CPEC and Gwadar Port: A new Security Strategic Paradigm
The opening of the Gwadar port has manifold implications for the geopolitics of the Indian subcontinent
Lt. Gen Rameshwar Yadav (Retd) Delhi
The ancient Meluha (modern day Indus Valley) has been an area of interest for regional forces all through its history due to its geo-strategic location and economic potential. The Islamic raiders of yore had launched many incursions around the tenth century onwards from the Western flank of this realm to plunder riches and go back to their kingdoms. However, upon realising the deep-set rivalries, fragmented polity and weak governance of the region, they became rulers through political manipulations and military interventions. They were removed from power much later by the British on the cusp of the eighteenth century. In the present day context, China has made inroads from the north with economic and military domination on their strategic radar. Politically unstable and economically beleaguered Pakistan has chosen to go with China for its pet project “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC) as a tool to take care of their military and economic insecurities.This turn of events has created new leverage in the contemporary strategic environment both for Pakistan as a host, and China as the executor of the project. As far as China is concerned, it is a win-win situation for them. From a foreign policy perspective, it is a masterstroke for the two allies.
The CPEC, which is the brainchild of the Chinese has taken shape with the full support of the Pakistani establishment. In fact, the road passes through Pakistani occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The building of the road in Pakistani occupied Kashmir (PoK) is an outright defiance of international protocols by Pakistan and China. The Gwadar port has already been inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif in the presence of the Pakistani Army chief along with Chinese kingpins. The first shipping consignment has also been dispatched from the port indicating the sure shot success of the project. In all likelihood, the port will be the cornerstone of trade ties between the two of them.
However, the proposed Chinese naval presence has not gone unnoticed by the wider diplomatic community as it has the potential of bringing about a paradigm shift in the global security matrix.
Gwadar port, besides its economic importance, is a strategically vital position in order to militarily dominate the Gulf region as well as the Indian Ocean. Moreover, it provides a much shorter route to the Mediterranean sea which lies at the junction of three continents and provides vital access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Gwadar port is hence of high political value to China. The proposed Chinese naval presence at Gwadar, when seen along with their marine signatures in Srilanka, Myanmar, Somalia and Maldives are indicative of their intentions to dominate the Indian Ocean through military means. It is further hyphenated by their aggressive military posture in the South China Sea despite the rejection of their territorial claims by an international tribunal.
The CPEC terminating at Gwadar facilitates economies of scale for China as it lies closer to their energy resources and traditional markets of West Asia, Africa, Europe and America. It also provides an option to avoid bottlenecks and concomitant security concerns to their sea lanes throughout South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the CPEC is a game changer for China whose economic centre of gravity lies in its manufacturing base and the subsequent export of those products across the world. It is, therefore, obvious that if there is an infringement of any kind in their industrial and market synergies, it will affect their national interests in a big way. Such a scenario is not acceptable to Beijing. The overt expansion of military signatures in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean is an expression of Beijing’s political will to maintain, sustain and enhance their national interests at all costs. India is directly affected by this aggressive military encirclement by China. The Chinese swarm and conquer strategy is a matter of great concern.
By facilitating the building of the CPEC and endorsing Chinese military presence, Pakistan has managed to create another dimension to their military deterrence against India, besides well-integrated sub-conventional, conventional and nuclear forces in an operationally agile escalation matrix. To counter these machinations, India has stand-alone conventional and nuclear deterrence. Moreover, the Indian leverage against China in the Indian Ocean would certainly get diluted with its naval presence in Gwadar. It may affect the tactical advantage of the Indian Army in exploiting the vulnerable Pakistani southern flank which has the potential to dislocate Pakistani forces in certain military contingencies. As a consequence, one can expect Pakistan to continue to be belligerent in its approach towards India and indulge in politico-military adventurism due to their new found economic buoyancy and enhanced Chinese military back up. The continued Pakistani terror attacks in the Indian hinterland by sponsored non-state actors with impunity are manifestations of this new found political brinkmanship.
China cannot ignore and antagonise India beyond a point due to it being one of the largest and geographically closest markets for Chinese manufacturers. Beijing is expected to be sensible enough not to escalate the threat paradigm against India. It can ill afford a repeat of 1962.
While Pakistan is entitled to safeguard its national interests, India has similar options to enhance its “strategic pull” through appropriate politico-military alliances. The advantage India has lies in her stable polity, sound economy and strong industrial base. Whereas, Pakistan has to depend on external alliances in light of political instability, a weak economy and an insecure social environment. In fact, there are signs of political delineation amongst some of their regions with potential for disturbance of public order. These ground realities are manifesting in the form of resistance to CPEC in Northern areas and Baluchistan which has forced the Pakistan army to provide protection to the Chinese workforce. In the given circumstances, the Chinese authorities, are apprehensive of Pakistani security assurances. Hence they probably want their forces included in the safety apparatus of the Gwadar port at a tactical level. This manoeuvre could be an excuse to make inroads into the Pakistani maritime domain and subsequently, enlarge the vicinity of the harbour to a full-fledged Chinese naval base at a vantage point in the Arabian Sea.