadar’s “strategic positioning” as one of the “best deep-water ports” at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which facilitates the movement of “a third of the world’s oil every year”, the port has not succeeded in attracting business. The reason for slow trading isn’t just bad marketing. Gwadar still has no electricity, water, road connectivity, internet and cellular or gas networks.
Pakistan and China are making major efforts – and pledging nearly $700 million in investment – to transform what was once a sleepy fishing town into a vibrant commercial hub, complete with seaport, airport, transport links major roads and a commercial area.
Development efforts have encountered obstacles. As recently as May, the city had no sustainable electricity supply amid scorching 42C heat. Access is equally difficult, with only three flights per week between the city and Karachi.
Unlike the ports of Karachi and Qasim (also in Karachi), whose infrastructure grew into major global cargo hubs, little development had occurred in Gwadar before the launch of the CPEC project in 2013.
The new Gwadar International Airport, which will be the largest in Pakistan, should have been completed a few years ago, is still in the implementation phase and is expected to open in September 2023, even though China has provided a grant of 230 million dollars for the project.
The road link project, namely the $179 million Eastbay Expressway, which connects the port to the free zone and the city, was only completed in June. China provided interest-free loans for the program.
To address the electricity problems, Sharif recently sent his energy minister to Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding for an additional 100 megawatts of electricity for Gwadar. The previous government of Imran Khan delayed the 29 kilometer long transmission lines for the supply of 100 megawatts from Iran, while the Iranian side had completed the project on completion.
In addition, two other projects, a 1.2 million gallons per day desalination plant worth $14 million in Gwadar and a 5 million gallons per day desalination plant worth $32 million of dollars, remain at a very initial stage of work.