By:Baber Ali Bhatti
CPEC is one of the biggest projects undertaken in the region. 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 provide tremendous support to the economy of Pakistan. With these benefits, this project also invites multitudes of challenges to ensure its security. Gawadar port is the major component of this project which brings this project under maritime domain.
Gawadar port located at Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean which is home to multiple conventional and non-conventional security threats emanating from state and non-state actors. Increased Chinese interests and presence in the region, Indo-Iran and Indo-Gulf cooperation, emerging Indo-U.S. strategic partnership and increasing Indian ambitions have made the Indian Ocean home to different threats and challenges. With changing dynamics of security in the Indian Ocean, non-conventional threats are also posing challenges to security. Specter of non-conventional threats is much wider and intertwined with conventional means such as climate change, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, illegal immigration, smuggling of arms and drugs, piracy and maritime terrorism. Besides non-conventional threats, conventional security and defending more than a thousand kilometer coastline is itself a bigger challenge. Pakistan’s navy is safeguarding the interests and addressing the challenges emanating from the maritime dimension of CPEC.
This article succinctly provides overview of the security projects, and initiatives undertaken by Pakistan navy to ensure the security of CPEC and Gawadar Port. Pakistan navy 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.
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. 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. 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. Pakistan Navy is regularly collaborating with navies of different countries and engaging in various different activities including joining multinational task forces to advance interoperability and handle maritime crimes. Pakistan Navy is playing a pivotal role in the security and protection of this project. Seemingly, the initiatives taken and strategies opted by the Navy 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.
-The writer is Research Fellow at Maritime Study Forum and an Advocate of Islamabad High Court.