The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a 3,000-km network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas from southern Pakistan's Gwadar Port to Kashgar city, northwestern China. The CPEC will reduce China's routes of oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East by thousands of kilometers, making Gwadar Port a vital link in China's supply chain. Gwadar Port and the CPEC would enable China to bypass potential naval blockades of shipments of Mideast oil by India in the Indian Ocean, the USA in the South China Sea, and Japan in the East China Sea. Once the 80, 000 acres mega Oil City at Gwadar starts operations, the transportation of oil from the Gulf to China can be expedited. Adopting this route brings down the current 40-day supply time required to just seven days.
India harbors suspicions – and anxieties - that Gwadar provides China a key post to monitor Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and a dual-use base for Chinese ships and submarines. There is popular belief that Gwadar is just another unfriendly stronghold along the so-called “string of pearls” that China is building to choke India’s activities in the Indian Ocean and beyond. These influences perpetuate a “Sino-Indian rivalry” and zero-sum game narrative.
Historically, Russia showed the same interest in the Pakhtuns in a quest for achieving a warm water port like Gwadar in Pakistan or Cha Bahar in Iran. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was rumored to have its eyes on Gwadar as a naval base - the fabled warm water port that had been Moscow's ambition since the days of Czarist Russia.
Pakistan Navy's special 'Task Force-88' (TF-88) was established 13 December 2016 for maritime security of Gwadar port and protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats. An International Maritime Conference on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was held at Gwadar to commission the TF-88 force. The creation of the special maritime force was necessitated by the operationalisation of CPEC, which was expected to lead to a surge in maritime activity at Gwadar — the nodal point for CPEC — and the sea lanes. This in turn increased the maritime susceptibilities there.
TF-88 was to comprise ships, Fast Attack Craft, aircraft, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), and surveillance assets. Additionally, marines would be deployed at sea and around Gwadar for security operations. Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zakaullah and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat, Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri attended the conference.
Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled an ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor plan costing $46 billion during his visit to Islamabad in April 2015. Once completed, the CPEC would be a 2,400-kilometer-long road connecting Kashgar on the Chinese border to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, which is in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Control of Gwadar Port was given to China and an agreement was signed with China Overseas Ports Holding Co on May 16, 2013, to transfer operational rights from the Port Authority of Singapore. The move meant China was now running a port just opposite the Gulf of Oman, an important route for oil tankers.
Both countries insist the deal is a “purely commercial venture.” But critics and financial analysts are skeptical about the remote port's economic viability and believe it will be used for military purposes. The Gwadar port lies near the Strait of Hormuz, gateway for about 20 percent of the world’s oil. Beijing provided most of the port's initial $250 million construction cost, as part of a plan to establish a trade and energy corridor from the Gulf, through Pakistan and on to western China. Since it was first handed over to a Singaporean operator in 2007 the isolated facility has been a commercial failure. Baluchistan's ongoing instability and local political opposition are largely responsible.
It was announced 26 September 2018 Saudi Arabia will be a partner in the development of an "oil city" in Gwadar. The 80,000-acre project will be used to transport oil from the Gulf region to China through the Gwadar Port. This will reduce transport time to just seven days, down from the current 40. Pakistan is expected to receive an economic package worth $8 billion from Saudi Arabia, which includes investment in Gwadar under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
It is pertinent to mention Pakistan is in an economic crisis, and any assistance from a friendly country can help bail out Pakistan. It will also open more avenues of cooperation and bring more investment into Pakistan. The deal was reportedly agreed during Prime Minister Imran Khan's recent visit to the Saudi Arabia, a country rich in oil and with experience developing oil cities. A smooth and successful development of the "oil city" in Gwadar is expected in the near future.
Saudi Arabia joining CPEC will further strengthen the Belt and Road Initiative and boost its early implementation as a leader in the Muslim world. There are 57 "Muslim countries" which constitutes around one-fourth of the membership in the United Nations. There are estimated 22 billion Muslims in the world. Around 60 percent of the world's energy reserves are in the greater Muslim world. Although the Muslim world is divided and facing many manmade challenges, it has the potential develop rapidly if united and provided with a fertile growth environment.
Saudi Arabia has shown interest in CPEC, primarily to relate its economy with China's and take steps to achieve its Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy and reduce oil dependency with energy mega-projects. Saudi Arabia will also be able to help China's crude oil supply. China is one of the largest oil consumers and highly dependent due to its trade and business activities. Therefore, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both can benefit from exclusive trade routes under CPEC. From this perspective, it is a big victory for the BRI, and will lead many other Muslim countries to participate. Saudi Arabia was a close ally with the United States and one of the latter country's biggest trading partners, in arms as well as oil. But after the establishment of diplomacy with China, relations between the two countries have developed rapidly. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two Muslim countries with a deep-rooted friendship based on common religion, history and interests.
For the third time in 15 years, on February 23, 2020 the movement of tectonic plates in the Makran area has caused a methane and mud spewing island to form off the coast of Gwadar in Balochistan, according to the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Pakistan. The powerful (7.7 on the Richter scale) earthquake near Awaran jolted the seismically active Makran zone. The sea from Gwadar to Ormara had a vast stock of frozen methane gas below the sea bed and it was not uncommon to see bubbles in the water caused by methane gas escaping from fissures.
When there was a seismic movement the gas deposits, which expand creating high pressure, pushed up a land mass of this kind. The land mass — which had people rushing to the coast to view it — was 50 metres long, 20 to 30 metres wide and rises 10 metres above the water about two km off the coast of Gwadar. There is methane being emitted and mud oozing out. People shouldn’t go too near since there was some movement below the sea bed. No boating or fishing should be allowed either. The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Pakistan, which has a station at Gwadar had sent its technical staff to observe, take samples and photograph the phenomenon.
The “island” is made up of soft sediment, mostly mud, sand and even rock fragments. This was observed in 1999 and in 2010 near Ormara, off the Hingol river where it enters the sea. However, in the past it is observed that these “islands” decline slowly due to constant wave action in the sea. In 1999 it was observed that after four months, it had vanished. The sea bed showed up some remnants of the land mass at that time. This phenomenon was observed as far back as 1945 as well.
Balochistan's provincial government plans to fence off 24 square kilometers of the city, which is at the center of the $50 billion (€41 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. According to local media reports in December 2020, there would be two entry points to the fenced part of the city, and more than 500 surveillance cameras will be installed. The main reason behind building the fence in Gwadar is to protect the Chinese-funded projects from Baloch separatists, who oppose CPEC. Many Baloch politicians believe the fencing will force locals to relocate from the strategically important city. Pakistani officials said that Gwadar fencing, which is part of the Smart Port City Project, is aimed at transforming the city into a modern town with industrial zones, trade centers and housing areas. Authorities believe all this cannot be achieved without securing the city.
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