Special force set up to guard Gwadar port’s sea lanes

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Navy has assembled ‘Task Force-88’ (TF-88) for the seaward security of Gwadar port and protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats.

The creation of the special maritime force had been necessitated by the operationalisation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is expected to lead to a surge in maritime activity at Gwadar — the nodal point for CPEC — and the sea lanes. This has in turn increased the maritime susceptibilities there.

A senior PN official said the TF-88 would 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.

“The task force would be a force multiplier for overall security of CPEC. The land route has already been secured by Special Security Division and now Gwadar, the centrepiece of CPEC, will also be safe and secure,” Chairman Parliamentary Committee on CPEC Senator Mushahid Hussain said.

TF-88 would be commissioned this week.

“Pakistan Navy is ensuring maritime security of CPEC and Gwadar port through the deployment of available assets,” the navy officer said while talking to Dawn about the new force. “We are fully cognisant of the challenges to security of CPEC and Gwadar port.” Chal­lenges to Pakistan’s maritime security have traditionally come from India. But Chinese involvement in Gwadar port and launch of CPEC has complica­ted the security environment. India sees Gwadar as a foothold for China in the Arabian Sea and as a counter-strategy to threats at Malacca. Therefore, India is alleged to have stepped up its activities in the broader region surrounding Gwadar to undermine the project.

The botched attempt by an Indian submarine to intrude into Pakistani waters when shipping activity under CPEC began at Gwadar last month has been pointed out by Pakistani observers as an indicator of Indian intentions.

Similarly, it is feared that the CPEC maritime traffic may face non-traditional threats, which include maritime terrorism, drugs and arms trafficking, human smuggling and piracy. The region is already grappling with most of these problems.

Presence of extra-regional forces and their interests, which could be threatened by the new port, heavily factored in the consideration of Pakistani strategists, who developed threat perception and strategised the responses.

The complex security scenario, it is said, increases risks for the sea traffic because of which cost of insurance of the cargo has gone up exponentially.

Security is undoubtedly a crucial factor for the success of CPEC, but the Chinese government has been very particular about it. Chinese officials have invariably insisted in their interactions with Pakistani interlocutors on provision of safe and secure environment for the corridor.

It should be recalled that the fourth Pak-China joint naval exercise held in November, which was aimed at promoting maritime security and stability in the region, specifically focused on challenges to CPEC in security domain. Navy has also raised a Coastal Sec­u­rity and Harbour Defence Force for tac­kling threats along the coast and statio­ned a Force Protection Battalion at Gwadar for protection of Chinese workers.