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ہفتہ، 2 فروری، 2013

Gawadar game changing port for Pakistan

There is a growing consensus in Pakistan that China should be given the operational charge of Gwadar Port. This stance has taken on added momentum against the backdrop of emerging strategic concerns, including an increasing US interest in this Port. There seems to be growing evidence that the American interests would be served by blocking the development of Gwadar, especially as an energy hub and corridor to Central Asia and China.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters on Tuesday that the cabinet gave approval to transfer Gwadar port operations from Port of Singapore to Chinese Overseas Port Holdings Limited. He said that Singapore’s PSA International could not develop the port as was planned.

Anyhow, “both the companies have settled their deal,” he said, without giving a timetable for the transfer. It has to be mentioned that China had provided about 75 per cent of the initial $250 million in funding for the construction of the port in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan. Efforts were made in the past to develop Balochistan but no government had made concerted efforts. However, in March 2002, the then government embarked upon construction of Gwadar deep-sea port with Chinese assistance. After completion of Phase-I construction work in 2006, Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) invited offers for experienced port operators. In 2007, an agreement was signed with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) for operational control of the port.

According to the agreement between the PSA and Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), the former was to invest US$ 550 million during the next 5 years. Perhaps it was due to GPA’s lack of experience, due to inherent flaws in the agreement, or ineptness or some hidden hand behind the failure in realization of the full potential of the Gwadar port. Minister of Ports and shipping, Senator Babar Khan Ghauri instead of persuading the PSA to honor its commitment about investment to make port fully operation, he blamed the government for its failure to transfer 584 acres of land in possession of Pakistan Navy. It is outrageous that the PSA wanted 2250 acres of land free of cost for development of industrial zone for the investors. In fact, the agreement between the GPA and PSA had inherent flaws and was lop-sided. It was speculated that Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghauri - MQM senator - was not keen on operationalizing the Gwadar port because it would decrease national dependence on Karachi port.

In August 2012, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Ports and Shipping was informed by the Ports and Shipping Secretary that the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) is on its way out and will not to stay in Pakistan as both the parties - the government of Pakistan and the PSA - have not met the obligations that were to be met under the 40-year port handling agreement. In a recent committee meeting, the committee’s chairman observed that the committee will try its level best to resolve the issues to make Gwadar Port truly a success story and 100 percent operational port of the country as well as a regional port. In this regard, the committee will consult each stakeholder of the deal and implementation of the agreement signed with PSA. The chairman and members of the committee were of the view that NHA and Ministry of Communications are reluctant and have committed a willful negligence in the development of the required infrastructure for Gwadar Port connectivity by citing reasons like security situation and lack of funds.

Senator Rubina Irfan from Balochistan demanded that if the Ministry of Ports and Shipping can arrange $800 million for ports in Karachi then it should arrange the required investment for the development of Gwadar Port. It is true that Gwadar Port will not be viable for trans-shipment and transit until Afghanistan is connected by road and rail. But the prevailing uncertainty on the political and security fronts in Afghanistan and Balochistan is a significant setback, apart from the financial constraints of the government that stalled the process of construction of roads. Former Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani had been trying to get the contract with the Singapore state-owned PSA International Ltd cancelled on the ground that the deal signed with it was one-sided. The PSA contract was also challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter was pending.

Last year, the naval chief also alleged that the Gwadar Port deal was ‘one-sided’, and to the benefit of the PSA. It is unfortunate that our ruling elite gave overriding consideration to their personal or party interest. The port has the potential to make Pakistan as the trade corridor for Central Asian States, China and the Gulf, as 60 per cent trade of gas and oil is channeled through this route. Pakistan would then be in a position to offer Central Asian countries the access to sea through Gwadar Port, as communications network, linking Pakistan to Central Asia is in progress. Pakistan had espoused a lot of expectations for establishing an ideal relationship with Central Asian states that became independent countries after collapse of the Soviet Union. It was rightly so because Pakistan had played a crucial role as a frontline state when Soviet forces landed in Afghanistan on the pretext that Afghan government had sought help from it.

It is also due to Pakistan’s strategic position, which is confluence and meeting point between Sinkiang of China, Iran and Central Asian Republics. But internecine conflicts and civil war-like conditions in Afghanistan had stymied the progress and did not allow the idea of having ideal relationship with CARS to materialize. Taliban factor had also caused misgivings in the past when some obscurantist elements were rushing to those countries presenting distorted version of Islam preaching militancy. However, as a result of persistent efforts of the government those countries have now cordial relations with Pakistan. There is no denying that the most logical and viable route for trade with Central Asian countries is Afghanistan; therefore the sovereign, independent and stable Afghanistan is not only in the interest of Pakistan but also in the interest of the entire region. Having that said, with further development of Balochistan and Gwadar to become fully operational, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and consequently per capita income of the people of Balochistan would increase.

  By  Mohammad Jamil

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