Top civilian and military leaders of Pakistan were present at the Gwadar port on Sunday to see off a Chinese ship that opened a new international trade route from China to West Asia via Pakistan.

The Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad said in a statement that the Chinese ship, loaded with goods, left for West Asia and Africa from the newly built Pakistani port for the first time. According to the statement, Islamabad strengthened security when the first convoy of Chinese trucks, carrying goods for sale abroad, arrived in the South Asian country via a road connecting Gwadar with north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang a couple of days ago.

On the occasion, Prime Minister Sharif said that his government would provide best possible security to foreign investors who would use the Chinese-funded port for international trade. He assured foreign investors that the Pakistani Army created a special force to protect the new trade routes and the port, situated in insurgency-wracked Baluchistan Province. “Today we are seeing the first step of a much larger project that my government inaugurated two years ago. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and all the projects under its umbrella are materialised within the given time,” he told a gathering at the newly-built port.

The Pak premier also sent a strong message to Baloch nationalists, who opposed the project, saying: “Anyone who is against the CPEC is against Pakistan.” Baloch nationalists are not only against the route of the project, but also against the choice of the site. Earlier, the people of Balochistan strongly criticised the Pakistani government for implementing the project without consulting them despite the fact that the bulk of the CPEC highway runs through the province.

Meanwhile, China (currently building a network of roads and power plants under the CPEC project) has welcomed the Pak premier’s announcement, saying that Beijing considers Islamabad as its important partner in the region. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Beijing invested USD 46 billion in Gwadar port because of its strategic location. As the port is located on the Arabian Sea, it will be easier for China to export goods to South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia quickly.

Experts believe that Gwadar port will help the Asian giant boost its trade ties with West Asian and African countries by providing easy access to the Strait of Malacca, the Persian Gulf region and the Indian Ocean.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]