Sost/Gilgit, July 10: Chinese officials of the Sost Dry Port posted a notice on the gate of the building, announcing closure of the port in protest and demanding protection of the “interests of Chinese” side, while also blocking the entrance by placing a car in front of the gate.
A large number of people gathered outside the gate this morning, unable to get to their offices due to closure of the gate. Efforts to negotiate with officials of the Sino Trans Company failed twice and later the police had to intervene and limit the Chinese officials to their residential quarters, opening the gates for normal business. A contingent of police had also reached the venue to control any untoward incident.
Friday’s events are continuation of a dramatic situation which has engulfed the port’s premises since Monday, when Zafar Iqbal, the new Chairman of the Dry Port Trust was allegedly assaulted by a Chinese official in his office. Both parties, the Chinese Management and the Pakistani Dry Port Trust had registered FIRs against each other after the incident, demanding legal action.
However, the situation had normalized for two days, before today’s closure of the port’s gate by employees of the Sino-Trans Company, which holds 60 percent shares in the Dry Port. Today the gates of the port were opened at round one O’clock in the afternoon, on the insistence of the Importers and Exporters Association and the administration officials, but the incident denotes that the issue of transferring of authorities to the newly elected cabinet of the Sort Port Trust remains unresolved.
The Pak-China Post Port was established in 2001, as a joint venture company between Sino-Trans (Chinese company) and Sost Dry Port Trust (an entity representing the local shareholders). The Chinese side holds 60% of the shares while 40 % percent is owned by the local investors, including women organizations, village organizations, as well as individual investors. The Chinese investors control the management of the port and their representation in the board is also higher, in line with the ratio of investment.
The two sides have, now, locked horns over issues related to audit, change of the Trust’s management and renewal of a contract that was initially signed for a period of 12 years.
It is pertinent to note that Gul Sher Khan, PRO of the Sost Port had sent an email to Pamir Times, claiming that Zafar Iqbal was not assaulted by the Chinese. He, instead, said that the reverse happened in the office on Monday and that the Chinese official was assaulted by Zafar Iqbal, the former MD of NATCO Gilgit-Baltistan. He also shared two photographs with Pamir Times (above) as “evidence” in support of his allegation. He had also blamed Zafar Iqbal of transferring revenues from the Dry Port to his personal account in Sost.
These allegations have been condemned and rejected by Zafar Iqbal and other members of the Port Trust. They have accused the Chinese employees of the port and members of the last cabinet of the Trust of avoiding audit procedures and trying to cover-up their alleged corruptions and misappropriations.
In the meanwhile, the Zafar Iqbal led Sost Port Trust has taken charge of their office. Since cases have been registered by both sides, the matter is now in the courts.
It is pertinent to note that earlier the Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, the second highest court, had given a verdict in the favor of the Zafar Iqbal led cabinet of the Port Trust, allowing them to take charge of the office. The sealed office of the Port Trust was also opened in front of district officials, as per the “directions of the court.”