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Gwadar Port in the Context of Opportunities and Risks

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Pakistan is one of the most important states in Asia due to its geopolitical location.  It is one of the states in Asia closest to Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.  It is also the shortest route for Central Asia and the Sinjar-Uyghur Autonomous Region to reach the sea.  For this reason, it is one of the gates of Asia to the seas.

Pakistan has three main ports that mediate its opening to the seas.  These are the ports of Qasim, Karachi and Gwadar.  However, according to official statements, the potential to increase the capacity of the first two ports is quite low.  For this reason, the possibility of transforming into an international center in the region is weakening.  As a result, a new port was needed and the construction process of Gvadar Port started.[1]

As it is known, China announced the Belt-Road Project to the world in 2013.  In the same year, Gvadar was transferred to the China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC).  Gvadar, a small village and port within the scope of China’s policy of implementing various alternative routes and corridors at the point of reaching Western markets, has come to the fore in parallel with the close relations that have developed on the Islamabad-Beijing line.[2] In this context, it was decided to implement the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) between China and Pakistan and to provide 62 billion dollars of aid to Pakistan.  In this context, it is aimed to transform Gvadar into China’s port opening to the Middle East and Africa.[3]

Gvadar does not only enable China to reach Africa and the Middle East by a short route;  It will also enable the said regions to carry various underground riches, especially energy resources, to China. At this point, Gwadar, which is of critical importance for China, will be an important center of two-way trade. This situation has attracted the attention of China and Pakistan as well as other regional and global powers. Today, Pakistan and China want to increase the capacity of Gwadar through various projects. For this purpose, the construction process continues.[4]

Despite the geopolitical, geostrategic and geoeconomic characteristics of the Gvadar Port, there are some discussions about the port.  First of all, the depth of the port is an important issue.  It is said that the port, which was thought to have a depth of 18 meters at one time, has decreased to 11 meters today.  This situation prevents large tonnage cargo ships from actively using the port.[5] This situation poses a serious problem in terms of using the port at full capacity.  Although the Gvadar administration has opened a tender to increase the depth, it is thought that this will bring a significant financial burden..[6]

On the other hand, the hinterland of the port is also controversial.  The port is in the west of Pakistan.  However, densely populated cities such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore are in the east.  This raises a serious question mark in reaching the markets in Pakistan.  In addition, the capacity of the train and road transport network in the region is also important for Gvadar to become a center.  In addition to all these, the difficulties and security threats in the geography stretching from Gvadar to China are also noteworthy.

In order to reach China from Gvadar, the Taftan Desert must first be crossed.  After this important geographical difficulty, the mountainous structure of the country stands out.  The Himalayan Mountains, which form a natural barrier between China and Pakistan, make transportation difficult, increase the costs of transportation projects and negatively affect the hinterland of Gvadar.

From a security perspective, this line harbors significant threats and risks. In particular, the presence of various ethnic-separatist and radical religious terrorist organizations in the region between Gwadar and China significantly threatens foreign investors, investments and infrastructure projects. In addition, the city of Ketta, which is seen as one of the centers of various terrorist organizations, is an important security problem for CPEC.  The difficult geographical structure of the region serves as a security camp for these terrorist organizations in this context.  Looking at the field, direct attacks are carried out on foreign investors in the region.[7] In addition, it should not be ignored that CPEC passes through the Kashmir region, on which there is significant debate.

At this point, it is possible to talk about China’s various hesitations.  Because, as a result of the attacks on a hotel with Chinese nationals in Kabul on December 12, 2022, the Beijing administration called on its citizens to leave the country.[8] The continued attacks on CPEC raises the question of what China’s policy will be and whether Beijing has other pursuits beyond Gvadar.

In addition to the aforementioned negativities, there are two other important factors. First of all, as is well known, there is a significant rivalry and various problems between China and India. At this point, it is important to what extent a project centered on Gwadar and CPEC will serve regional peace and reconciliation. Pakistan wants Gwadar to become an international hub. However, India’s presence in the region and the growing maritime rivalry puts Gvadar and CPEC in an important place in the balance of opportunities and crises. It is also clear that India is a rising economic power in the region and Western capital is shifting there. In this context, changing balances call into question how much more active Gvadar and CPEC will be and the possibility of Gvadar becoming a hub.

Another factor is the extent to which the people of the region approve and accept Gvadar and CPEC. There have been protests in the region at various times. The most important criticism of the people is that they cannot directly benefit from the investments made and the employment created.[9] In addition, while a major construction process is taking place in the region, the poverty of the people is deepening and there is an awareness that there is a serious economic gap in the society. At this stage, the stability and sustainability of a project that is not embraced by the local population in the eyes of other states and investors will be questioned.

In conclusion, Gwadar Port is an important hub for CPEC, which is one of the pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative, and offers the opportunity to open up to the oceans. China and Pakistan want to utilize Gwadar to its full potential by making various investments. The various features of the port make it stand out in terms of opportunities. However, as with any project, there are various question marks regarding CPEC and Gwadar. In this context, the port’s hinterland, its depth, the route of CPEC, the competition of regional actors and the public’s perception of the projects cause doubts about the future of the investments and policies pursued. In particular, the risks posed by various security threats in the face of opportunities call into question the gains and fate of investments and projects. While Gvadar and CPEC are evaluated in terms of the opportunities they create, it is also important to consider these ports in terms of risks.


[1] “Gwadar Port”, Gwadar Port Authority, https://gwadarport.gov.pk/aboutport.aspx, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[2] “Significance of Gwadar port”, Hellenic Shipping News, https://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/significance-of-gwadar-port/, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[3] Arif Rafiq, “China’s $62 Billion Bet on Pakistan”, Foreign Affairs, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2017-10-24/chinas-62-billion-bet-pakistan, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[4] “Gwadar Projects Under CPEC”, CPEC Authority, https://cpec.gov.pk/gwadar, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[5] “Depth of Gwadar Deep-Sea Port Reduces to 11 Meters due to Siltation”, The Nation, https://www.nation.com.pk/13-May-2022/depth-of-gwadar-deep-sea-port-reduces-to-11-meters-due-to-siltation, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[6] “Gwadar Port: De-Silting Operation to Start Next Month”, Pakistan Today, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2022/11/24/gwadar-port-de-silting-operation-to-start-next-month/, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[7] “Why Quetta Blast is a Big Concern for China’s Ambitious Projects”, WION, https://www.wionews.com/south-asia/why-quetta-blast-is-a-big-concern-for-chinas-ambitious-projects-379361, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[8] Eltaf Najafizada, “ISIS Bomb Targets Chinese Diplomats, Executives in Afghanistan”, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-12-13/isis-bomb-targets-chinese-diplomats-executives-in-afghanistan?leadSource=uverify%20wall, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

[9] Muhammad Bezinjo, “Pakistan’s Port City Gwadar in Chaos”, The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2023/01/pakistans-port-city-gwadar-in-chaos/, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.