A ceremony marking the opening of trade activities at the Gwadar port as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be held on Sunday with the country’s top leadership scheduled to be in attendance.
Amid tight security and a stream of arriving VIPs, the first consignment of cargoes from China to depart from the Pakistani port arrived at Gwadar on Saturday. All day long, a stream of trucks of different sizes lined up outside the port to be individually scanned before being ushered in.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif are scheduled to arrive late morning on Sunday. The chief ministers of Punjab and Balochistan will also be in attendance. According to people familiar with the arrangements, invitations were also sent to the chief ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh but they will not be coming. Executives from Sino Trans, a Chinese logistics company, will also be attending the ceremony as will be ministers for defence and planning and a number of politicians, especially from Balochistan.
This is the largest collection of VIPs hosted by Gwadar since it witnessed the signing of the 2009 National Finance Commission Award.
PM, army chief scheduled to attend ceremony marking start of trade activities at the new port
Making a ceremony out of the whole affair is an idea pushed by the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) which has worked on building the roads that are part of the CPEC connectivity project.
“We pushed it to counter the despondency that was coming to surround the project,” says FWO director general Maj Gen Muhammad Afzal in a chat with Dawn. “Too many people were airing views that this project is not viable or is not going to materialise.”
Convoys come together
The convoys that joined up in Quetta took diverse routes. One convoy came from China, carrying almost 150 containers which were then shifted onto Pakistani trucks at the Sust border crossing south of Khunjerab in the Northern Areas. This convoy, which carried the bulk of the cargoes to be loaded onto the two vessels berthed at Gwadar port, consisted of trucks as long as 57 feet and travelled down the Karakoram Highway, then turned East towards Jund on the sheer banks of the Indus river about 100km south of Attock.
At Jund, it was met by another convoy that originated in Sialkot — with 50 trucks carrying around 100 containers — and together the whole convoy crossed the Indus river to Kohat where they stayed the night before moving on to Dera Ismail Khan, Zhob and then Quetta, where it stopped for another night. They were joined by a third convoy originating in Lahore and Sialkot, consisting of 45 trucks carrying approximately 90 containers that moved south to Sukkur, then west on the N65 highway past Sibi and Mastung before joining their companions in Quetta.
From Quetta, this convoy moved down the N85 highway that runs through Kalat and Panjgur to Hoshab where it intersects the M8 highway that runs through Turbat to link up with the Makran coastal highway just east of Gwadar. M8 was the road where the famous picture of the premier and the army chief riding together in a jeep was taken.
The containers carry cargoes ranging from rice and cotton, to Chinese machinery, some of which is destined for Gwadar for the ongoing development works here, and the rest going abroad.
Two ships — Al Hussain Zanzibar and Cosco Wellington — are berthed at Gwadar to receive the cargoes. They are setting sail for ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UAE and the EU late on Sunday, according to information provided by the FWO.
Around Rs35 billion has been spent on road infrastructure for the CPEC projects in Balochistan alone since 2014, says the FWO chief. He said he pushed for the convoys to take these routes to show that the road infrastructure built during this time is fully capable of handling cargo consignments of this size.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2016