Gwadar, close to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf , is located on the southwestern coast of Pakistan. It is strategically located between three increasingly important regions of the world: the oil-rich Middle East, heavily populated South Asia and the economically emerging and resource-rich Central Asia.
The Makran region surrounding Gwadar was occupied by unknown Bronze age people who settled in the few oases. It later became the Gedrosia region of the Achaemenid Persian empire. The region is believed to have been conquered by the founder of the Persian empire, Cyrus the Great. The capital of the satrapy of Gedrosia was Pura, thought to have been located near modern Bampûr, in Iranian Balochistan. During the homeward march of Alexander the Great, his admiral Nearchus led a fleet along the modern Makran coast and recorded that the area was dry and mountainous, inhabited by the Ichthyophagoi or Fish eaters – a Greek rendering of the ancient Persian phrase Mahi khoran, which has become the modern word Makran. Gwadar’s location and history have given it a unique blend of inhabitants. The Arab influence on Gwadar is strong due to Omani rule and the close proximity of Arab regions. The presence of the Omani slave trade is felt in the town with people descended from African slaves who passed through the town. The area also has remarkable religious diversity, being home to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Parsis.
After the collapse of Alexander’s empire, the area was ruled by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals, but the region came under local rule about 303 BC. For several centuries, the region remained on the sidelines of history, until the Muslim Arab army under Muhammad bin Qasim captured the town of Gwadar in 711 AD. In the following centuries the area was contested between various powers including the Mughals and the Safavids.
Portuguese explorers captured and sacked Gwadar in the late 16th century. This was followed by centuries of local rule by various Baloch tribes. In 1783 the Khan of Kalat granted Gwadar to Taimur Sultan, the defeated ruler of Muscat. When Taimur recaptured Muscat, he continued to rule Gwadar by appointing a wali or governor. The new governor was ordered to conquer the nearby coastal town of Chah Bahar (in modern Iran). Gwadar fort was built during Omani rule, whilst telegraph lines were extended into Gwadar courtesy of the British. In 1958, the Gwadar enclave was transferred to Pakistan after Pakistan paid £3 million and it was made part of Balochistan province.
In 2002, Gwadar Port project to build a large deep-sea port was begun in the town. The government of Pakistan intends to develop the entire area in order to reduce reliance on Karachi for shipping. In addition to expanding port facilities, the project aims to build industrial complexes in the area, and to connect the town via a modern highway to the rest of Pakistan. The People’s Republic of China is providing help on the project, and the first phase was completed by the end of 2004.
Gawadar is linked by road with 700 km Makran Coastal Highway. The road links Karachi with several ports along the coast including Ormara, Pasni, Gwadar and will be extended to the Iranian border in the future. The other highway is Gwadar-Quetta-Chaman and a roadlink to the town of Khuzdar in eastern Balochistan.
The construction of the Gwadar deep-sea port is just one component of a larger development plan which includes building a network of roads connecting Gwadar with the rest of Pakistan, such as the 650 km Coastal Highway to Karachi and the Gwadar-Turbat road (188 km). This network of roads connects with China through the Indus Highway. Pakistan, China, Kazakhistan, Kyrgizstan and Uzbekistan are developing extensive road and rail links from Central Asia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea coast.
The significance of Gwadar is great to both Pakistan and China. Pakistan will be able to have a strategic depth southwest from its naval base in Karachi that has long been vulnerable to blockade by the Indian Navy. There have been many reports that China, with permission from Pakistan, will also be able to dock naval ships in or around Gwadar. Port of Singapore has taken control of Gwadar Port in January 2007.