Even as President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan was discussing with the Chinese leaders in Beijing his requests for the construction of an oil refinery in Gwadar and oil/gas pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang, a group of Chinese engineers deputed by Beijing to Gwadar to study the feasibility and utility of an oil refinery there has escaped two rocket attacks fired at the hotel in which it was staying.
2. According to the “Daily Times” of Lahore, unidentified persons fired rockets from the seaside on the Gwadar Port and the elitist hotel of the port city, the Gwadar Pearl Continental , on July 7,2010. The attack, which was launched by unknown persons from a boat, damaged the elevator inside the posh hotel, but did not cause any other serious damage to the hotel infrastructure. No casualties were reported in the attack. The paper reported that the Chinese engineers had arrived in Gwadar recently and were reportedly working on an oil refinery. Official sources believe that they were the targets of the attack. Security officials and paramilitary forces cordoned off the area after the attack and began investigations against unidentified assailants.
3. Subsequently, a spokesman of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) claimed the responsiblity for the attack and warned foreign investors not to invest in Balochistan. He warned that the BLF would also attack the Pakistan navy and coast guards.
4. The Chinese have already constructed an international commercial port at Gwadar which is being upgraded to serve as a naval base. The commercial port, which was commissioned when Gen.Pervez Musharraf was in power, is not yet attracting foreign ocean-going ships due to the poor road and other infrastructure in the area and the deteriorating security situation caused by Baloch freedom fighters.
5. It has been reported from Beijing that the physical security of about 10,000 Chinese nationals employed in about 120 projects in Pakistan was one of the issues raised by President Hu Jintao during his meeting with Mr.Zardari.
6. According to Baloch sources, the Chinese have cut down their presence in Balochistan because of the local anti-Chinese feelings. They have not yet started work on the construction of an airport at Gwadar, which was awarded to them by Gen.Musharraf. They are going slow on the upgradation of the Gwadar port. According to these sources, the Chinese presence in Balochistan is presently confined to the development of the copper mines at Sandak and the construction of a road between Gwadar and Turbet. The Pakistan Government has reportedly asked one of its companies to start the construction of the airport.
7. There have been unconfirmed reports that the US has shown interest in the utilization of the Gwadar commercial port as a replacement for Karachi for the receipt of logistic supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan. ( 10-7-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )