At a forgotten Pakistan port, China paves a new Silk Road

Only three to four freighter ships arrive every month at Gwadar Port, according to port authorities. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018

At a forgotten Pakistan port, China paves a new Silk Road

GWADAR, Pakistan: Remote and impoverished, Pakistan’s Gwadar port at first glance seems an unlikely crown jewel in a multi-billion-dollar development project with China aimed at constructing a 21st century Silk Road.
Situated on a barren peninsula in the Arabian Sea, Gwadar, or the “gate of the wind,” owes its fortuitous selection as Pakistan’s next economic hub to its strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz.
The city is set to become the bridgehead for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $54 billion (SR202.50 billion) project launched in 2013 linking western China to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan.
The corridor is one of the largest projects in Beijing’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, comprising a network of roads and sea routes involving 65 countries.
The Chinese-financed initiative aims to connect the country with Africa, Asia and Europe through a vast network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks.
But for Pakistan, participating in the project presents an enormous challenge in a country plagued by weak institutions, endemic corruption and a range of insurgencies in areas slated to host the corridor.
“This port is going to help Pakistan make linkages with neighboring countries. The entire nation will be getting benefits out of Gwadar,” Dostain Khan Jamaldini, chairman of the Gwadar Port Authority, told reporters.
But “the first beneficiaries of this port will be the people of Gwadar.”
The subject of economic dividends is extremely sensitive in resource-rich Balochistan — one of Pakistan’s poorest and most violent provinces, where separatist insurgencies have been waged for decades.
Since the beginning of the project militants have repeatedly attacked construction sites and targeted Chinese workers.
The project includes the country’s first deep-water port, a free-trade zone and 50 kilometers of dock space.
“Gwadar port is not Chinese, our strong partner is Chinese and we appreciate their boldness,” said Jamaldini.
“They came to Gwadar when nobody was accepting the idea to come and visit.”
China has eyed Gwadar for years.
Beijing financed an earlier scheme to develop the port prior to 2007, which was later overseen by a Singaporean group. But following bouts of insecurity, the Singaporeans handed it back to the Chinese in 2013.
The ambitious corridor is also far from popular in the region. India makes no mystery of its reservations over an infrastructure project that crosses through disputed Kashmiri territory.
This month US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis raised concerns about the issue, sparking a fierce backlash in Pakistan and claims Washington was trying to “contain China” in favor of arch-rival India.
Beyond diplomatic concerns, security remains a key issue in Gwadar, according to Brig. Kamal Azfar, who heads “Brigade 440” — a security outfit created to protect CPEC projects and personnel.
Hostile forces are trying to “scuttle or stall CPEC,” he said in reference to accusations India has backed insurgents hostile to the project.
The area also lacks water and electricity, which developers hope will be remedied by dams and desalination plants outlined in the scheme.
Officials also worry the peninsula will fall victim to real estate speculation. Property prices near the port doubled between 2014 and 2016, said Sajjad Baloch, the director of the Gwadar Development Authority, before falling 20 percent.
And despite promises of future prosperity, skilled labor is lacking, says Mohamed Siddique, who runs a local hospital. Even with modern facilities it operates at a limited capacity because of a dearth of specialists.
In Gwadar city, economic activity spurred by CPEC remains limited. A lone freighter was anchored in the port during AFP’s recent visit. Only three to four arrive every month, according to port authorities.
The expressway leading to the site is unfinished.
About 300 Chinese people working on various projects live in prefabricated houses on the port — coined Chinatown — but only venture out with a security escort.
The city itself, with a population of about 100,000 that is projected by one estimate to jump tenfold by 2050, has relied on fishing and the artisanal construction of boats for generations.
Up to 50,000 people, mostly fishermen, could be “gradually” resettled to make way for the project, Baloch said, adding the potential move could see them relocated to a “state-of-the-art jetty.”
The first priority for the jobs will go to Gwadaris, “then to the Balochis, then to the people of any part of Pakistan,” Baloch said.
However few Gwadaris have been hired at the port, according to locals building boats on a nearby beach.
“We are hoping to get a job there,” said Juneid.
For others, it’s a chance to right the wrongs of past subjugation.
“Balochistan province should get the maximum benefits instead of outsiders,” said Abdullah Usman, 47, a social worker.
“It will be unfortunate if the local Baloch do not benefit... that would cause an increase in the several decades long sense of deprivation.”

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

Updated 04 December 2020

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

  • Steep rise in sales and growing business confidence spark jump in purchasing, hiring activity

RIYADH: Business activity in Saudi Arabia has risen to its highest level since January this year, showing the Kingdom’s economy is beginning to overcome the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) Survey, the acceleration of output growth in the Saudi economy in November was driven by a steep rise in sales and strengthening business confidence.

The survey found that input purchasing rose, while employment growth also returned for the first time since January. Input cost inflation also quickened, leading to a stronger increase in average output charges.

The index has now registered above the 50.0 no-change mark for three months in a row, highlighting a sustained recovery after the economic downturn due to the pandemic.

The Saudi PMI rose to 54.7 in November from 51 the previous month — the strongest improvement since January. The indices vary between 0 and 100, with a reading above 50 indicating an overall increase compared with the previous month, and below 50 an overall decrease.

Both domestic and foreign sales rose last month, marking only the second upturn in new export orders since February.

Business confidence for the year ahead also improved notably during the month. In particular, firms were encouraged by the Saudi government’s easing of lockdown curbs and news of a breakthrough in the development of a vaccine.

Accelerated rises in output and new orders led Saudi firms to sharply expand purchasing activity during November. In addition, hiring activity turned positive and a number of companies linked increased employment to rising demand.

Commenting on the latest survey, David Owen, an economist at IHS Markit, said: “A third successive rise in the Saudi Arabia PMI pointed to an economy getting back on its feet in November. Supported by output and new business growth reaching 10-month highs, the data suggests a strong end to the year for the non-oil private sector. Notably, employment started to rise, while business confidence strengthened in the wake of encouraging vaccine news and sharper demand growth.”

Saudi economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz told Arab News: “The improvement is due to many factors, such as the reopening of the market with the ease in lockdown and, finally, the lifting of the curfew. The return to normality has had a significant impact on private sector performance.”

Hafiz added: “Things will get much better by the next year. We have also noticed an improvement in oil prices recently and this will improve things significantly.”