Sost dry port fight moves from the border to the Centre
By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT, July 21:The fight over the management of the Sost Dry Port, which includes allegations of its Pakistani and Chinese officials attacking each other, has moved to Islamabad.
The newly elected chairman of the port, Zafar Iqbal, has been summoned by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to explain allegations of a Chinese staffer being slapped as he tried to take control of his office a week or so ago. “Iqbal has arrived in Islamabad to help sort out things relating to the port,” said Rahim Ullah, a shareholder in the dry port, on Saturday. “He was called after the issue was highlighted in the media.”
Similarly, the Chinese staffers of Sinotrans Company that manages the port are also said to have made it to Islamabad to possibly present their case.
On Saturday July 5 a scuffle is reported to have broken out at the dry port office when Zafar Iqbal is said to have arrived with 20 party workers, lawmaker Mutabiat Shah and Gilgit-Baltistan Speaker Wazir Baig.
Sost Dry Port spokesman Gul Sher Khan accused Iqbal of forcing his way into the office and Wazir Baig is accused of slapping a female Chinese employee.
Baig denies these allegations while Iqbal maintains that he was attacked by a Chinese staffer with a knife.
Both sides have registered cases against each other.
Zafar Iqbal was trying to start work as the new chairman of the dry port, whose management was supposed to be handed over to the Pakistanis, according to their agreement. There has been a disagreement over the handover. According to the agreement, the management of the port was to be handed over to Pakistan by the Chinese after 10 years.
Sost is the first formal port at the China-Pakistan border, clearing goods coming from the Chinese region of Kashghar, Xinjiang. In 2002, a joint venture was signed between the Sino-Trans Chinese Company and the Silk Route Dry Port Trust (SRDPT), agreeing to construct a dry port at Sost, Gojal.
The building was completed in 2005 with financial assistance from China on land offered by the local communities.
The Chinese side holds 60% of the shares while the rest is owned by local investors and shareholders. The Chinese investors control the management and their representation on the board is also placed higher, in line with the ratio of investment.
In 2004, another company, by the name of Pak-China Sost Dry Port Company Pvt Ltd was established jointly by Sino-Trans and SRDPT to run the operations of the port, with the same ratio of shares. Of the seven board members, three represent Pakistan while the rest are Chinese. The chairman of the board of directors and the managing director are Chinese, while the deputy or vice chairman is from the SRDPT. The appointment of the vice chairman would be subject to the chairman’s approval.
The dispute concerns Zafar Iqbal’s appointment as vice chairman, which the Chinese say isn’t legal as it was a unilateral decision taken by the Pakistani side and lacked the chairman’s endorsement.
“We have no issue with Zafar Iqbal being the new chairman of SRDPT,” said the spokesman. “The issue is his self-proclaimed appointment at the Pak-China Sost Dry Port Company Pvt Ltd as vice chairman.” The Chinese company has challenged Iqbal’s status as vice chairman in court.
In yet another twist to the plot, there have been reports that two directors, Ghulam Hasan and Dashk Baig, have resigned.
As a makeshift arrangement, the government has deputed Abbas Ali Khan, a grade-17 official, as the port’s administrator with the responsibility to manage its affairs till the end of the Eid holidays. “Both of these steps are unlawful,” said spokesman Gul Sher Khan, adding that they had also gone to court to challenge the appointment of an administrator. “The government doesn’t have power to appoint an administrator. It can be done by the security commission of Pakistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.