Gwadar means “The Gate of Wind” in Urdu, the official language of Pakistan. The sea breeze of the Indian Ocean blows the endless sand dunes of the Gobi Desert all year round. When May comes around, heat waves exceeding 40 degrees Celsius hit the city, accompanied by yellow dust.
Three years ago, China Airport Construction Group Co., Ltd. (CACC) won the bid to assist in the management of the New Gwadar International Airport project in Pakistan. It is modern China’s largest 100% gratuitous foreign aid project since the country’s founding. The Chinese aim was to equip The Gate of Wind with a new pair of wings.
Kan Ding, the project manager, led his team to Gwadar soon after.
Emergence of New Gwadar International Airport
46 years ago, Pakistan’s Karachi was an important waypoint for China’s civil aviation industry. The Beijing-Karachi-Paris route, which opened in 1974, was the first long-distance international route from modern China to Western Europe, establishing the first air connection between China and the West.
Now, a new airport, one “Made in China”, is being constructed at the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, expressed Pakistan’s deep gratitude for the Chinese government’s selfless help and Chinese constructors’ hard work, adding he hoped that the new airport could be completed and in service as soon as possible. Meanwhile, foreign investors were welcomed to invest and start businesses in Gwadar.
The old airport in Gwadar, situated 14 kilometers from the city center, was put into operation in 1984. Its 1,524-meter-long runway could only allow for small, Class B aircraft to take off or land. The old airport could handle an average of two or three flights per week, and they were often cancelled due to the weather, causing serious inconvenience to people in Gwadar.
Occupying about 18 square km, the New Gwadar International Airport is located in Gurandani, 26km east of Gwadar. The project includes construction of: a new airport landing area, coded 4F, with a 3,658-meter runway capable of accommodating the largest Airbus A380 aircraft; a terminal area, including a 14,000sqm terminal building; necessary auxiliary buildings such as offices, garages and warehouses; public support facilities such as water supply, power supply and HVAC; necessary air control projects related to meteorology, communications and navigation; and other facilities such as hospitals, schools and residential buildings.
As a landmark representing the modernization of Gwadar, the new international airport will significantly improve the infrastructure in this region and lay a solid foundation for the future development of the port and the city.
Pain and Joy in the Project
Every weekend, members of the project team rack their brains to find sausages, pickles and peanuts, and get together to chat and relax. They even get to enjoy a local luxury if they’re lucky: Murree’s beer. During mealtime, they might tease the younger, single men amongst them, and everyone laughs and enjoys the great atmosphere.
These are probably the happiest times for everyone. At other times, they are much too busy with the project. Since the project began, difficulties have come one after another as the project has fallen behind schedule.
Gwadar and the surrounding area are extremely short of fresh water. Workers once drilled 200m-deep wells into the ground, but still found no groundwater. The local water supply comes from nearby reservoirs and desalination plants in the port.
There is no electricity infrastructure at the construction site, requiring all production to rely on diesel generators. At present, the power supplied by the small generators fails seven or eight times a day on average, and high-power generators are not yet in place. At night, everyone spends their time outside of the dormitory enjoying the cooler air.
The dormitory is dark and stuffy while the desert is open, vast, and sits under a sky filled with stars. During these moments, they cannot stop thinking about their families far away, though a tacit agreement between the workers means the subject rarely comes up.
The 10 members of the project team are between 30 and 50 years old, and each one is the backbone of his respective family. Kan Ding’s child is 10 years old now and attends elementary school in Beijing. During his present time away from home, he often worries about his child’s studies, and his father who is seriously ill. Kan Ding’s greatest wish is that completion of the construction project won’t be delayed, and that he can go back home as early as possible.
The monsoon weather from the Indian Ocean blows northeast, heightening emotions, both good and bad for these team members 2,000km away from their motherland.
Long Live China-Pakistan Friendship
China and Pakistan are unique all-weather strategic cooperative partners. The Chinese people affectionately call the Pakistani people their “iron Pakistani friends”, and Pakistanis proudly liken China-Pakistan relations to “a friendship of milk and honey”.
In order to help local people enjoy a peaceful Ramadan, Chinese-funded enterprises coordinated a donation under the leadership of the embassy and the consulate in Karachi. On April 19, the donation team arrived at the nearby fishing village of Surbandar. Local people came from near and far in the nearly 40-degree-Celsius heat. Families beamed with joy as they each received 20 kilograms of flour, two liters of oil and two kilograms of sugar.
During the past three years, Kan Ding and his colleagues have visited Gwadar six or seven times, and have witnessed its changing appearance with each passing day. “It looks like a modern port now. Five 50-ton bridge cranes are neatly arranged, the business center is built, the various functional areas are neatly divided, and several large factories stand upright.”
Indeed, Gwadar Port is getting busier day by day, and the wings of The Gate of Wind are beginning to take shape. This former coastal fishing village is now growing with new vitality.
Historically, the explorers of the British East India Company used to describe this land as “rugged and old”.
Today, Gwadar is a hope for revitalizing Pakistan’s economy. In the eyes of Pakistanis, Gwadar Port is a bright pearl in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as well as “Pakistan’s Shenzhen”.
At the opening ceremony of Gwadar Port in 2016, Amanat Ali, a Pakistani male star, and Jia Fei, a Chinese female singer sang the song “China-Pakistan Friendship”. It has been sung in many places in both China and Pakistan since.
“My friend is from afar, bringing the dream of the Belt and Road. No matter day or night, we walk on the same road.”