Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pakistan, the New Silk Road, and the Sea

The CPEC is not without controversy. There has been considerable political debate between the Provinces and the Federal Government about the routes, actual benefits to Pakistan, jobs for Pakistanis, and the transparency of the deal with  China. This is hardly surprising. This is the biggest project to come to Pakistan and every province wants the best deal for itself. However, in the end, it is what will bring the  best overall outcomes for the nation that matters. China, as the investor, is also entitled to negotiate the best deal based on their needs. Debate is healthy, but it should be productive, not destructive, and seek to achieve fair outcomes for all of Pakistan as well as the investor and partner in the project, China. Otherwise, this huge investment will be ineffective and aspects of it may even fade away. This would be a great loss of an outstanding economic long-term opportunity for Pakistan.

Security has been a major topic of concern. A special security force has been tasked to protect the Chinese contractors and the infrastructure during construction and beyond. But, while there has been considerable focus on the security of the land components, the maritime security aspects have received much less attention, at least by the media and the public. The whole point of CPEC is to open up shorter shipping routes to and from Europe and other markets for China's inland provinces. Without enhanced security of the main ports and Pakistan's territorial waters, the project will be at risk. The security of the port, and territorial waters of Pakistan through which ships to and from Gwadar and Karachi must sail, is paramount  to the future viability of this trade route.

'Sea blindness' seems to be an issue here. The 1,000km coastline, extending from Iran in the west, and India to the east, already presents Pakistan with a number of security challenges though there is no doubt that the Pakistan Navy is capable of addressing these. But the CPEC will bring new considerations, which must be factored in. However, while the nation is highly supportive and aware of the Army's important role in the security of the country, few seem to give much thought to that of the Navy. Somehow, the wider population seems to be blind to the threats that come from the sea, perhaps because it does not resonate with our daily lives in the way the possibility of a terror attack in our cities does. The risks are real and there is no room for such blindness. The Indian Navy, for example, is building up its Navy  with new warships, nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier. Compare this to the Pakistan Navy and it is easy to understand the increasing imbalance in maritime deterrence. While talks between Pakistan and India are on the cards in  the hope of reducing the bilateral threats, we cannot know what the future will hold. History tells us to be wary.

No comments: