In the past Gwadar was a hub for trade, and with the development of its modern seaport it’s expected to play a significant role in the region again.
Gwadar is a port city located in southwestern end of Balochistan at the apex of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. It is situated on a hammerhead-shaped peninsula that juts out into the water and then naturally curves into two semicircular bays on either side. Gwadar’s strategic location puts it near the key shipping routes in and out of the Persian Gulf. Administratively, it is located in Gwadar District of Makran Division.
It is believed that Cyrus the Great, the first emperor of the Achaemenid Empire, conquered southern Balochistan as he made his way back to Persia. In the list of territories belonging to Cyrus, a province by the name of Maka is listed, which scholars believe is either southern Balochistan or the country of Oman. The ancient Persians referred to the inhabitants of this area as Mahi khoran or fish eaters.
More than two hundred years later, Alexander the Great also returned to his homeland by way of southern Balochistan while his admiral Nearchus sailed along the coastline. At that time, southern Balochistan was known as Gedrosia, while the areas along the coast were known as the country of the Icthyophagi or fish eaters. The population was mostly fishermen who ate fish, fed fish to their cattle, and wore clothes made of animal and fish skin. Their weapons, if they even had any, appeared primitive and their houses were made using the spine and rib bones of whales, or sea monsters as the Greeks called them.
In his memoirs Nearchus mentioned the city of Barna, which is now identified with Gwadar. Its inhabitants were more civilized compared to their coastal neighbors and their small town was full of palm groves, fruit trees, and flower gardens. In fact, Barna’s fruit trees were the first that Nearchus and his men had seen since they set sail from the Indus delta. The Greeks were overjoyed to see their native myrtle flower blooming here and they joyously made wreaths to wear on their heads. After the death of Alexander, his general Seleucus claimed Gwadar, along with all of Gedrosia but soon after ceded it to the Mauryans in 303 BC.
At some point in the latter centuries, Gedrosia became known as Makran, which is possibly derived from the ancient title Mahi khoran. In 711 AD, Gwadar was captured by Muhammad bin Qasim as he made his way to Sindh. During the next three centuries, Makran flourished and its cities, including Gwadar, were populated with merchants from every region of the world who contributed to its land and sea trade. The local population spoke mainly Farsi along with other local dialects, and was mostly Muslim, though Hindu communities also existed side by side. Spices, indigo, raw silk, pearls, rubies, horses, elephants, ivory, and bolts of cloth were traded at Gwadar.
In 1581, the Portuguese burned and sacked the towns of Gwadar and Pasni because these port cities continued to aid the Ottoman fleet against them. In retaliation, the Balochis mounted a resistance and on several occasions were able to capture Portuguese ships. In fact, two very old guns are still found in Gwadar that were taken from the Portuguese.
In 1783, Mir Nasir Khan, the Khan of Kalat, gave refuge to Sultan Said bin Ahmad of Muscat, a defeated contestant for the throne of Oman, and granted him a temporary lease of the port city of Gwadar. After Sultan Said had regained Muscat, he appointed a governor to administer Gwadar and later built a fort there. In 1958 Gwadar became part of Pakistan after 200 years of Omani rule, when Pakistan bought it from the Omani Government.
Pakistan’s strategic interest in Gwadar began after a geological survey in 1954 deemed it suitable for a seaport, and in the 1990s plans began for the development of such a port. Phase one of the port construction was completed in 2006 with a loan from the Chinese government. As of 2013, official operations of the port have been awarded to the Chinese government.