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  • Chabahar-Gwadar
An open-air prison, and not metaphorically but literally. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and from the north by a complicated system of barbed wire, frisian horses and checkpoints aided by five hundred surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition systems. We are talking about Gwadar, in Pakistan's Balochistan region, the flagship of that colonial-imperialistic project dubbed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the so-called 'Gwadar Fencing Project' is yet another violation of every human and civil right of the region's inhabitants: a project that, if completed, will permanently cut off both access to the sea and access to drinking water and the enjoyment of their own city from the inhabitants of Balochistan. The Pakistani military claims that the fencing initiative is merely a security measure, but the initiative has sparked protests from local residents, leading to the temporary halt of the work: according to local residents, it is in fact yet another attempt to regulate the movement of citizens, to occupy and exploit their resources, and to card and control those who depend on those resources. According to the project's so-called Master Plan, Gwadar should be roughly divided into three distinct zones: the Gwadar Port Free Zone, GIEDA Industrial Zone and EPZA Export Processing Zone. The flagship of the project is the so-called “Gwadar Smart Port City,” covering about 300 square kilometers and including: “luxury resorts, shopping malls to waterfront golf courses.” The planned fence is part of the “Gwadar Safe City” security plan for these areas. Too bad that, according to Gwadar locals, the barbed wire is nowhere near any of these areas. And, that, according to the locals, the real purpose of the barbed wire and the fifteen thousand Chinese soldiers installed at the port, over which the Chinese and Pakistani flags fly together, would not be to ensure the security of the commercial installations but only to defend Beijing's interests and to keep the Baloch out of the areas to be developed. So much so, apparently, that the army is even planning to issue special entry cards or passes to residents: who, incidentally, are regularly evicted from their homes without ceremony. Gwadar, in Beijing's intentions, was to become a 'new Dubai,' an inexhaustible source of cash and shorten Chinese trade routes. However, something has gone wrong: the port of Gwadar, despite being completed in 2007, has not only failed to attract any regular deep-sea shipping lines, but in its heyday recorded traffic of just 22 ships a year. On the flip side, the Chinese occupation, in addition to the Pakistani military, has succeeded in exacerbating the people of Balochistan already exacerbated by years of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, mass graves and violations of human and civil rights, and spiraling the national debt. And the situation is likely to get worse. Last May 13, in fact, Indian Transport Minister Sarbananda Sonowal signed in Tehran a 10-year contract by India Ports Global Ltd with the Maritime Organization of Iran. Under the pact, India will invest about $120 million to develop and operate the port of Chabahar, in addition to offering a $250 million credit window for infrastructure improvements. Chabahar, which means “four springs” in Persian, is a deep-water port in Iran's Sistan Baluchistan province, about 170 kilometers from Gwadar. Located offshore, it offers easy and safe access to large cargo ships: it is close to the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz. A road runs from Chabahar to Zaranj, Afghanistan. The 218-km road (built with Indian support) will give access to four major cities-Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif. This is the first time India will take over full management of an overseas port, which will also have a multiplier effect on trade with Iran and Afghanistan by bypassing the problematic neighbor, Pakistan. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, India will be able to monitor China's activities in the Persian Gulf through Chabahar. It will also create a series of geopolitical short-circuits susceptible to interesting developments.Iran and Pakistan, despite bombing each other's Balochs on the other side of their respective borders in recent months, insist on the boundless friendship between the two countries. The Taliban are divided between pro-Pakistan factions and factions close to Iran. India, Pakistan's arch-enemy, has provided humanitarian aid to the Taliban but, in addition to running Chabahar is developing the Israeli port of Haifa: while Iran finances all terrorist groups that attack Israel.
Francesca Marino