China recently took over management of Gwadar port in Balochistan province in Pakistan.
It’s located on the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Gulf through which 30% of the world’s daily oil supply passes.
The Pakistani government hopes that this would create local jobs for the country’s poorest province.
Shadi Khan Saif and Mudassar Shah went to find out more.
The first phase of Gwadar port has not been finished – there’s no rail network yet so trucks are the only way goods are distributed.
At the truck stand, drivers are having a tea time break.
Truck driver Ahmad Baloch is hopeful about the port project.
“We hope to get more work. Poor labourers like me are happy. We don’t want separation, we want to stay united.”
Considered Pakistan’s biggest infrastructure project, Gwadar port is located in a politically volatile province.
For years, Balochistan has been plagued by violence. Armed separatist groups regularly attack Pakistani military outposts and sabotage gas and oil pipelines.
Gwadar is expected to provide strategic storage and transport facilities, as well as road and rail links to China.
But there’s not enough information about the port’s benefit for locals.
News Director of Baloch TV, Owais Baloch believes this has created lots of misunderstandings.
“Balochistan has been neglected for quite some time now. The government must not linger on, people are concerned. There’s lack of trust from the government. But if the project is completed on time, people will get jobs and the area will flourish.”
China provided most of the funds for the project with an initial investment of nearly 300 million US dollars.
Former Port Director Captain Anwar Shah supports the government’s decision to hand over the management to China.
“To me as a professional, it looks like this would be an energy corridor to Western China. For Chinese people, this is in their interest. China imports 60 to 80 percent of its oil. Like India, China is fuel-starved, and so are we. We all need security for our energy.”
The port is China’s first foothold in the Middle East.
Baloch nationalist leaders see the project as another attempt by the Pakistani army to dominate their homeland and steal its mineral wealth.
Abdul Hakeem Lehri is the senior leader of the Baloch Republican Party, one of the major parties fighting for independence.
“With pressures from the military, the port is being handed over to China. And there are efforts to bring gas pipeline from Iran. It’s an artificial state. How long will the army protect this?”
Six Chinese engineers have been killed by Baloch militants while the port was being constructed.
In the past China was involved in a gold and copper project but many locals say they didn’t give anything back to the poor.
Owner of a property company Iqbal Ahmad Baloch says people need more jobs.
“China to me is a very greedy country, it will not work for the interest of others, it will serve own interests. China will have to improve its image and will have to demonstrate that it’s nothing more than a country of third class export products only.”
A truck helper Waja Majeed says no one is against the port development.
“We want to work and earn for our families.”