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| On 6 months ago

CPEC: Strategic role of Pakistan’s Navy

Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

WHILE meeting with Naval Chief, Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong commended Pakistan Navy’s efforts for “maritime security” of the region. Matters of mutual interest including regional security situation and protection of ongoing projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) were also discussed. Consequently, both the sides “reaffirmed” the commitment to further improve “cooperation” between the Naval Forces (NFs) of the two countries.

Most recently, while visiting the Pakistan Naval Headquarters, Prime Minister Imran Khan also commended the efforts of the Pakistan Navy for the “defence” of the country’s Sea Frontiers. A detailed briefing about the naval forces’ initiatives for maritime sector development was given to the Prime Minister. PM Khan appreciated the NF for providing “security” to the CPEC project including the Gwadar Port and assured all possible cooperation. On his part, the Naval Chief Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi pledged Pakistan Navy full “professional” as well as “tactical” preparedness to protect the maritime interests and sea frontiers of the country.

Indian mad arms-race (especially naval force procurement/build-up) existence of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprising USA, India, Japan, Australia navies, activation of US warship in the Arabian Sea and Indian’s conflicting socio-economic policies against BRI/ CPEC), widening geopolitical US-China trade war and last but not the least, booming US-India Strategic Dialogue, all have forced Pakistan Navy (PN) to start its rigorous “modernization” through trustworthy and sustainable defence cooperation with China and Turkey and promote indigenous defence industry and operations to cope with the looming threats from the regional enemies and its global sponsors.

The CPEC project has now revolutionized concepts of regional connectivity which also unfortunately created elements of insecurity among the regional countries especially India. The theory of Offensive Realism supports Pakistan’s ambitions to acquire modern technology and increase its naval power in the Arabian & Indian Seas.

With the ongoing “caravans” of socio-economic prosperity, greater regional connectivity (air, sea, roads), massive industrialization, development of new routes for Pakistan’s blue economy, the emergence of the logistic hub/seaport Gwadar and extended commercial ties with Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and all the GCC member states all indicate “strategic role” of PN to provide essential elements of “security” and “sustainability” and “survival” for the country and as well as a region against all possible “maritime threats”.

It is imminent that geostrategic location of CPEC being flagship project of the BRI and Gwadar Port city development would attract a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, illicit trafficking and other potential proxy skirmishes. Furthermore, the exploration of natural resources in EEZ would require more stability in the region to proceed with and large-scale investment to build and renovate Pakistan’s Blue Economy. So the role of Pakistan’s Navy is vital.

PN is responsible to defend CPEC, easy and smooth Sea Lanes of Communication open and protection of Pakistan’s Coast Areas as well as the ports of Karachi, Bin-Qasim, Ormara and Gwadar. In this context, a special organization namely Task Force-88 (TF-88) has already been formed to the seaward security of Gwadar Port and protection of Associated Sea Lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats. It comprises 400 marines, who specialize in defending marine assets/projects both on-shore and seaward against threats emanating from sub-surface, surface and aerial. It has been equipped with suitable platforms comprising gunboats, frigates, Fast Attack Craft (FTC), aircraft, and drones as well as other electronic surveillance means. Moreover, it takes care of harbour defence, shore based anti-aircraft artillery, fast patrol craft and surveillance system comprising radars, drones and aerial surveillance systems. The seaward defence can tackle threats emanating from both conventional and non-conventional hostile elements.

Formation of TF-88 is a giant step towards protection of the ongoing projects of the CPEC along with security of coastal areas of the country especially Balochistan. Although Gwadar Port is primarily a commercial port, PN has also formed a separate Naval Base at Gwadar for its security and its seaward approaches. It is used by PN and units which are deployed for security and defence of Gwadar Port.

The Naval Base will not be used by any foreign navies as propagated by India, however, naval ships from all countries are welcome for berthing at the port. PNS Siddiq at Turbat is geared to provide air surveillance and defence cover for Gwadar and Ormara sea fronts.

For further modernization of the PN the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production inked an agreement with Turkey’s Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation in 2018 for the purchase of four customized MILGEM Ada corvettes for the PN. It is hoped that all four ships will be ready by 2024. PN is also planning to acquire four MILGEM class corvettes from Turkey, eight submarines from China, Azmat-class fast attack crafts and a new fleet tanker to supplement the defence of Gwadar deep sea port.

The success of the ongoing projects of the CPEC and the Gwadar Port project has direct correlation with the safe and secure maritime environment in the Indian Ocean region as well as in the Arabian Sea. The PN has followed a multilayered holistic approach to cope with the emerging challenges such as beefing up security of Gwadar Port, conducting security patrols and coastal exercises, enhancing maritime domain awareness and engaging in collaborative Maritime Security with regional and extra-regional navies.

PN has also deployed a Force Protection Battalion (FPB) of Pak Marines along with requisite assets and equipment, both afloat and ashore, to ensure security of the Port and the Chinese personnel. This deployment will be further augmented with the proportionate increase in trade and associated activities in the Port.

Being a prominent regional expert of the CPEC & BRI, I appreciate all sincere efforts and professional & tactical preparedness of the PN to protect the “strategic interests” of the country. The PN has been playing a “vital” role in the national security domain by “mitigating” series of Non-Conventional Threats (NCTs), such as climate change, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, illegal immigration, smuggling of arms and drugs, piracy and maritime terrorism. The PN also “combats” with conventional security Threats and defends more than a thousand-kilometre coastline. Now PN is also “protecting” the “commercial”, “infrastructural development” and “logistic apparatus” of Pakistan by taking all possible measures to address the challenges originating from the maritime dimension of CPEC.

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