Hostile designs on Gwadar Port
Ali Abbas Rizvi
The friendship between Pakistan and China dates more than five decades, is time tested and has survived all regional and international intricacies and complexities. The strong bonds between the two countries will continue to exist no matter how the new regional Great Game shape. With this solid background in relations, President Xi Jinping has set up the first flagship project of China in Pakistan i.e. One Belt and One Road initiative, which is the US$46 billion dollars China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
However, the project is seeing intense opposition, especially by India with the Indian media and establishment greatly vocal in this regard. For example, MK Narayanan, a former Indian National Security Adviser, has claimed that CPEC poses a "major threat" to India. Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh recently stated that CPEC will extend "through a territory which belongs to India". It is being claimed that once the Chinese cargo ships come in Gwadar, the Chinese Navy will enter the Indian Ocean on the pretext of giving protection to their ships, which will hurt India’s security interests. It is also said that the project should be abandoned because the “Gwadar Port and Silk Route expose the irrelevancy of India as a nation in the world geopolitics, geo-economics and maritime at least in this century and most likely the next.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited Iran and signed an agreement to develop the Chabahar Port, which is being termed by the Indians as a rival to the Gwadar Port. It is said that if materialized, Chabahar would become a gateway for Indian goods into the Central Asia, especially Afghanistan notwithstanding the security situation in the country.
Nevertheless, it is projected that the Indian gamble at Chabahar will not be successful because the Gwadar Port provides a much easier access for both Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries. Also, the US has not lifted sanctions on Iran completely and there is still significant tension between the two countries, could compound India’s problems in future.
Interestingly, US author and South Asia expert Adam V Larkey commented on the development: "The massive Gwadar project reveals China's regional power play. There is no comparison in scale and intent between China’s role in Gwadar and India’s in Chabahar, but the Americans are pleased that India is pushing back against the Chinese expansionist mindset.”
He added: "The transport corridor will open up a much-needed independent route to Afghanistan via Iran's Chabahar Port circumventing Pakistan. This is significant for India and Afghanistan, whose economic stability in turn, is important to the United States. There are fissures in Pakistan’s relations with the US and Afghanistan, while its ties with old friend China remain rock solid." It has also been claimed that Gwadar will give China “a firm and reliable long-term beachhead in the Indian Ocean and close to the Persian Gulf, effectively making it a two-ocean power.”
As it is, the Gwadar Port will reduce the sea distance to China’s regional partners to around 2,500 kms instead of 10,000 km through the South China Sea, Pacific Rim, the Strait of Malacca and Sri Lanka, thereby helping it save billions of dollars and emerging as a greater economic power in the long run. The project also entails immense trade and commercial gains for Pakistan.
One hopes that while dealing with the Chabahar issue, Iran will look through the Indian designs for the region and remember New Delhi’s belligerence towards it in the past.