GWADAR The port of Gwadar on Balochistan’s coast, close to Pakistan’s border with Iran, has long served the people of the region as a means of gaining access to the Persian Gulf and the Arab lands across the sea The port is strategically located at the mouth of the Gulf and at the opposite end of the strategic navigational points of the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman; thus, it is an opportune place from which to watch over these busy sea lanes Pakistan long had the ambition to develop the port as an additional access to the sea, in addition to the twin ports of Karachi and Qasim This ambition moved closer to realization with the signing of an agreement with the People’s Republic of China in March 2002 in which China Harbour Construction Corporation was engaged to build the first phase of the port at a cost of US$245 million Of this, US$198 million was to be provided by Beijing and the rest by Pakistan The first phase of the project included the construction of three multi-purpose berths: each 200 meters long, capable of handling vessels up to 30,000 DWT This phase was scheduled to be finished by 2005 The second phase, to be financed with private funds, would involve the development of 10 more berths, and a 5-kilometer approach channel that would accommodate vessels of up to 50,000 DWT This phase was estimated to cost an additional US$600 million In parallel with the construction of the berths, the government of Pakistan began constructing the Makran Coastal Highway, linking Gwadar with a series of small fishing ports strung along the Balochistan coast and to Karachi in the east

There were also plans to build a network of modern highways linking Gwadar with Pasni, Chaman, and Torkhan on the border with Afghanistan These roads would provide easy access to the sea for landlocked Afghanistan and to other landlocked countries of Central Asia While the Gwadar port project made a great deal of economic sense for Pakistan and had great promise for Balochistan, the country’s most backward province, its development was viewed with some suspicion by Iran and India It also troubled some traditional political elements in Balochistan The Indians were concerned that Gwadar would provide China with access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, thus challenging India’s ambition to be the most important naval presence, after the United States, in these important seas The Iranians were not happy to have prospective rivals in their aspiration to become the most important point of sea access for the countries of Central Asia Working with the Indians, they started their own port construction project at Charbehar, just across from Gwadar, on their side of the sea Compounding these challenges was the resistance offered by some Balochi tribal sardars (chiefs), who used the militia loyal to them to disrupt construction at the port Undeterred by these provocations, the government of President Pervez Musharraf continued to press ahead with the construction of the port The government also invited the private sector to develop the land in and around the port for commerce and high-end residential estates

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