Pakistani Gwadar Port, a double-edged sword for Iran

Gwadar Port of Pakistan as the key factor and heart of CPEC could be assumed as a serious competitor against the Iranian Chabahar Port or a chance for Tehran to expand its commercial relations with Beijing.

TEHRAN, Apr. 24 (MNA) – Gwadar port is located in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan and on the coast of Arabian Sea. The port’s plan was first established in 1954 when it was owned by the Oman’s kingdom. The distance between Gwadar and Karachi, the main commercial city of Pakistan, is 533 km and the distance to Iran’s border is 120 km. After 200 years of Oman’s Kingdom governance over Gwadar Port, by US mediation in the negotiations between Pakistan and Oman, finally this port was sold to Islamabad on 8th Dec. 1958 at the price of 3 million dollars. 

The initiary plans for the development of Gwadar was first introduced in 1992 but due to lack of resources on one hand and international sanctions against Islamabad for examining atomic bomb on the other, the plan did not become operational. Finally by the agreements that were reached between Pakistan and China and China’s investment in this project, the first phase of the development plan started to be studied and constructed in 2002. In 2007 the construction of the first phase was completed and on 15th March 2008 Gwadar Port was launched by the entrance of a 70000 ton cargo. (www.psagwadar.com.pk) 

The new plans for developing Gwadar were first proposed by the Prime Minister Parviz Mosharaf in 2007 (New York Times, Jan 2013).
Gwadar Port’s Construction Trends:
In fact construction of Gwadar is divided into two separate phases which are as follows:

Phase I (2002-2006)
As it was mentioned earlier, the first phase of this project was first introduced in 2002 and was completed in 2006 by the cost of 248 million dollars. The measures which were taken in the first phase are as follows (the official website of Gwadar Port www.gwadarport.gov.pk):
•    Docks: construction of 3 multi-purpose docks with the capacity of commercial ships of 30000 tons
•    Length of dock: 6.2 m
•    Dimensions of the port’s entrance channel: 4.5 km length, 12.5 m depth
•    Turn-round tank: 450 m
•    Repair dock: a dock with the length of 100 m
•    The required infrastructure equipment in the port including staff boat, hauler, researching ships and etc.
But as we are aware, development of Gwadar Port goes back to the financial agreement which was signed between china and Pakistan (CPEC) in 2015. At the time of signing the contract, China guaranteed to invest 1.62 billion dollars for the construction and development of this port based on BOT contract (China Daily News Paper, July 2016). The goal of this project was connecting Pakistan to western China.

The two countries plans for development and construction of phase II are:
•    Construction of 2 container docks along 3.2 km of Gwadar coast
•    Construction of 1 bulk cargo terminal 
•    Construction of 1 grain special terminal 
•    Construction of 1 Ro-Ro terminal 
•    Construction of 2 oil terminals
•    Port’s entrance channel: the depth of channel will be increased to 14.5 m
•    Construction of a four-lane highway to connect Gwadar Port to Makran Coastal Hwy
•    Construction of a new airport
•    Construction of a gas terminal with a capacity of storing 500 million cube meters daily (for storage of the transported gas from Iran based on peace pipeline contract)
•    Construction of special economic zone with the area of 2292 hectares
•    Construction of water desalination center
•    Construction of 360 MW power plant for electricity production with fossil fuel 

Future plans estimated in phase II:
•    Increasing port’s entrance channel to 20 m
•    Constructing150 docks by the year 2045
•    Increasing cargo arrival and departure capacity up to 400 million tons per year

But what draws the attention of each and every expert in the field of international transport is the reason behind Chinese investment in this new port and investigating the future of rival neighboring ports such as Chabahar Port in Iran. 

1)    China’s One belt-One road Policy:
As we know, one belt-one road Policy was introduced by China’s president Shi Jen Ping. The new Silk Road or one belt-one road plan is an investment plan in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries of the world and development of two commercial routes of “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” which were introduced by China in 2013. This plan plus China’s military power can lead to China’s hegemony in East Asia and turn this country into a super power (Monthly Review, Jan 2017). “Silk Road Economic Belt” links the traditional Silk Road to Europe through Central Asia, Russia and Middle East. “Maritime Silk Road” connects China to southeast of Asia and Africa via the sea. The reason behind introducing these two plans was that China’s economy including the development of the local economy infrastructure and exporting goods to the developing countries was not as effective as before. Furthermore, western economies have encountered recession and there was a decrease in returning of the local investment due to the industrial production surplus in China. Therefore the mail goal of the plans was to strengthen Chinese economy and turn the Chinese manufacturing companies into international companies which operate to develop the infrastructure in different countries under the brand “one belt-one road”. China has specifically designated 65 countries as the targets of infrastructure investments.
In order to develop goods and energy transport in Moscow highway to Kazan in Russia, Beijing is seeking investments to launch projects such as Kazakh Railway from Khorgas to Aktau Port on the bank of Caspian Sea, some pipelines from Turkmenistan to China, China-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan railway, Trans-Asia railway from China to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia, Silk Road railway from China to Iran (via Kazakhstan) and China-Pakistan highway (Financial Times, 14th Sep, 2015).

2)    One belt-one path, Chinese Version of US’s TPP
By the time that Donald Trump was elected as the president of US in 2017, most of Obama’s adventurous goals and ambitions regarding a liberal economy and international trade reached to an end. One of the international accords of US during Obama’s government was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Most of the opponents of this accord believe that accords such as TPP will do nothing for US except extensive costs. 
In fact one belt-one rath is a substitute for Obama’s unsuccessful TPP which is proposed by Beijing this time.

3)    Gwadar Port and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is considered as one of Beijing’s solutions for achieving one belt-one road policy and confronting the difficulties of passing through Indian Ocean without India’s disturbance as the most important regional rival of China. Providing the requirements for one belt-one road project will be burdensome and costly. The initiary investment for CPE was estimated about 46 billion dollars by China but later this amount was increased to 54 billion dollars. As estimated by Pakistan, the worn-out transport network of this country results in wasting almost 3.5% of Pakistan’s GDP. As the framework of this project, new networks of transport will be built which will connect Gwadar and Karachi ports to northern Pakistan, Western China and Central Asia. Based on the statistics given by Chinese experts, modernizing the mentioned transport network will cost 11 billion dollars, make 2.3 million job opportunities between the years 2015-2030 and increase the country’s economic growth by 2-2.5% annually. Based on what was mentioned earlier, CPEC is considered as China’s main plan for achieving the required technical and economic infrastructures in Pakistan.

4)    Chabahar Port
In fact Chabahar International Port is the most important project of Gwadar port which is considered as one of the main competitions between Iran and Pakistan. Chabahar port at a glance:
1.    Entrance to Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean which consists of a sensitive and suitable geographical location
2.    The only ocean port in Iran
3.    Consists of more than 541 km maritime border
4.    The least land distance to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Transit of goods via this port is considered as the most economical port with the least transportation cost
Chabahar and International Transit of Goods
Chabahar port is the intersection of two important corridors; North-South and East-West corridor. In the recent measures taken by Pakistan’s government, Makran’s Coastal Highway was established in South of Pakistan which links Karachi port in Pakistan to Gwadar and then to Rimadan Border Market in Chabahar (Iran).
Chabaahr-Zahedan-Mashhad Railway Project, 1350 km
Chabaahr-Zahedan Railway is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province in Southeast of Iran. This railway connects Chabahar Port to the city of Zahedan and then Mashhad. Currently the speed limit is estimated to be 120 km/h for passenger trains and this number is 90 km/h for freight trains.
Based on the estimations, 300000 passengers and 1.3 million tons of freight will be carried by this railway in the first year of its operation and these numbers will be increased to 500000 passengers and 35 million tons of freight by the twentieth year.
Technical Specifications of the Project:
-    Maximum gradient of the route: 15 in 1000
-    Minimum radius within curve: 1000 meter
-    Number of specific tunnels: 17
-    Total length of tunnels: 11000 meter
-    Number of tunnels: 20
-    Number of stations: 5 main stations and 25 grade III stations
Based on the contract between Iran and India, New Delhi has undertaken to invest 500 million dollars for developing and launching Chabahar port based on BOT contract.
Lack of required rail infrastructure is the main difficulty of Chabahar port to transport the cargo to Afghanistan. Due to this reason the cargo needs to pass through Pakistan by road which decreases the competitiveness of Chabahar port since this will become a permanent challenge for the customers in long term. To transport freight from Chabahar to Herat in Afghanistan, 1784 km of rail is needed which is way less than Gwadaar-Karachi-Afghanistan route. 

5)    The Role of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Based on Chabahar’s project development plan, this port has been linked to the transit routes of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan Republic via rail and in fact Chabahar links to the North-South Corridor at Bafgh intersection.
-    According to China’s strong support of the construction and development of Gwadar port, the future of Chabahar is completely dependent on its construction speed. 
-    On the other hand, Kabol and Afghanistan do not fulfill their duties to RAI. Afghanistan is the only country which benefits from both Chabahar and Gwadar projects since linking to these two ports can solve Afghanistan’s geo-economic problems for connecting to international waters.
-    Attempting to rehabilitate Pakistan’s worn-out lines and linking it to Zahedan is considered important since in this way Afghanistan’s attempts to become the rail transit path between Pakistan, Central Asia and Turkey will remain unfruitful.
-    Another treat for Gwadar port project in one road-one path framework is China and Pakistan’s attempt to connect to Europe via the Caspian Sea.
Based on UIC reports, there are a total of 7 routes for connecting China to Europe. Due to inappropriate consition of the infrastructure along the route and the need for development, the travelling time for China to Europe via Tehran cannot be estimated.

Hurry up Iran!
Based on what was mentioned before, what is obvious is that the time factor plays an important role in making Iran as the key to access Poland as the main Europe transit hub. Iran needs to act faster in launching and strengthening all the corridors passing through the territory of Iran. Iran needs to put India under pressure by emphasizing the threats made by India’s rivals, i.e. China and Pakistan, to complete the project in the shortest time possible.
Another measure proposed to Tehran for confronting with the negative impacts of Gwadar port on the rail transit through south of Iran is to launch ITI corridor which is a win-win project for China and Iran since by putting Islam Abad-Zahedan route into operation, at least some parts of China’s exported goods to Europe can be transported through Iran to Turkey instead of being transported via the insecure route of Afghanistan. ITI corridor is way less expensive than the corridor passing through Caspian Sea. This is an opportunity for Iran to attempt to activate ITI corridor before China launches Afghanistan’s route.

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