The CPEC and Maritime Security

The CPEC and Maritime Security

Khurram Minhas

Due to Pakistan’s geography and the geo-political location in the region, Pakistan is depending heavily on the sea for its existence. Therefore, a strong navy equipped with modern technology is required to sustain the flow of trading activities in peace and war times

Advanced means of connectivity have much potential to change people-to-people contact and state-to-state relations both in terms of quality and quantity. Connectivity becomes a blessing when it is applied positively for development and progress. Likewise, the world has seen the positive side of connectivity in the shape of the CPEC project between China and Pakistan. The CPEC will play an instrumental role in stimulating trading activities at the national level as well as at the regional level. It is evident that the construction of a deep sea port in Gwader and introduction of business friendly policies by Pakistan for the renewal of the shipping industry and exploitation of offshore resources are the first few steps in the long journey of economic prosperity in the country and region. However, stimulating seaward trading activities always bring some challenges including internal and external strategic competition among various national and regional ports, piracy, drug trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling etc.

There is the view that the construction of the CPEC will place Gwadar on the matrix of intense geo-strategic competition at the regional level. Gwadar will also put China and Pakistan in a strategically advantageous position along the Arabian Sea compounding already existing Indian concerns that stem from China’s involvement in nearby ports such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Sittwe in Myanmar and Chittagong in Bangladesh. On the other hand, as India is also energy hungry, it looks forward to developing Iran’s Chabahar Port. In October 2014, Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s cabinet decided to develop the Chabahar Port, which many believe is central for India to open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan, where it has developed close security ties and economic interests. This proxy competition of two major players in the region (China and India) has offered vast economic benefits for the people of Iran and Pakistan. On the other hand, this competition could stimulate competition between Pakistan and Iran.

It is evident that Pakistan has the required capacity and security infrastructure to deal with potential threats to the CPEC project and seaward economic activities. Criminal activities related to maritime trade, including piracy, drug trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling etc. could be controlled through a strict security structure. In this regard, Pakistan has a huge security and law enforcement infrastructure comprising military and paramilitary, including the Rangers and Frontier Corps, local police forces such as the Khasadar force in FATA and Levies force in Balochistan. The Pakistan navy is capable of handling any seaward challenge. More than 400 marines of the Pakistan navy’s Third Marines Battalion (TMB) are providing security round the clock to Gwadar Port. Recently, the Pakistan navy has also decided to deploy two more marine battalions to enhance further security at Gwadar Port. Additionally, Pakistan has strong professional intelligence agencies. In the future, Chinese cooperation, sufficient resources and advanced equipment for security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will further deter any criminal or terrorist activities aimed at the CPEC.

What are the possible and practical options for the government of Pakistan in this geo-strategic maritime security apparatus? Due to Pakistan’s geography and the geo-political location in the region, Pakistan is depending heavily on the sea for its existence. Therefore, a strong navy equipped with modern technology is required to sustain the flow of trading activities in peace and war times. Though the Pakistan navy is capable of handling any security challenge in the Arabian Sea the government needs to convince China to harbour a fleet at Gwadar Port in order to cope with any kind of piracy activity in the sea.

Drug trafficking, human smuggling and other related criminal activities are also expected other than trade activities. Therefore, the government should establish appropriate security and intelligence infrastructure along with other development activities. Moreover, Pakistan must amend its Customs Act 1969, otherwise trading activities will remain low as compared to the desires of the government and society. The government should establish a Marine Academy in Gwadar. Admissions of Baloch students should have priority in the academy in order to increase the stakes of the local population. Pakistan has long neglected two of its most resource rich areas, i.e. Balochistan and the sea. Gwadar is an opportunity for Pakistan to undo its past mistakes and revive both these areas. Revitalisation of these two areas could turn the fortunes of the people of Pakistan and transform the country into a developed and prosperous economy.

Courtesy: Daily Times  

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