In order to fully utilise the maritime advantages, it is essential that an effective policy focusing on the security of the sea lanes in both the domestic and international waters is devised and streamlined on the regular basis.
The strategic ties between Pakistan and China have been on an upward trajectory with moved thrust on economic interaction after the initiation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project since 2014. CPEC is a revolution in the field of economics. Under CPEC, China would invest $55 billion in Pakistan for the development of infrastructure and energy. CPEC is a futuristic economic dimension of Pakistan in the 21st century. This multi-dimensional project has opened Pakistan’s rebalancing options from geopolitics to geoeconomics. It includes four pillars, i.e. the infrastructure, energy requirements, workforce development and economic progress. CPEC is not an economic aid given to Pakistan, but an investment for the next 15 years. CPEC would be a game changer for Pakistan and the region as well. The CPEC would play a pivotal role in economic incentives and regional integration in the form of networks, connectivity and partnerships. It is a mega project that has the potential to transform the lives of the people in the region by opening frequent vistas of co-operation and development in the field of economics. CPEC is the broader part of the Chinese leadership and ambitious vision of reconstruction of ancient Silk Road under the new One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Whoever controls the Indian Ocean controls Asia; and second, extra-regional powers should stay out of what they would like to call the ‘India’s Ocean’. Such a mindset on the part of India is indeed a challenge for both Pakistan and China to ensure maritime security and safety of sea-lanes from and to the Gwadar seaport. Rightly then the Pakistan Navy is putting in place adequate arrangements, and more are under active consideration. Pakistan Navy has adopted what its spokesman says ‘a multi-pronged approach to deal with the prevailing challenges such as beefing up the security of Gwadar Port, conducting security patrols and coastal exercises, enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness and engaging other law-enforcing agencies’. Since over some time, maritime traffic to and from Gwadar is expected to increase manifold the maritime security is considered vital for the overall success of the CPEC, and therefore safe and secure maritime environment in the Indian Ocean. And then there are also the challenges of piracy, human trafficking and smuggling. Pakistan Navy is, therefore, working at three basic levels: the port security, vessel security and security of sea-lanes. In fact, given the strategic dimension lent to secure and efficient working of the CPEC. No doubt is securing Gwadar port, and its sea-lanes across the Indian Ocean is a huge maritime security challenge for the Pakistan Navy. For this to materialise, it requires more patrol ships and fast attack interceptor craft. And to this, there is no alternative — whatever the cost.
The Navy has also created a separate force consisting of Pakistan Marines for the protection of Gwadar Port and Chinese personnel. The name of the Force is Force Protection Battalion (FPBn). The size of this force is subject to increase as related activities on the port will increase. Apart from the conventional threats, Pakistan Navy is also preparing its defences regarding any asymmetric threats to Pakistani ports and coast.
It has raised a special task force for the maritime security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Gwadar seaport. The force is known as Task Force-88.
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.
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. The botched attempt by an Indian submarine to intrude into Pakistani waters when shipping activity under CPEC began at Gwadar has been pointed out by Pakistani observers as an indicator of Indian intentions. Apart from security on land, the initiative has been taken through the maritime security agency to protect the coast as well as through the Pakistan Air Force.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the lifeline of future economy of Pakistan and the role of security agencies, especially Pak Army, is laudable to ensure uninterrupted completion of this landmark project. Pakistan military has thousands of civil, mechanical and electrical engineers with decades of experience in building large infrastructure projects and analysts say the army is well placed to supervise the corridor. In fact, Pakistan Army’s Frontier Works Organization (FWO) is building significant parts of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Various militant groups, including Indian government proxies, are engaged in sabotaging CPEC. While some attacks have been successful, it is believed that the Pakistani military has been able to prevent much more. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of intelligence officers are believed to be working to manage the security situation all along the western route and in Gwadar. This is what made the recent pilot run with the trucks convoy reaching Gwadar and operationalizing the port recently.
A Special Security Division (SSD) comprising 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 para-military forces personnel has been set up for the security of the project and individuals working on it.
In order to fully utilise the maritime advantages, it is essential that an effective policy focusing on the security and safety of the sea lanes and water bodies; including both the domestic and international waters is devised and streamlined on a regular basis.
The presence of maritime security cooperation points to the fact that both the states are working towards drafting a comprehensive mechanism to ensure the security of Gwadar and surrounding area. This enhanced security cooperation between two countries will auger well for the entire maritime region of interest. Another significant development in this regard is that the Ministry of Defence Production under PSDP programme signed a contract with M/s CSTC of China for the construction of 4 x 600 Tonnes and 2 x 1500 Tonnes Maritime Patrol Ships in June 2015. As per the contract, four ships are being constructed in China while remaining three ships are being constructed at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works.
The military has played a major role in alleviating some of the Chinese concerns and removing some of the obstacles, especially in regards to guaranteeing strong security.
There are some political entities in Pakistan that have challenged the corridor’s route, slowing progress on the development of road and rail networks. Others have been supporting terrorists in Balochistan on the behest of their foreign masters so the security of CPEC is crucial and a main concern as our enemies are just eyeing to sabotage this project as it keeps them pinching. All our three forces are playing a magnificent role in carrying on this project.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Peshawar