Earlier, last year the security of Gwadar port was entrusted to Pakistan Navy. The task has since been conscientiously executed via an agile and efficient Marine battalion of the navy. Sited roughly 635 km from Karachi and 120 km from the Iranian border by road, Pakistan’s strategic port of Gwadar constitutes what may be called “bedrock” of CPEC.
The government to government CPEC agreements have created bright prospects for optimum utilization of Gwadar port. The mammoth project will harness the benefits accruing out of regional trade connectivity of western China, CARs and Afghanistan with this port. To connect port to the highway network, “Gwadar port Eastbay Expressway” project was agreed for funding under CPEC. The project was approved by ECNEC at an estimated cost of Rs 14 billion. The “Expressway” will connect Gwadar port with Makran coastal highway, a distance of 18.9km. A double track rail link along the “Expressway” is also part of the project. In addition, a “Free Zone” spread over an area 9.23 sq km adjacent and north-west of the port is also being established. The likely economic benefits that Gwadar can produce are tremendous. An estimated revenue of US$40 billion and generation of two million jobs could be enormous impetus for Pakistan’s economy as an emerging market.
By now however external actors inimical to CPEC have come out openly with their malevolence. India is doing what it may take to ensure that CPEC does not happen. As part of Modi-Doval doctrine, India has violated the ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) 103 times during the past one year and 58 times following the Uri incident. In early November, Indian navy conducted a major exercise in North Arabian Sea along the coast of Gujrat, just next to Karachi.
The current situation in North Arabian Sea and South Asia is extraordinary and unsettling. All channels of communications between India and Pakistan including media, track II diplomacy etc are blocked. This upping the ante by India is meant to keep Pakistan nailed down along the eastern border, the North Arabian Sea and Gwadar so that India can press on with proxy war it now pursues openly inside Pakistan. This is particularly true for FATA and Balochistan. With security and intelligence apparatus drawing thin, prospects of CPEC blooming could whittle down.
Compounding matters for Pakistan is the “Logistic Sharing Agreement” (LSA) between the U.S. and India. It is a legacy of Obama administration. LSA allows for reciprocal use of domestic bases for military logistics supply and refueling. Having previously acquired a large tract of land, India is meanwhile hastening construction of first overseas military base on the Indian Ocean Island of Seychelles. A tri-services command (ANC) was earlier set up at Andaman Nicobar chain of Islands lying close to the Strait of Malacca. India’s first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant is fully operational and integrated in the country’s nuclear command and control structure.
India is clearly moving from being a ‘secular’ to an ‘extremist’ state. It is capitalizing on emerging global order where the U.S. and the west have a newfound strategic interest in New Delhi. The stunning win of President Trump is being widely hailed in India, especially by extreme right wing populist parties. Just what kind of policy the incoming U.S President is likely to formulate for Indo-Pacific region and South Asia is uncertain but one thing is guaranteed. He has been repeating his mantra of blocking China’s economic rise. Trump’s recent declaration on repealing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has elicited a strong reaction from Beijing. A “trade war” between the U.S. and China is already underway, even before Trump has entered the White House.
Being hub of global and regional trade activity, significance of Indian Ocean, or Indo-Pacific, as the current nomenclature refers, will rise further in the international politics. It is here that the global and regional actors would play out the “Great Game” of twenty first century. Overtly, this power politics will be decisively advanced and wielded in seapower, firming up of naval alliances, diplomacy as well as naval brinkmanship, already gaining rapid currency.
Despite paucity of resources, manpower shortages and surviving only on 10-11 percent slice from the defence budget, Pakistan navy has emerged as a formidable sentinel of the sea frontiers. This has been particularly true over the past 15 years or so. The navy’s Marine battalion continues to provide impregnable security cover to Gwadar port. To Pakistan navy’s accomplishments is now added the recent detection and foiling an attempt by the Indian submarine to sneak into waters close to Pakistan’s coast. Possibly on reconnaissance and intelligence gathering mission, the submarine was spotted by air elements of Pakistan navy and later tracked out. Interestingly, the detection of Indian submarine and its subsequent chase by Pakistan Navy coincided with the Chinese container ship which set sail from Gwadar on November 14.
The challenges to maritime security in Indo-Pacific are fast reshaping. A considerable reduction in piracy and other transnational challenges (except likelihood of natural calamities) has been off-set by crucial “peer competition”. The last is now fiercely back in spotlight. This developing trend is going to persist and in fact increase in future. Deterrence and necessary war-fighting capabilities are being reintegrated within the spectrum of core naval missions by most Asian navies.
Only a well thought-out maritime policy and strategy along with maritime doctrine, under an overarching national maritime vision will safely steer CPEC and the country’s future economic well- being. The national maritime vision must be made integral part of government’s ambitions illustrated in Vision 2025.
The writer is an independent contributor on maritime security and Indo-Pacific related issues.