China, Pakistan ready to sign economic zone deal

KONFRONTASI - Pakistan has announced its readiness to sign a 40-year-old contract with a Chinese company to develop a huge special economic zone in the southwestern Pakistani port city of Gwadar.

The announcement was made by Pakistani officials on Wednesday, who added that the economic zone is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an ambitious USD-46-billion investment plan, which is supposed to link western China to the Arabian Sea through implementation of infrastructure, energy and transport projects.

The contract, which assigns a 923-hectare (2,300-acre) swathe of tax-exempt land to China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), is likely to be signed during the current month or October, Dostain Khan Jamaldini, chief of the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) told AFP.

He added, "Work on the Gwadar International Airport would start in the next couple of months and we are quite hopeful of completion of the national highway connecting Gwadar with the north within the next month."

Pakistan also announced that it is establishing a special security force of between 10,000 and 25,000 men to protect the port city, which lies in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan. The province has been scene for separatist insurgency since 2004.

Abdul Razzaq Durrani, the director general of GPA, has also confirmed the deal.

Gwadar port, located 540 kilometres southwest of Karachi, was built in 2007 with technical assistance from Beijing. China also contributed some USD 248 million to the construction of the port.

According to Durrani, acquiring the necessary land from private owners to build the economic zone took several years and cost the local government around USD 62 million.

"Pakistan is looking at the CPEC project as a game changer, kick-starting an era of infrastructure growth and investment. The land deal is just part of the Gwadar port infrastructure that needs to develop to realize the expectations of Pakistan and China from this mega project," said Simbal Khan, a geopolitical analyst.[ptv]