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جمعہ، 8 فروری، 2013

Gwadar: Red Dragon in Strait of Hormuz

INDIAN defence minister Wednesday expressed New Delhi’s concern over Pakistan’s decision to transfer management of the strategically located Gwadar deep-sea port to China. China, as a true friend had provided most of the funding and built the facility to help Pakistan meet its needs as the two ports in Karachi were insufficient to handle increasing volume of cargo.

As anticipated, India has shown its concern over Pakistan’s handing over the control of Gwadar Port to China, Indian Defence Minister A. K Anthony has termed it a matter of serious concern to New Delhi saying that Gwadar port is situated at a strategic location on the Arabian Sea and the mouth of the Persian Gulf and is only about 400kms away from the Strait of Hormuz, a key global oil supply route. Pakistan has recently signed an agreement to transfer operational control of the Gwadar port from Singapore’s PSA International to Chinese Overseas Port Holdings. A former Indian Additional Secretary and head of Centre for Air Power Studies has opined that it would enable Chine to deploy military capability in the region and enter the Arabian Sea and the Gulf.

The operations of the port were given to a Singapore company but it failed to fully operationalize it for unknown reasons. There was no alternative left to Pakistan but to give the contract to some sound parties and the Federal Cabinet took a far reaching decision to give the operations of the port to a Chinese Company. India has been aspiring to become a major naval power in the region and the comments by its Defence Minister is yet another evidence that New Delhi is having an eye on Gwadar Port in view of its strategic location. Already there are confirmed reports that Indian agencies are behind the acts of terrorism in Balochistan to destabilize it for the attainment of its long-term objectives. Another reason is that India feels threatened by Gwadar as fully operationalization of the port and associated developments will help increase the influence and significance of Pakistan. It also realizes that the use of Gwadar port by land locked Central Asian Republics (CARs), Afghanistan and China would make them more dependent on Pakistan and that would have obvious benefits to the country as it will become an important player in the region. Though a stronger Pakistan with higher stature in the international world is not welcomed by India yet we would advise the Indian leadership to avoid such comments as the handing over of the Gwadar port to China or any other country is an internal matter of Pakistan. 

China gains strategic access to the Persian Gulf: the port is just 180 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz through which 40% of all globally traded oil is shipped.

This enables China to diversify and secure its crude oil import routes and provides the landlocked and oil- and natural gas-rich Xinjiang province with access to the Arabian Sea. With China formally in command of Gwadar port operations, it would, along with Pakistan, gain an important regional and strategic advantage.

Gwadar port being so close to the Straist of Hormuz also has implications for India it would enable Pakistan to exercise control over energy routes. It is believed that Gwadar will provide Beijing with a facility to monitor US and Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and Arbian Sea, respectively, as well as any future maritime cooperation between India and the US.

Gwadar, with its proximity to the vital sea lane between the Middle East and China, has strategic importance for China, especially for oil trade. If China wants to emancipate itself from transportation or military problems along Asia’s southern coastline, direct access to the Indian Ocean may be the solution. Direct access to the India Ocean would give China a strategic post of observation and a key location for its navy. While Myanmar and Sri Lanka can offer substantial support, the country that can best help Beijing is Pakistan because of its location and long-time friendship.

New Delhi was also uneasy when China built ports in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Chittagong (Bangladesh) but it rates Gwadar as a more serious development. The Chinese Foreign Office has issued a statement defending Beijing’s decision to take over the port operation as part of the continued cooperation between the two countries. Islamabad is justified in asserting that it is within its right to award the operation to China. The Indian fears are based on a wrong premise.


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