Establishing Air Defence Identification Zone over Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone for Trade Protection through China Pakistan Economic Corridor

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Dr. Hasan Yaser Malik

(Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone)

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, being the most vital component of Chinese ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative has transformed the Gwadar Port as a diplo-economic pivot in Indo-Pacific Region. Gwadar at the gateway hydrocarbon rich Persian Gulf serves as a linkage between Africa, Asia, Europe and Indo-Pacific Region hence offers numerous diplomatic and economic opportunities for regional and extra regional players. Interests of regional and extra regional players in Caspian and Asian hydrocarbon reserves have further enhanced the strategic value of Gwadar Port as it offers them the shortest access to Indo-Pacific Region and Africa for export of those hydrocarbon reserves. Chinese inter-continental connectivity with Germany and investment of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates in Gwadar will be further enhancing its prominence. Such developments where have reinvigorated diplo-economic prospects have also added a few insecurities evolving due to a few regional and extra regional countries for the success of China- Pakistan Economic Corridor in particular and Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative in general.

Geo-Political Prominence and Protection of Gwadar Port

Gwadar is a vital component of BRI which now encompasses over hundred countries and international Organizations across the globe.  “If we see this whole region, it is like a funnel. The top of the funnel is wide area of Central Asia and also China’s western region and the funnel gets narrowed on through Afghanistan and Pakistan and ending Gwadar Port. So this funnel, futuristically, is the economic funnel of this whole region” Geographical environment is considered as one of the important facets that have influenced the development of human society. The most critical element of the environment is the sea, which occupies almost three-quarters of earth surface. Pakistan has very little strategic depth, however, Gwadar will add to its strategic depth as it is further 460 km away from India hence decreasing its vulnerability. Gwadar will also help Pakistan to monitor the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) originating from the Persian Gulf and bottleneck at the Strait of Hormuz. Strategically, considering the establishment of naval bases at Gwadar, Ormara and Jiwani by Pakistan, presence of Chinese naval assets, domination of Arabian Sea at Persian Gulf by US 5th Naval Fleet and Indian aspiration to build a Blue Water Navy have revitalized diplo-economic scenario in entire ‘One Belt One Road’ Region, especially the’ Maritime Silk Rout’. India is apprehensive that any possible naval nexus between Pakistan and China may deny maneuvering space to Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean. Gwadar has the potential to acquire the status of a gateway to the Strait of Hurmoz and can complement the Dubai Port World (DPW) by improving the exiting port facilities and trade linkages with Caspian Region. However initially the Gulf countries and Iran had concerns about Gwadar. Moreover, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is likely to establish Pak-China naval nexus with a view to denying maneavouring space to Indian Navy that will make maritime shipping lanes safer for merchant ships in Indo-Pacific Region and will ease out the much needed Chinese Malacca Dilemma. In military and strategic terms, Gwadar can help China to monitor the sea-lanes from the Persian Gulf as about 60% of Chinese energy requirements are met from the Persian Gulf. Gwadar Port can provide China a Listening Post to observe the Indian naval activities around the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden.

The globalization has brought major changes in global economy and has led the civilization to be a ‘Borderless Civilization’. This phenomenon has considerably increased the sea trade from, 2.37 billion tons of cargo to 5.88 billion tons of cargo moving through the sea. Strategically, Gwadar holds a dominant position in the entire Indo-Pacific Region hence Gwadar being a vital component of Chinese ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative which includes portion of North Arabian Sea and Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone that can emerge as a future zone of diplomatic and economic competitions. As most of the sea lines of communications to Pacific Ocean, Africa and Europe will pass through the Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone or in its proximity, hence all the ships passing through this 290,058 square kilometer area will be highly vulnerable to threats emerging out from Sea and Air. Therefore, it will be prudent to secure the Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone by establishing a Pragmatic Air Defense Identification Zone over the Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone.  It is important to note that many countries including US, South Korea, Japan and China have already established such air defense zones over the adjacent waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With a view to making the protection more prudent it will be realistic to employ a combined force consisting of law enforcing agencies like Maritime Security Agency, Cost Guards, Pakistan Armed Forces and some components of Chinese Navy as China possesses a technically advanced Navy; apart from being a pivotal stakeholder in Belt and Road Initiative. On the other end apart from China many other strong countries have interests in Indo-Pacific Region which further signifies the defense of Pakistani Exclusive Zone through sea, air and land. Germany being one of the European economic powers is Chinese strategic trade partner and both have established a trade rail link; In September 2018 the trade train running between Hamburg and Wuhan has completed its ten thousandth km trip. Apart from the European economic powers, countries including Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have planned to establish an oil city in Gwadar from where it will be easier for it to expert oil to China and Japan.  Japan, South Korea and Iran have also shown interest for investment in Gwadar Port.

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