ASIAOPINIONPOLITICS

Port of Gwadar and geopolitics of great powers

By Zahid Khan

Strategically, Gwadar port’s location is an enticement to the regional and global powers which have interest in the South, Central and West Asia. It is the third deep sea port in Pakistan after Karachi and Port Qasim. It is located on the western end of Baluchistan’s coastline and has 600 km long coastal belt with beaches and bays. It is situated at the junction of international sea shipping and oil trade routes. Gwadar can act as an international trade hub for Pakistan. It lies at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and its northern areas’ junctions to the Chinese north-west province of Xinjiang.[1] Certainly, Gwadar has become a strategic periphery in the contemporary world. Moreover, Gwadar sea-port is connected to the Strait of Hormuz via Arabian sea from where more than 17 million barrels of oil passes every day. It‘s ideal location among the three key regions, South Asia, the oil rich Persian Gulf, oil and gas-resourceful Central Asia has further increased its strategic significance. Its development has shifted the New Great Game of Central Asia towards Pakistan because Gwadar would be the junction to connect the landlocked Central Asia and rest of the world.[2]

According to the Lawrence Ziring and J. Henry Korson, Pakistan lacks ports for shipping and maritime security. Gwadar, a harbor of deep warm-water is an ideal location having access to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. We recall what Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said after 1971: ―The severance of the country‘s eastern limb by force has significantly altered its geographic focus. This will naturally affect Pakistan‘s geopolitical perspective. In the new geopolitical prospect, the country‘s interests are within the extent of South and Western Asia. It is here that our pre-eminent concern must henceforth lie. Bhutto proposed a revised geopolitical perspective that placed Baluchistan along the Middle East and Persian Gulf.[3]

Harry Hodson, had described the Gulf region as a borderland where great interests meet and clash. The area of overlap, he mentioned, stretched in a rough arc from Baluchistan to North West Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Afghanistan and Iran. This curve embraced the Gulf region as closely and as neatly as the Turkish crescent embraces the star. For Hodson, this was the Arc of Danger.[4]

US Undersecretary of State James Buckley referred to Pakistan in a Senate testimony as an essential anchor of the entire South-west Asian region. The US analysts considered the denial of Baluchistan to the Soviets and mulled over the province‘s potential usefulness for US strategic interests. In 1980 US Admiral Thomas Moore called for the establishment of a naval base at Gwadar and referred to Gwadar as an excellent and potential naval facility. Another American Admiral Alvin J. Cottrell also argued that the Gwadar harbor will be much better suited topographically and financially to be a naval base than other possibilities in the vicinity of the Gulf of Oman.[5]

Mahnaz Z. Ispahani wrote in her book “Roads and Rivals” that ―the Francis Fukuyama warning against Soviet designs advised the US to review its relations with Pakistan since its geopolitical position will provide good advantages to the US because its territory could serve as an important entrepot for an RDF moving into the Persian Gulf from the east or from Diego Garcia or the Philippines. Pakistan owes its geopolitical importance largely due to the routes of Baluchistan.[6]

Robert F. Dernberger, Reagan administration provided significant financial assistance for Baluchistan to reduce its vulnerability concerning the security of the Persian Gulf. In 1985 USAID spent around $40 million on a road project linking Bela to Turbat and also linked to Gwadar. During 1986-87, the US provided substantial aid to Pakistan in which the largest amount was given for the economic and communication development of Baluchistan. It is undeniable that the US-Soviet competition in Baluchistan has brought the old Makrani fishing town of Gwadar to prominence. Gwadar might be remote from the centres of strategic and political discourse but its fate became their intimate concern. In addition to Gwadar‘s strategic significance in relation to the defence of the Persian Gulf, the area is in a commanding position in the contemporary world politics. The growing Chinese stake in the province has created anxiety among various players of geopolitics in the region.[7]

Umme-Habiba had prescribed, ―Since the end of the Cold War, the strategic planners in Washington have their eyes on Baluchistan to advance their regional and global agenda. United States, China, Iran and India are currently the major players in the global energy game. The deep-sea port at Gwadar and future plans for important cross-national oil pipelines further enhance the region‘s strategic value. Certainly, Gwadar‘s location provides China an alternate to Strait of Hormuz and strait of Malacca. The use of Gwadar and Makran Coast has many strategic advantages for all concerned powers because the access to the coast can serve purposes beyond the exercise of influence in the area.[8]

The Indo-US combine perceive Chinese presence at Gwadar to have obvious strategic implications for events in the Persian Gulf and Iran. Although China claims that its interest in Gwadar is mainly economic and not potentially strategic other actors believe that China‘s extension to Gwadar may quite plausibly have been motivated by commercial goals but routes can serve dual purposes and it can be military objectives also. The US administration which does not feel comfortable with Sino-Pakistan close ties shares Indian anxieties about Gwadar.[9]

Chinese involvement in Gwadar is perceived as a threat to the US influence in the region. India watches Gwadar obliquely as it hinders its influence in Iran and Afghanistan. The quest for energy security has made India and China competitors in the global energy game. India is rated as the world‘s number six energy consumer. As a competitor of China, India is engaged in developing Chahbahar port in Iran that also provides it access to the landlocked countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan, by passing the Pakistani territory. As a matter of fact, India is seeing Chahbahar as its main entrepot for energy and commercial trade with Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caspian region. So, with Beijing involvement in Gwadar and New Delhi in Chahbahar, the two ports are likely to emerge as strategic competitors‘ in the region with reference to Indo-US nexus in Afghanistan.[10]

Many US lawmakers have highlighted the geo-strategic and geopolitical significance of Baluchistan and in different times they have presented the idea of Independent Baluchistan that can serve US‘ geopolitical and geostrategic interests. For instance, Selig Harrison, urged the US administration in 2011 to create an independent Baluchistan.[11]

On the lines US military analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peter‘s has presented the idea of revision of boundaries between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan as per demand of locals‘, in his article “Blood Borders” and marked that these countries are unnatural and demarcation would be better for US long-term interests. The meddling of foreign agencies including RAW and Mosad in Baluchistan looks justified‘ to them as Selig Harrison stated that ―to counter what China is doing in Pakistan, the United States should play hardball by supporting the movement for an independent Baluchistan along the Arabian Sea and working with Baloch insurgents to oust the Chinese from their budding naval base at Gwadar. In this regard, India is also directly involved in attempts to destabilize Baluchistan region.[12]

Hardliner Indian security analyst Amarjit Singh said, a weak Pakistan would enable India to pay full attention on the China front because it is abstruse for us to come out from the tragedy of 1962 Sino-India war. On the other hand Washington might support the creation of an Independent Baluchistan to weaken Islamabad-Tehran relationship.[13]

Harrison said, an independent Baluchistan, under the influence of the US would significantly enable them to counterbalance Iranian domination in the Persian Gulf. This will also enable the US to have continuous energy supply via the Persian Gulf beside helping it monitor the coastal areas of Iran.[14]

References

  1. Syed Fazl-e-Haider, Economic development of Balochistan: potential, constraint, issues & suggestions., the University of Michigan, 2004, pp. 41-45.
  2. Suresh R, Maritime Security of India: The Coastal Security Challenges and Policy Options, Vijy Books India Pvt Ltd, 2014, pp. 95-99.
  3. Lawrence Ziring, Bhutto‘s Foreign Policy 1972-1973, J. Henry Korson ed., Contemporary Problems of Pakistan, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974, p. 63.
  4. Harry V. Hodson, Twentieth Century Empire, London: Faber & Faber, 1948, p.158.
  5. The Search for US Bases in the Indian Ocean: A Last Chance, Strategic Review, No. 8, Spring 1980, p. 36.
  6. Mahnaz Z. Ispahani, Roads and Rivals: the Politics of Access in the Borderlands of Asia, Cambridge University Press, pp. 32-72.
  7. Robert F. Dernberger, China’s Development Experience in Comparative Perspective Harvard University Press, 1980, pp. 86-89.
  8. Umm-e-Habiba, Global Geopolitics Behind Turbulence in Baluchistan: Regional Repercussions and Policy Options for Pakistan-Analysis, Eurasian Review, November 26, 2013.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Andrew Small, The China Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, Random House India, 2015, pp. 2-3.
  11. Umm-e-Habiba, Global Geopolitics Behind Turbulence in Baluchistan: Regional Repercussions and Policy Options for Pakistan-Analysis, Eurasian Review, November 26, 2013.
  12. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peter, “Blood borders How a better Middle East would look,” Armed Forces Journal, 2006, http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/06/1833899, Accessed March 28, 2016.
  13. Amirjit Singh, Why the existence of Pakistan is not in India’s interest, Indian Defense Review, 2012,  http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/why-the-existence-of-pakistan-is-not-in-indias-interest/, Accessed April 04,2016.
  14. Selig Harrison, The Chinese Cozy Up to the Pakistani: The National Interest, March 2011, pp. 17-54.

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Zahid Khan

Zahid Khan is a PhD scholar at Shanghai University, PR, China

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