Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a grand opening ceremony at the Gwadar port on Sunday marked the operationalisation and opening of trade activities at the port, a key project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
PM Nawaz while addressing a ceremony marking the departure of the first major trade cargo from Gwadar Port emphasised Pakistan's commitment to China's One Belt-One Road initiative.
"We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the CPEC and all the projects under its umbrella are materialised within the given time," he said.
"This idea was conceived only two years ago, and this day marks the breaking of the dawn of a new era."
"CPEC is for entire Pakistan and no region or province will be left out of it," the PM said, in an apparent attempt at putting to bed the reservations of smaller provinces that claim the project doesn't benefit them.
"The newly-constructed roads in Balochistan have opened up new areas that were inaccessible and deprived of development... and have brought peace to a volatile region," the premier said.
"The government of Balochistan and the Army have been successful in making the local population a stakeholder in development... Development can never be sustainable if it creates islands of properity. It must reach the lives of those who have remained mired in a trap of poverty and backwardness," he said.
The One Belt-One Road project integrates development of various regions, he said, adding that it integrates with Pakistan's Vision 2025 which seeks to transform Pakistan into a hub of trade and commerce, harnessing its geo-strategic location into a geo-economic advantage.
"The government has spent Rs49 billion on these projects. Next year, projects worth Rs200bn will be launched," the PM said.
CPEC will help integrate South Asia, China and Central Asia and offer opportunities for people in this region, and investors all over the world, he said.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Asim Bajwa earlier tweeted that the first mega trade convoy of containers had arrived from China and will be loaded onto ships.
The trade convoy departed from Kashgar, China, on Oct 29, entered Pakistan on Oct 30 and reached Gwadar on Nov 12. PM Nawaz termed the arrival of the convoy 'a watershed event'.
Chinese vessels were ready at Gwadar Port for shipment of Chinese goods to Middle East and African countries, Radio Pakistan reported.
Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong told the ceremony today: "This the first time that a trade convoy successfully passed through the western part of Pakistan from the north to the south. It proves the connectivity of the local roads and the realisation of the concept of one corridor with multiple passages."
"This is the first time that the Gwadar port is exporting containers to overseas destinations. It proves the port has restored it designed handling capacity," he said. "This is also the first time that Pakistan and China co-organised a trade convoy through Pakistan to Gwadar port."
Balochistan Chief Minister (CM) Nawab Sanaullah Zehri addressing the ceremony said, "Due to the government's hectic efforts, the active participation of our security forces and all-out cooperation fo the people of Balochistan, we have succeeded in curbing anti-state elements, and the law and order situation has improved."
Zehri's claims come a day after a brutal attack on a shrine in Balochistan's Khuzdar area claimed at least 52 lives and injured over 100 other people.
Top civil and military leadership, including Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif, Balochistan Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai and Balochistan CM Nawab Sanaullah Zehri attended the event.
Executives from Sino Trans, a Chinese logistics company, also attended the ceremony as well as 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.
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.
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.