Sultan M Hali
GAWADAR port is a vital component of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the pilot project of the mega development plan One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it is known now, spear headed by China. Shaped like a hammer, Gawadar Port, protruding into deep waters and strategic location, deserves to be called the gateway to CPEC and nodal point for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is an essential part of BRI. More than seventy countries have already joined BRI while others are contemplating joining it yet both BRI and CPEC are being denigrated by some detractors despite the projects being harbingers of prosperity and progress in the world. The expurgators of the mammoth undertakings, instead of presenting alternate plans for expansion and growth of the developing countries, would rather sabotage BRI and CPEC through subversion, terror attacks and kidnapping Chinese workers on the project.
Since Pakistan is responsible for the security of the project in its own territory, an elaborate four-layer security plan has been envisioned to provide security to workers along CPEC. The Plan extends security coverage of over 3,000km-long trade route that will connect the Gawadar port to China’s north-western Xinjiang province. An estimated 32,000 security personnel are being trained to guard over 14,321 Chinese workers engaged in nearly 210 small and mega projects in Pakistan. The current plan of providing security to Chinese nationals also includes over 500 Chinese security personnel for capacity building of the newly-raised special force as well as local police to better guard the precise routes surrounding the port.
According to the plan, Balochistan will be getting more security, as six wings (5,700 personnel) of the Frontier Corps, 3,000 police officers, and 1,000 Levies personnel would guard all the roads. Pakistan Marines and the border security forces would also defend the port and its adjacent roads. More than 3,500 police officers, 900 Rangers, 4,100 private security guards, and 740 Askari Guards would protect several projects linked to the economic corridor in Punjab. Pakistan Army has set up a special security force division comprising 12,000 personnel (nine battalions) under the command of a Major General. To ensure the safety of the Chinese citizens, the ministry of interior has proposed the registration of Chinese nationals for which NADRA is evolving a procedure of maintaining the record of Chinese citizens residing in or visiting Pakistan, and would share its files with all the federal and provincial authorities of the country.
The security of CPEC and the port of Gawadar would be incomplete without maritime defence. Although it is a part of BRI, India has been wary of CPEC. Indian RAW senior operative Commander Kulbhoshan Jadhav, arrested from Balochistan, confessed to hatching conspiracies to sabotage CPEC. Considering China to be a rival, India has been critical of Chinese presence in Gawadar. India perceives Gawadar as a foothold for China in the Arabian Sea and as a counter strategy to threats at Malacca thus it has reportedly stepped up its activities in the region surrounding Gawadar to undermine the project. So much so that when the first shipment of goods left Gawadar Port for different destinations via Chinese ships, last November, an Indian submarine was found lurking in Pakistani waters. The snooping Indian submarine was detected, localized and forced to flee by the ever vigilant Pakistan Navy (PN). Since the Port of Gawadar is located adjacent to the sea lanes of communication from where more than 35 percent of the world’s oil flow is shipped, the U.S. too is apprehensive that with Chinese presence in Gawadar, the oil supply line leaving the Port of Hormuz can be choked. Possibly the U.S., which is already engaged in supporting China’s opponents in the South China Sea dispute, may be abetting India to monitor and challenge Chinese operations in Gawadar.
It is no surprise that PN, being cognizant of challenges to the security of CPEC, has picked up the cudgels to ensure the security of the maritime prong of CPEC. To accomplish this demanding undertaking, PN has established a comprehensive Coastal Security and Harbour Defence Organization including Task Force-88. This organization is responsible for the maritime security of Gawadar port and protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats. There may also be threats from drugs, arms and human trafficking besides piracy, with which the region is already grappling. The Task Force has the capabilities to ensure gapless monitoring of all coastal waters and respond to arising contingencies. TF-88 comprises ships, Fast Attack Craft, aircraft, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), and surveillance assets. Additionally, marines would be deployed at sea and around Gawadar for security operations.
Although Gawadar Port is primarily a commercial port, PN is also establishing a separate Naval Base at Gawadar to house its assets to ensure the security of this important port and its seaward approaches. This Naval Base will be used by PN and units which will be employed for security and defence of Gawadar Port. The Naval Base will not be used by any foreign navies, albeit Naval Ships from all countries are welcome for berthing at the port, while on port call to Gawadar as per normal practice. PNS Siddiq at Turbat is geared to provide air surveillance and defence cover for Gawadar and Ormara sea fronts. PN is also planning to acquire receive four MILGEM Ada Corvettes from Turkey, eight submarines from China, Azmat-class Fast attack crafts and a new fleet tanker to supplement the defence of Gawadar deep-sea port.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali