The Promises and Problems of Gwadar Port

Courtesy of Future Directions, some analysis on Gwadar Port which, though plagued with problems, is likely to succeed in becoming an economic hub:


Gwadar Port is a deep water port being constructed, primarily with Chinese capital, in the south of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Operational control of the port was formally transferred to a Chinese state-owned enterprise in February 2013. The firm actually took control in May 2013, in the process further provoking Indian fears of a Chinese encirclement. With a high-level Chinese delegation visiting Gwadar and Islamabad this week, in preparation for the  port becoming fully functional and to consider areas for its potential expansion, Indian concerns have again been inflamed.


In theory, Gwadar Port shows great economic and strategic potential. Close to the Strait of Hormuz, the port will be the gateway for the planned economic corridor that will pass goods and important energy supplies through Pakistan into China. As this corridor will dramatically reduce freight times and costs from Africa, Europe and the Middle East to China, it has aroused a lot of interest, especially from Chinese investors. The port and its associated economic corridor also promise to provide much needed infrastructure, industry and investment to Pakistan, but especially to Baluchistan, which remains one of Pakistan’s underdeveloped and neglected provinces. 

There are several problems with this plan, however. Most notably, Gwadar and its surrounds lack any significant infrastructure; the port is not even connected to Pakistan’s national road network. Importing and exporting via Gwadar would therefore be difficult and costly, which could cause the port to fall into significant financial difficulty, if traders preferred other ports. Moves to alleviate these problems include: building roads to connect the port to the highways; establishing parliamentary committees to investigate other infrastructure areas for improvement; and ideas such as establishing free economic zones and making Gwadar a free port like Hong Kong or Singapore. These developments are progressing slowly, however, partly due to the other issues surrounding the project.

One of these is the continuing threat of terrorists in Baluchistan targeting the port. While sectarian groups that are rife throughout Pakistan are a concern, the main threat comes from the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), which seeks to have Baluchistan secede from Pakistan citing Islamabad’s exploitation of the region’s people and resources. The BLA has condemned the building of the Gwadar port as another conspiracy to rob the Baluchi people. Given the group’s history of industrial sabotage, it is likely that some form of attack will be planned.The serious view of the threat taken by the Pakistan Government can be seen in the increasing security measures, including the deployment of the Third Pakistan Marine Battalion. 

Another problem with Gwadar is the controversy surrounding it. Locally, the provincial government of Baluchistan has been incensed by the lack of consultation, especially over the transfer of the port to a Chinese firm. Apart from drawing protests from the Baluchi Government, the perceived neglect of Baluchistan’s interests by the Federal Government, has exacerbated a dispute between the Pakistan Navy and Baluchistan over the control of land necessary for Gwadar’s development.

Regionally, India has repeatedly expressed its concerns that Gwadar will be used by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), despite China’s insistence that the project is entirely commercial. Gwadar is considered by many Indian analysts to be part of the western edge of the so called “String of Pearls”: Chinese funded ports that surround India. Should the PLAN ever deploy warships to the region, Gwadar would provide an anchorage on the fringe of the Arabian Sea allowing the Chinese to potentially disrupt Indian trade, while keeping their own trade route open. In an effort to mitigate the effects of Gwadar on India’s geopolitical and economic position, India has moved to enhance its relations within the Middle East. This has included helping to develop a rival port at Chabahar in Iran, to decrease Central Asian – especially Afghanistan’s – reliance on Pakistani ports. It has also allegedly interfered in Baluchistan, by supporting secessionist groups such as the BLA.

Despite these problems, it appears that Gwadar is likely to become a major hub of commercial and trade activity, owing to the significant and continued support from both the Chinese and Pakistani governments. The lack of local infrastructure, the threat of terrorism and the tensions with the local Baluchistan authorities are likely to delay, but not halt, the port’s progress. There is little that Pakistan or China can do to alleviate India’s concern over the port’s construction. Nonetheless, it remains unlikely that China will permanently deploy any naval forces into the Indian Ocean Region in the near future, as it remains primarily focussed on its own maritime border disputes and is likely to leave the security of Gwadar to Pakistan.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013 at 2:49 pm and is filed under China, Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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