Regional dynamics, particularly the dynamics of Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in South Asia are changing after the inclusion of certain development projects. Therefore, different challenges are emerging in the IOR that are posing considerable threats to the security and interests of Pakistan. Nuclearisation and power projection by states that are interested in developing an alliance and maintaining their presence in the ocean are the reasons leading towards the emanation of these challenges. The situation is becoming further complicated because of additional challenges like piracy, terrorism and environmental issues. Along with that, the stakes are further getting higher for Pakistan owing to the probable direct impacts by multifaceted challenges and threats (both traditional and non-traditional), increased Chinese interests and presence in the region, Indo-Iran and Indo-Gulf cooperation, emerging Indo-U.S. strategic partnership and increasing Indian ambitions in the ocean. In order to tackle the threats and challenges, a comprehensive strategy is undoubtedly required to both address and counter them. Furthermore, urgency for formulating the strategy to deal with such threats is being raised by Pakistan’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Alfred Thayer Mahan’s words “whoever rules the waves, rules the world” seem more axiomatic now. His research thesis implied that national power and prosperity depend upon control of the seas. In the globally changing dynamics of security and economics, the close association of national power and prosperity with the control of seas in this century can clearly be witnessed. It is a notable fact that mankind has been using the sea routes for trade and commerce purposes for the last thirty centuries. Geopolitical maneuvering and enhancement of economic hegemony through the naval routes have also led to the sea-wars and battles covered in history. Moreover, certain facts like two-thirds of the world population lives on coastal regions, also demonstrate the significance of seas. More than 85 percent of international trade is seaborne because the transportation via seas is approximately 46 times cheaper than road, 165 times cheaper than air and 12 times cheaper than rail.
As far as the CPEC project is concerned, the whole world and especially the whole region has realised the gigantic significance of this project, particularly with the operationalization of Gwadar Port which is the major part of this project. Regional and extra-regional states have showed their interests in being part of this project so that they could enjoy the possible benefits, specifically commercial and economic benefits. The interests of states evidently imply the prominence of CPEC. Besides providing a most economical route for trade connectivity between China, Pakistan and rest of the world, CPEC (along with Gwadar Port) will also provide better connectivity to the Central Asian Republics (CARs). It may potentially act as transit and transshipment port for Central Asia. The Gwadar Port can also be utilized as a hub-port for the Gulf States as well. In this way, the project with the port utility will potentially speed up the economic activities in the seas and oceans. Ultimately, the increasing economic activities would create a boost for the economy of Pakistan.
In order to address the above-mentioned concerns, Pakistan Armed Forces, particularly Pakistan Navy, have taken various notable initiatives to ensure the maritime and other associated securities of the CPEC and Gwadar Port. Pakistan Navy is espousing a multi-pronged approach to manage all the challenges. It is expanding the overall security apparatus of Gwadar Port, including conduct of coastal exercises and security patrols in the required areas. It is also enhancing its maritime domain awareness (MDA) and largely engaging itself in collaborative maritime security practices with regional and extra-regional navies.
Most notably, the Navy established an exclusive force namely Force Protection Battalion (FPBn) consisting of Pakistan Marines for the protection of Gwadar Port and the Chinese personnel. The force size is strategically subject to increase and decrease as port related activities increase or decrease. Along with the conventional and sub-conventional threats, Pakistan Navy is also massively working to strategically and tactically counter all the possible asymmetric threats to Pakistani ports and coast. Moreover, the new port security task force TF-88 has also established by Pakistan which is said to be equipped with aerial surveillance aircraft, missile boats and drones. This special security force set up for the defence of shore-side facilities and activities will further consolidate the security measurements.
Additionally, the modern state-of-the-art radar networks, electro-optic sensors and pickets deployed by the Navy are providing tremendous assistance for constant surveillance and monitoring of the maritime area of Pakistan. This will not only aid in filling up the gaps that may be left in predictable means of protection but will also assist in timely and well-coordinated response in the event of threats posed by non-state actors. Thereafter, Coastal Watch Stations (CWSs) and Joint Maritime Information Coordination Centre (JMICC) being established by the Pakistan Navy in order to further strengthen the maritime and coastal security will also prove critical as with the establishment of these centers and stations, the Navy will be able to gather and compile valuable information and to synergize coordinated operations with different security agencies in the maritime domain.
It cannot be claimed that Pakistan is the only country in the world that is facing such challenges posed in the realm of maritime security due to the given nature of modern maritime environment. However, under the given complex strategic maritime environment, Pakistan appears to be the only country that is maneuvering in such an environment. For better operationalization, Pakistan Navy is regularly collaborating with navies of different countries and engaging in various different activities including joining 2004 U.S.-led multinational task force to advance interoperability and handle maritime crimes.
Keeping in view all these facts, it seems that the security of CPEC project and especially its association with Gwadar Port has become the strategic priority of Pakistan and Pakistan Navy and is playing a pivotal role in this security paradigm. The initiatives taken by the Navy and the formulated strategies imply that Pakistan Navy will be finely tuned to tackle the changing and emanating threats, and will remain up to speed regarding modern challenges in the maritime domain. Moreover, all the potential regional and extra-regional challenges to national security will be managed appropriately.
A fair conclusion can be drawn by the above mentioned developments that Pakistan Navy is strategically cognizant of the fact that navies have a pivotal role to play in achieving the country’s economic objectives and fostering foreign policy objectives. Therefore, Pakistan Navy is continuously endeavoring to develop stronger relations with the regional and extra-regional navies to create a safer security environment so that the economic activity could take place without any threat or risk. Given this appraisal of security measurement of Pakistan Navy, it seems hard for countries to operate that have a wish and are maneuvering to sabotage the CPEC project with Gwadar Port whether through direct or indirect means.
The writer is an Islamabad based lawyer and Independent Researcher.
E-mail: [email protected]
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