PM Shehbaz Vows to Make Gwadar Port ‘Among the Best in the World’

On a recent visit to Gwadar, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated his government’s commitment to developing Gwadar port into a world-class facility. He promised that the benefits of development in Balochistan would go directly to the local people. As journalists reporting on Pakistan’s economy and infrastructure, we see the potential for Gwadar to be a game-changer for the region if executed properly.

Gwadar Port holds immense strategic and economic significance for Pakistan. Situated along the Arabian Sea in Balochistan province, it provides vital access to shipping routes connecting East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. However, poor infrastructure and lack of facilities have hampered Gwadar’s growth so far.

During his speech at the China-Pakistan Expo Centre in Gwadar, PM Shehbaz highlighted how previous governments failed to properly dredge the port, allowing silt accumulation to impact access. He announced dredging operations will now be completed by February 2024 to restore the port’s designed draft depth.

Proper dredging is critical for Gwadar to accommodate large cargo ships. At up to 18 m draft depth after dredging, it can rival leading regional ports like Dubai and Oman. Deep channels and berthing facilities will allow ships with heavier load capacity to call at Gwadar.

In 2015, China committed to developing Gwadar as part of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The China Overseas Port Holding Company was granted a 40-year lease to operate the port.

China has already funded the construction of much of the port infrastructure and a connected airport. Further plans include building industrial parks, logistics hubs, and energy projects in Gwadar.

During his visit, PM Shehbaz acknowledged China’s strong support, including the rollover of a $2.4 billion loan. Close Pakistan-China collaboration will be key to executing the strategic vision for Gwadar.

Beyond shipping, Gwadar holds immense potential as a transit hub opening trade routes between energy-rich Central Asia and world markets. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and other landlocked countries can transfer goods via Gwadar instead of longer paths.

PM Shehbaz stated Pakistan wants to fully leverage Gwadar’s location at the crossroads of South Asia, West Asia, and the Middle East. Connecting Central Asia is a major policy priority that Gwadar port enables.

Increased shipments of Central Asian oil, gas, and cotton can flow through Gwadar. Pakistan itself would benefit from cheaper energy imports and transit fees. Regional connectivity through Gwadar can boost trade and growth.

A key point in PM Shehbaz’s speech was prioritizing the people of Balochistan gain from Gwadar’s progress. Previous projects often enriched outsiders and elites while locals languished without basic amenities.

The government aims to uplift locals through improved provision of education, health care, clean water, and jobs. PM Shehbaz announced measures like raising the quota for laptops allocated to Balochistan students.

Community involvement and public buy-in are essential for Gwadar to achieve sustainable growth. Port development should expand economic activity across Balochistan.

The PM’s promises reflect a welcome shift in focusing on human development alongside infrastructure. Nurturing local skills and industries can make Gwadar both a profitable shipping hub and a livable city.

Despite great potential, Gwadar still faces multiple challenges that must be addressed. Continuous dredging of shipping channels needs to continue. Infrastructure like highways, power plants, and IT connectivity needs major upgrades to support industries.

Most crucially, security issues have plagued development projects in Balochistan. Insurgent groups have previously attacked Chinese engineers and other workers. Safety concerns need comprehensive solutions to reassure investors.

Water shortages, housing, environmental protection, and transparency in land deals are other concerns. Local communities must be kept firmly in the loop regarding major decisions impacting their livelihoods.

In conclusion, developing Gwadar into a world-class port city requires strategic vision paired with diligent on-the-ground execution. PM Shehbaz’s commitments signal fresh government focus after past missteps. Turning Gwadar into a shipping hub and economic engine would be a major accomplishment.

However, the true test lies in tangibly improving lives and opportunities for people in Balochistan. Development that uplifts the region as a whole will ensure Gwadar realizes its potential while benefiting millions. We hope the government’s plans translate into concrete actions that make Gwadar a rising star among global ports.

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