Rising violence puts port dream at risk

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am

As the formal inauguration of Gwadar port draws closer, speculation is mounting that the multimillion-dollar project may not be a success in the face of growing violence in the country's southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Launched in 2002, the project to build a deepwater port in Gwadar is seen by many as the hallmark of the Sino-Pakistan friendship and lies at the heart of President Pervez Musharraf's vision of a prosperous Pakistan.

Situated in a strategically important location on the Arabian Sea coast, the port is meant to turn the region into a hub of economic and commercial activity by serving as a gateway for transit traffic to Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Iran.

The project has, however, drawn strong opposition from the Baluch nationalists who fear the economic gains of the project will be siphoned off to the other provinces and the massive influx of outside workers will displace the Baluch from their ancestral lands.

'This is a conspiracy to control our resources and land', said Habib Jalib, a Baluch nationalist leader.

Security officials in Islamabad believe opponents of the project are getting financial support and arms from Iran and India, who, they claim, are not happy with the construction of the port. They also fear an escalation of violence in the run-up to its March inauguration.

Conceived more than a decade ago, the idea of Gwadar turned into reality once China agreed to provide US$198 million of the US$248 million required for phase one of the project. Since then, a convergence of interests has put the project onto a fast track of development.

Beijing's involvement in Gwadar is primarily motivated by its desire to better secure its long crude oil import routes ranging from the Persian Gulf to Africa.

'Being a major importer of oil from the Gulf, China has a justifiable interest in having a secure and uninterrupted flow of oil,' said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Islamabad.

Gwadar also fits perfectly into China's ambitions to integrate its western province of Xinjiang into its fast-growing economy.