Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sino-Pak Nexus At Sea: Unequal,Uncertain Relationship

“Strategic thinkers” in Pakistan are flaunting the development of Pakistan Navy and the Gwadar port as essentials to maintain the ‘balance of power’ in the Indian Ocean Region. Numerous confusing arguments justifying the encroachment of Chinese naval power in the region and the role of Pakistan Navy in providing protection to China’s economic and political ambitions in the waters of the Indian Ocean have been forwarded.

These assertions are flawed and need to be placed in the appropriate historical, geo-political and contemporary context to expose their hollowness. The premise that the raison d’être of Pakistan Navy’s future role is the ‘equalisation of Sino-Indian rivalry’ in the Indian Ocean. Concerns over China’s revisionism and revanchist policies are now nearly universal. Therefore, the power contestation in the Indian Ocean between maritime powers like India and expansionist ones like China is neither new nor unexpected.

The bias against India and United States, in favour of China, is yet another manifestation of the Pakistani mind-set to project their country as a ‘mercenary service provider’ to a larger power. This trend has been witnessed through the entire post-colonial history of the Indian sub-continent.

It is important to recollect this history. Today, emboldened by Chinese political and economic support, Pakistan finds itself in throes of a simmering political crisis in Balochistan. The port of Gwadar, which is located in the restive province, is being touted as the ‘game changer’ in Pakistan’s quest to challenge India’s maritime resurgence in the region. In many ways, the development of Gwadar as a commercial and military port is a prominent manifestation of all that is wrong with Pakistan’s domestic and regional policies.

Rawalpindi has displayed historical tendency of seeking short-term gains by ignoring the aspirations of local people and instead preferring to please an external strategic benefactor for maintaining the military’s primacy in Pakistan’s internal affairs. However, with the example of Djibouti, where China steadily converted an ostentatious commercial facility into a fully developed military base, the winds of reality are blowing in the face of Pakistan in Gwadar. The limits of much touted ‘higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Seas’ relationship between Pakistan and China are now beginning to become apparent in the context of Gwadar.

Assessment reveals that using Gwadar as bait to entice China to invest in Pakistan may actually amount to strategic short-sightedness on the part of Islamabad. No amount of impressive infrastructure and modern construction can erase the struggle of the people of Balochistan for determining their rightful destiny and overcoming the repressive military crackdown, evidenced through forced disappearances and targeted killing of activists by Pakistan’s military intelligence.

Chinese military presence at Gwadar will present the powers in the Persian Gulf region with a serious challenge to their military advantage in the critical choke points in the Northern Indian Ocean. Therefore, be in the internal context or external, development of Gwadar as a quasi-Chinese facility is bound to present Pakistan with a complicated strategic situation.

Pakistan’s economic situation is grave due to its policies that support terrorism. The recent rebuff received from Saudi Arabia has sent alarm bells ringing in Islamabad about the path chosen by its leaders, which threatens Pakistan’s standing in the Organisation of Islamic Council.

Unmindful of the needs of developmental expenditure on health, education, etc. in the civilian sector, the Pakistan military has persisted with its high capital as well as revenue expenditure, importing most of its hardware from China. The Pakistan Navy has been an integral part of the profligate empire of expenditure, seeking to shop for expensive hardware in Europe and China.

There is a sense of insecurity in Pakistan’s maritime thinkers about India’s maritime resurgence. India’s vision for the Indian Ocean Region is inclusive and assimilative, as reflected in its’ SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy. India’s desire to emerge as a preferred security partner of regional littorals is an egalitarian one, rooted in the concept of mutual respect and common benefit. India’s policies are neither extractive, not exploitative, like China’s. The term ‘net security provider’ is not an Indian invention, and has been used by professional global observers in India’s context.

Pakistan should realize that its interest lies in seeking a fair and non-confrontational modus vivendi in the Indian Ocean Region, without allowing itself to be exploited by China as a strategic appendage of the Chinese Communist Party.

Script: Sumit Kumar  Singh, Assistant Editor, Indo Asian News Service

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