Intro: With Gwadar port operationalistaion, the time for procrastination is over and the need to redraw maritime strategy in concert with the US is more urgent for India.
A passive attitude of the UPA government towards a matter of national security is now coming back to haunt the NDA government. The Gwadar port in the restive Province of Balochistan in Pakistan, whose operational control was handed over by the country to the Chinese on February, 18, 2013, is now in a state of readiness and will be operational by the end of April, 2015.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan on April 20, his first trip to the South Asian country since he assumed presidency in 2013, high on his agenda would be talks over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is planned to connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the south-western Pakistani port of Gwadar, Xinhua reported.
At the time the unholy deal was being chalked out between China and Pakistan, the UPA government did not react beyond merely expressing “concern.” In fact, the UPA Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, at one stage advocated against “overreaction” by India and the need to maintain the “delicate balance in the entire region.”
This posture was adopted by India despite the fact that the project envisaged use of the Indian territories of Gilgit-Baltistan that are under forcible occupation of Pakistan. In a blatant disregard for international norms and against the wishes of the subjugated people, these territories are being illegally ceded to China by Pakistan for creation of infrastructure to sustain the project. India had every right to take a legal and moral stand but failed to do so.
Why Gwadar is important?
Gwadar gains importance due to its strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. This strategic location affords for it access to almost two third of the world’s oil reserves and naturally comes as a great boon to energy starved China. In one master stroke China has reduced for itself the importance of the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea and added the most important link to its “string of pearls” around India.
Gwadar is expected to have the capability of handling up to 19 million tons of crude oil per year which will be refined at the port itself and then sent to China through the Gwadar-Kashgar pipeline that is on the drawing board. Thus, China is poised to leverage the Gwadar Port for connecting with the Central Asian Republics, Russia and the Middle East.
China is ready to invest a massive sum of nearly 12 Billion USD to build a CPEC for this purpose. In addition China has committed to many more subsidiary projects like two nuclear power reactors in Karachi, an international airport at Gwadar and overland high speed fibre optic link to Rawalpindi to name a few.
So far as Pakistan is concerned the operationalisation of Gwadar Port will greatly enhance its port and trade capability. Its existing two ports at Karachi and Qasim are reaching to the peak of their capacity and with this new addition it will be able to meet the growing domestic demand. It will also be in a position to expand operations for land locked Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan in addition to China.
The project, however, has many problems. The envisaged connectivity to Kashgar will take a long time to come by and in the interim the Karakoram highway will remain the only link. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have, since long, been demonstrating against the Karakoram highway which they say is the source of drug proliferation and other such crimes in the region. The infrastructure that is to be built will also pass through Gilgit-Baltistan. It is widely believed that the profits will accrue only to the ruling Punjabi elite and Balochistan will be left with no benefits whatsoever.
The Government of India will now have to get into damage control mode. So long as the port is used for economic activity that benefits the people of Pakistan, especially Balochistan, the situation would be acceptable to India. If, however, China tends to utilise the development to increase its maritime presence in the region or join up with Pakistan to foster maritime hegemony in the Arabian Sea, then appropriate counter measure will have to be taken by India in concert with other global powers like the US.
Jaibans Singh (The writer is a Defence analyst.)