The Pakistan government has declared that the first phase of the Gwadar Port to be complete. It was not inaugurated by the Chinese Prime Minister as scheduled 'due to various reasons'. This fact is significant and indicates further deterioration in the situation in Balochistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had stated in Quetta on October 3, 2004 that the port would be jointly commissioned by the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and the Chinese Prime Minister in January 2005. It seems that their presence at inauguration was avoided in view of the prevailing conditions in Balochistan. Though the Pakistani authorities have attributed the decision to serious damages sustained by roads in the region due to heavy floods in some parts of the province, Pakistani media has reported that the cancellation was due to security reasons. The Chinese Premier was not taken to Gwadar as Pakistan did not want any incident to take place that would give it negative publicity.
Gwadar Deep Sea Port Project is being built with Chinese assistance and is the largest infrastructural project being executed in Pakistan since independence. The importance accorded to the project is evident from the fact that Pakistan wanted it to be jointly inaugurated by the Pakistan President and the Chinese Premier. According to the Pakistan government, when fully ready the port will link the Central Asia countries and Afghanistan with a network of railways and roads. During the initiation of work at the port, President Musharraf had stated that the port of Gwadar would have strategic advantages on account of its location and once the rail and road infrastructure were fully developed, the port would become a regional hub for trade and commerce.
Due to its location at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, the port has immense geo-strategic significance. It provides the shortest and cost-effective access to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics. The continued unstable regional environment in the Persian Gulf and the emergence of the new Central Asian States has added to the importance. It will be the first major port outside Karachi-Bin Qasim Complex and will remove a critical vulnerability as it will provide Pakistan with another option to disembark vital supplies in case of non-availability of Karachi-Bin Qasim Complex either due to natural disasters, accidents or naval blockade.
The project is also the cornerstone of economic development of Pakistan and Balochistan, and could change the landscape of the region and fortunes of its people. It will boost trade with Central Asian states, help attract foreign investment and create new job opportunities. It could also open opportunities for the export of natural resources and minerals of Balochistan.
A project that triggers economic development and provides employment should normally be welcomed by the local residents. The Pakistani government obviously has ambitious plans for developing Gwadar, and there should be no reason why construction of a new harbour should be met with any opposition. However, the Baloch nationalists have been vehemently opposing the project and have been regularly targeting the developmental work and associated personnel. They complain that the manpower for the project is not drawn from the province. As the channelling of funds is in the hands of the non-Baloch, their plea for control over decisions pertaining to development activities have been ignored. They feel that fruits of Gwadar will not reach the Baloch people; on the contrary, they feel it will lead to large scale influx of outsiders in Balochistan and make them a minority in their own province.
Chinese involvement in the project has led to speculation about their interest. The presence of a strategic port at Gwadar which provides China with access to the Persian Gulf, and which is uncomfortably close to the main US overseas base in the Gulf will not be welcomed by the US. The port, by design or default, also provides China a strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean and will enable China to monitor its energy shipments from the Persian Gulf.
Gwadar has enormous economic potential and can become another Dubai and change the landscape of Balochistan, but the port cannot achieve its potential as long as the restive population of Balochistan does not feel enthusiastic about it. Pakistan pins great hopes on Gwadar and expects it to become a gateway to Central Asia and Afghanistan. The successful completion of the project at the moment is uncertain, but there is no doubt that its successful completion will result in enormous benefits to Pakistan and may provide China with a crucial outpost in the Persian Gulf.