Military


Gwadar Port

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a 3,000-km network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas from southern Pakistan's Gwadar Port to Kashgar city, northwestern China. The CPEC will reduce China's routes of oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East by thousands of kilometers, making Gwadar Port a vital link in China's supply chain. Gwadar Port and the CPEC would enable China to bypass potential naval blockades of shipments of Mideast oil by India in the Indian Ocean, the USA in the South China Sea, and Japan in the East China Sea.

India harbors suspicions – and anxieties - that Gwadar provides China a key post to monitor Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and a dual-use base for Chinese ships and submarines. There is popular belief that Gwadar is just another unfriendly stronghold along the so-called “string of pearls" that China is building to choke India’s activities in the Indian Ocean and beyond. These influences perpetuate a “Sino-Indian rivalry" and zero-sum game narrative.

Historically, Russia showed the same interest in the Pakhtuns in a quest for achieving a warm water port like Gwadar in Pakistan or Cha Bahar in Iran. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was rumored to have its eyes on Gwadar as a naval base - the fabled warm water port that had been Moscow's ambition since the days of Czarist Russia.

Pakistan Navy's special 'Task Force-88' (TF-88) was established 13 December 2016 for maritime security of Gwadar port and protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats. An International Maritime Conference on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was held at Gwadar to commission the TF-88 force. The creation of the special maritime force was necessitated by the operationalisation of CPEC, which was expected to lead to a surge in maritime activity at Gwadar — the nodal point for CPEC — and the sea lanes. This in turn increased the maritime susceptibilities there.

TF-88 was to comprise ships, Fast Attack Craft, aircraft, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), and surveillance assets. Additio­nally, marines would be deployed at sea and around Gwadar for security operations. Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zakaullah and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat, Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri attended the conference.

Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled an ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor plan costing $46 billion during his visit to Islamabad in April 2015. Once completed, the CPEC would be a 2,400-kilometer-long road connecting Kashgar on the Chinese border to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, which is in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

Control of Gwadar Port was given to China and an agreement was signed with China Overseas Ports Holding Co on May 16, 2013, to transfer operational rights from the Port Authority of Singapore. The move meant China was now running a port just opposite the Gulf of Oman, an important route for oil tankers.

Both countries insist the deal is a “purely commercial venture." But critics and financial analysts are skeptical about the remote port's economic viability and believe it will be used for military purposes. The Gwadar port lies near the Strait of Hormuz, gateway for about 20 percent of the world’s oil. Beijing provided most of the port's initial $250 million construction cost, as part of a plan to establish a trade and energy corridor from the Gulf, through Pakistan and on to western China. Since it was first handed over to a Singaporean operator in 2007 the isolated facility has been a commercial failure. Baluchistan's ongoing instability and local political opposition are largely responsible.



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