The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has great potential to transform Pakistan into a trade hub, which would definitely evoke some sentiment in our enemies, particularly India, to halt it.
Indian analysts have long been focusing on two important political and military ideas. One is that whoever controls the Indian Ocean also controls Asia, and the second is that extra-regional powers should be kept out as they called this India’s ocean because it lies in its backyard.
This strategic thinking is obviously challenging, especially for Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s Navy has since implemented plans such as its Special Task Force-88. As maritime traffic through Gwadar Port is expected to increase exponentially, eventually the success of CPEC depends upon maritime security.
A multifaceted approach is needed to meet all the security challenges by beefing up the security of Gwadar Port, directing security guards, coastal exercises and increasing maritime domain awareness in the region by engaging law enforcement agencies.
In addition to the challenges posed by India’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean, there are other challenges such as human trafficking and piracy. Therefore Pakistan’s Navy is working on three main areas: Gwadar Port security, vessel security and the security of sea lanes. To get all these objectives and for the efficient working of CPEC, Pakistan is expected to develop its own maritime security doctrine.
Initially India was the only country overtly opposing CPEC, but recently the U.S. started backing India, noting that CPEC passes through a disputed area. This is a new challenge ahead of this mega project.
The deliberations behind this opposition are aimed at pursuing its own hegemonic aspirations in the whole region of South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Additionally, India perceives this development as threat to its competing interests in Central Asia as it reaches out to Afghanistan and Central Asia through the Chabahar Port, which provides India a channel for easy access to Iran and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the U.S. is quite apprehensive of China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. Through the development of Gwadar Port and their mutual cooperation, Pakistan and China will be able to monitor Indo-U.S. maritime activities in the Indian Ocean. Hence, to secure the sea lanes across the Indian Ocean, the Pakistan Navy has to acquire more patrol ships and fast interceptor crafts at any cost.
It is pertinent that maritime security is linked with economic development. Throughout history, maritime trade has remained economically vital because the majority of trade was done through the world’s seas, and fisheries have been a significant industry. Global shipping and fisheries have developed into multi-billion industries. The commercial aspect of this development brings in more revenue because of offshore resources and coastal tourism.
The development of Gwadar Port under the CPEC project will bring new hopes for economic and trade growth. Therefore to secure this project, Pakistan has taken many steps to enhance maritime governance with the cooperation of China.
During mid-February, Pakistan conducted multinational naval exercise in Karachi and the northern Arabian Sea. Military vessels, aircraft and special marine force teams from 37 countries joined the five-day exercise. Pakistan has suffered a lot during the War on Terror, and since then, it has faced many limitations in foreign aid. This CPEC-Gwadar Port joint venture not only raised Pakistan’s image in the international community in the form of investments but also made it the center of debate on many international forums. A new architecture of economic development has been emerging.
Simultaneously it has many challenges, including rising radicalization, terrorism, ethno-nationalism and poverty. China’s aspirations for the development of its regional neighbors through modern infrastructure and economic development can meet all of these challenges.
Finally, the issues of transnational crimes such as maritime terrorism, piracy, human trafficking and cyber-related crimes in and around the Indian Ocean would disrupt international commercial activities, which could lead to economic collapse adversely affecting Pakistan and other stakeholders. Therefore, countering these problems has become one of the priorities for Pakistan by strengthening its maritime security governance. It is vital, if we look at this through the prism of regionalism, a critical security studies approach and constructivism.
Strengthening maritime security governance remains significant for both onshore and offshore maritime activities. Onshore activities are related to the physical infrastructure of the port and its surroundings, and offshore relate to all activities in the waters. International legal frameworks under UNCLOS, international maritime organizations and world customs organizations would allow collective security measures to strengthen by implementing and enforcing relevant laws, regulations and procedures for security, safety and efficient response in times of crisis.
Writer Asia Maqsood is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Islamabad. She can be reached at [email protected].