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Pakistan Court stops China at Gwadar naval port

No foreigner can take control of Gwadar until the stay order given by the Supreme Court is vacated. The order can be extended indefinitely.

SUMAN SHARMA  NEW DELHI | 30th Sep 2012

A ship is seen anchored at Pakistan's Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea. REUTERS

he Pakistan Supreme Court has issued an order that prevents Chinese companies from taking over the strategic Gwadar port for management and administrative purposes. The stay order stops all foreign companies from playing such a role after the Singapore Port Authority, which had 60% shares in the port, and was operating Gwadar since 2007, was asked to exit at the end of its contract. The control of the port was to be handed over to Chinese companies after Sinagpore's exit. No foreigner can now take control of Gwadar until the stay order is vacated. A source within the Pakistan government said that the stay order can be extended indefinitely, thus blocking the Chinese.

The United States was apprehensive of Chinese control over Gwadar, which sits on top of the Gulf, a region of extreme strategic importance to the US not only because of the oil in the region but also because of its proximity to Iran. America is in direct confrontation with Iran over the latter's nuclear programme and the threat of war hangs heavily over the region.

Gwadar is about 100 km away from Iran. After the order was passed, Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf went to China to discuss the new situation in Gwadar.

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The United States was apprehensive of Chinese control over Gwadar, which sits on top of the Gulf, a region of extreme strategic importance to the US not only because of the oil in the region but also because of its proximity to Iran.

Gwadar, which is located in Balochistan in south-western Pakistan, has a small naval base with 10 ships. There are internal tensions over Gwadar in Pakistan as well, with Balochistan province demanding that it be given a greater say in its revenues and management. Former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider told this newspaper, "Development in Balochistan has not been as much as it should've been, so there could be a bigger demand that the Baloch should have a bigger share (in the port). This could be one of the elements in the situation."

The United States has been developing a new strategy for its presence on the seas, in which India is becoming an emergent partner in the Indian Ocean.

US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta had said on his first India visit in June 2012 that the US was committed to "an even greater role in the Asia Pacific, extending all the way to the Indian Ocean". He added that the US was looking at a "rebalancing" towards the Asia-Pacific region, and will "expand military partnerships and presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia".

A source told this newspaper, "The US wants to have a hold in this region for three reasons: to have a port close to Iran, to stop the Chinese from setting base in the Arabian Sea and to have a port available to exit troops from Afghanistan and to do trade with CARs (Central Asian Republics)." The prospective Chinese base in the Arabian Sea is Gwadar.

 
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