The Britishers started their conquest of the Indian sub-continent with a footprint that was essentially trading interests and followed by a small military force primarily for protecting its growing assets. Over the years, both trade and military expanded to engulf an entire sub-continent. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor holds out the promise of a similar progression. For India, and when Gwadar Port is taken into account, the whole region is faced with a shift in the security paradigms. Lt Gen Rameshwar Yadav analyses the issues involved and attempts a few answers.
CHINA PAKISTAN ECONOMIC CORRIDOR AND GWADAR PORT
A NEW SECURITY STRATEGIC PARADIGM
The ancient Maluha (Indus Valley) has been an area of interest for extra regional forces all through its history for its geostrategic location and economic potential. The Islamic raiders launched number of incursions around tenth century onwards from the Western flank of this region to plunder the riches and go back. However, realising the deep set rivalries, fragmented polity and weak governance, they became rulers through political manipulations and military interventions. They were removed from power much later by the British in the cusp of eighteenth century who made inroads from East for the same old politico-economic reasons, backed by military forces. In the present day context, China has also made inroads from North, driven primarily by a military component, with economic gains in their mind.
A politically unstable, economically beleaguered and militarily ambitious Pakistan has chosen to go along with China in its project: China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a mechanism to take care of their military and economic insecurities. The project has created new leverages in contemporary strategic environment, both for Pakistan as a host, and China as the executor. As far as China is concerned it is a win-win situation for them in their strategic game plan with a willing ally to fall in line with their design of politico-economic expansion. Indeed it is a master stroke for both China as well as Pakistan.
The CPEC, primarily a Chinese concept has taken shape with full support of Pakistan including security cover by Pakistan Army to the Chinese workers in troubled areas where the population is not in sync with the Pakistani government for political as well as economic reasons. The road alignment passes through Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir which is an outright defiance of international laws and protocols, both by Pakistan and China. Gwadar port has already been inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan in the presence of Pak Army Chief along with Chinese big wigs. The first shipping consignment has been dispatched indicating success of the project as an economic milestone. The proposed Chinese naval presence including submarines, along with Pakistan Navy assets for protection of the Gwadar Port, as reported by the media, has not gone unnoticed by the strategic community as it has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the global security matrix.
Gwadar Port, besides its commercial potential, is geographically an anchor for military intervention in the gulf region as well as the Indian Ocean. Moreover, it provides a much shorter route to the Mediterranean Sea which lies at the junction of three continents and provides access to the Atlantic Ocean. It provides a strategic advantage of high political value to China. The proposed Chinese naval presence at Gwadar, when seen along with their naval signatures in Srilanka, Myanmar, Somalia and Maldives are indicative of their intentions to dominate the Arabian Sea – Indian Ocean through military means. The Chinese proverbial cliché remains, ‘Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean’. It is further hyphenated by their aggressive military posture in South China Sea despite rejection of their territorial claims by an international tribunal. Therefore, the intentions and patterns are quite clear with Gwadar being yet another pearl in their ‘string of pearls in the Indian Ocean’.
The CPEC terminating at Gwadar is approximately a 2000 km shorter route from Chinese mainland which facilitates reduction in costs of imports/exports. It lies in proximity to their energy supply region and traditional markets of West Asia, Africa. It also provides an option to avoid bottlenecks and concomitant security concerns to their sea lanes through South East Asia and Indian Ocean.
CPEC is a game changer for China whose economic centre of gravity lies in its capacities in terms of industrial production and competitiveness in terms of costs across the world. The overt expansion of military signatures in South China Sea and Indian Ocean are expressions of their political will to maintain, sustain and enhance their national interests at all costs. India is directly affected by this aggressive Chinese approach. It amounts to an encirclement by the Chinese.
By facilitating CPEC and endorsing Chinese military presence, Pakistan has engineered another dimension to their military deterrence against India, besides its well integrated sub conventional, conventional and nuclear forces in an operational escalatory matrix. To counter these, India has a standalone conventional and nuclear deterrence to handle a combination of multi sectoral Chinese and Pakistani threat, post availability of another road axis to China through Pakistan. Moreover, the Indian leverage against China in Indian Ocean would certainly get diluted with its naval presence in Gwadar. It may affect the Indian advantage of addressing vulnerable Pakistani southern flank which has the potential to dislocate Pakistani forces in certain military contingencies.
In consequence, one can expect Pakistan to continue being belligerent in her approach towards India and indulge in politico-military adventurism with their new found economic buoyancy as also apparent enhanced Chinese military back up. The continued Pakistani indulgences in the recent terror attacks in Indian hinterland by their sponsored non state actors with impunity are manifestations of this new found political brinkmanship.
Notwithstanding the above analysis, the factual position in the Chinese stance would emerge in times to come as they have economic objectives uppermost on their mind; unlike Pakistan who work with a military mindset due to their Kashmir obsession and a deep rooted emotional quotient associated with their 1971 defeat. China cannot ignore and antagonise India beyond a point from the economic perspective, being one of the largest and geographically most proximate markets. Moreover, despite all the military signatures, they possibly cannot match the military advantage of Indian armed forces over land, air and sea in the Indian Ocean region. Besides, the increase in Indian operational capabilities, including a Strike Corps on its Northern borders, should make China sensible enough not to escalate the threat paradigm against India. It certainly cannot do another 1962 to India and knows it reasonably well.
While Pakistan is entitled to safe guard its national interests, India has similar options to enhance its strategic countervailing through appropriate politico-military alliances. The advantage India has lies in her intrinsic capabilities to take care of her national interests with her stable polity, sound economy and a strong industrial base. Whereas Pakistan has to depend on external alliances due to political instability, weak economy and insecure social environment. In fact, there are signs of political delineation amongst some of their regions that already finds manifestation through disturbance of public order. These ground realities are manifesting in the form of resistance to CPEC in Northern areas and Baluchistan which has forced Pakistan Army to provide protection to the Chinese work force. In the given circumstances, the Chinese authorities are obviously apprehensive of Pakistani security assurances, hence they probably want their own forces included in the security mechanism of Gwadar port at the tactical level. This may well be an excuse to initially make inroads into Pakistani maritime domain and subsequently enlarge it to a full fledged Chinese naval base at a vantage point in the Arabian Sea.
The CPEC may suit Pakistan in immediate terms, but then permitting an aggressive emerging superpower to occupy their economic and military space may also intrude into their political space. Perhaps, Pakistan did not have a better option keeping in balance the dilution in patronage by a western world with its own drawdown from the Asian landscape, and ever-increasing self-created internal and external security problems adding to the woes precipitated only further by an economic decline. This perhaps, prompted them to accept the Chinese offer to fill up the strategic space which has promise of bailing them out of the present economic mess and also add to their military deterrence.
There are fair chances of Pakistan becoming politically subservient to China like India was usurped by the British East India Company who entered Bengal as innocent and innocuous traders. They brought along with them a small military contingent to safeguard their trading interests which later became a tool to conquer the entire sub-continent. The pattern seems to be similar in the context of the current China-Pakistan politico-military equation. While physical occupation is unlikely, but political interference on matters concerning Chinese interests cannot be ruled out as China is here to stay and that too on its own terms. It would have been a different ball game, had Pakistan developed the communication network and Gwadar port on its own and then permitted China, like any other country in the region, to utilise the port facilities. While all details of Pakistan-China agreement on CPEC are not known, it is fair to assume that these would have a tilt in favour of the Chinese. They have invested not only the money but also their politico- military repute, with a long term strategic perspective both in the region as well as globally.
It is appreciated that the emerging politico- military confluence between China and Pakistan over our land and maritime space has the potential to manifest into military overtures as both harbour ambitions to humiliate India. Militarily, what needs our immediate attention is the dual threat to Ladakh region from China as well as Pakistan. While China may be interested in direct connectivity of TAR with CPEC, Pakistan would like to control waters of Indus River, besides opening up the Northern approach to roll down into Kashmir valley as they had attempted during the Kargil misadventure. China is known to occupy the foreign lands for their strategic purposes. Occupation of Aksai Chin in 1962 for linking Xinxiang with TAR, and now constructing CPEC through disputed areas of Jammu and Kashmir in connivance with Pakistan are the examples in this regard. Therefore, it is necessary to transform our threat oriented defensive military doctrines to offensive capability based forces especially against China in hill sectors and high seas to create appropriate political leverages and military deterrence.
India needs to take note of this new strategic dynamics in her security matrix and initiate measures to neutralise the emerging negativities by upgrading military capabilities. Aggressive diplomacy to forge appropriate alliances with US, Russia and EU need to be pursued to take care of Chinese footprints in the Indian Ocean Region. Military diplomacy may be taken to the next level to convey requisite messages to inimical forces as regards operational preparedness to take on envisaged emerging security challenge. The nuclear capability has tremendous deterrence potential which needs to be re-calibrated appropriately in the changed strategic environment for the right effects. However, the economic leverages of India with appropriate diplomatic push should continue to be the main stay of Indian approach to maintain her strategic balance albeit with a stronger military back up.
Lt Gen Rameshwar Yadav (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)