The prime minister has received a report stating that the development of Gwadar – described as the crown jewel of CPEC – and its free zone is marred by obstacles and is yet to show any signs of a world-class port city or an industrial hub.
The reports commissioned, by Cabinet Committee on CPEC, states that Gwadar “has yet to even show its first glimmer of the promised industrial hub that can serve as a catalyst for domestic and foreign investment.” Pakistan had given several concessions to attract Chinese investment in the Gwadar free zone without any regulatory role for federal entities but has yet to see the light of day.
The development of the Gwadar Port and free zone was the top priority of the prime minister who is unwilling to revise the concessions as it might affect relations with China. In November 2015, Pakistan signed a 40-year lease agreement for Gwadar Port under which port operators get 91% of revenue and only nine percent goes to the federal government. In 2016, construction started on the tax-free zone and 44 Chinese companies showed interest but only five are operational today.
There are still many obstacles for infrastructure development in Gwadar including transportation, inadequate water and power supply, persistent law and order situation, bureaucratic red tape in securing permits, and raising capital for projects. Other industrial projects are also facing obstacles owing to lack of oversight and non-performance of relevant departments.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar had recently urged the media to foil the campaign against CPEC in the era of fifth-generation hybrid warfare. He said the media is becoming part of the false news being disseminated to reverse progress. Though the minister’s remarks hold ground, it must be determined where the findings of a report are also a conspiracy.
The prime minister has directed authorities to take all possible measures to provide land, electricity and gas connections as well as other incentives to attract more Chinese companies to invest in Pakistan. The government should address all reservations of Chinese investors. It is also essential to make all information about the project public while the role of federal entities should be enhanced. This is necessary so the vision to develop a modern city in Gwadar is finally realised.