Gwadar :The Nerve Center for South West Asia?

By: Brig. Imran Malik(R)

GwadarAs the US/NATO/ISAF Combine prepares to egress the Af-Pak Region (APR) we find Pakistan and China maneuvering decisively into strategically advantageous positions in the region. Their strategic interests are converging at a grand scale at Gwadar – the center of gravity and future strategic and economic hub of the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) – Greater Middle East Region (GMER) complex.

Gwadar sits literally at the mouth of the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz. The leverage it provides is priceless. Its strategic location makes it ideal for any power intending to secure its energy sources in the region or to dominate the SCAR – GMER complex including all Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) to and from the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, naval forces stationed at Gwadar or other Mekran Coast ports could potentially foray deep into the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean too, even impacting East-West trade.

A sea-land trade route to and from Western/Southern Europe to Russia via the Mediterranean, Suez Canal, (North Africa and the ME), Red and Arabian Seas, Gwadar (Pakistan), Afghanistan and the CARs could integrate regional economies and create mutually beneficial interdependencies. From Gwadar another link could be created with Xin Jiang province in western China too thus cutting by thousands the kilometers Chinese ships would have to travel to and from China through the Malacca Straits. India too could be accommodated at some appropriate stage. Gwadar could provide trans-shipment facilities for the entire region. An exhaustive network of roads and railways thus needs to be developed in the Gwadar hinterland connecting it with Xin Jiang, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, CARs and Russia.

It as a matter of fact could be a more cost effective, all weather alternative to the New Silk Route Project – NSRP!

Thus China’s imperatives to get to Gwadar are manifold.

The US is shifting pivot to the Asia Pacific as a part of its well-known policy to manage China’s rise and to contain it. Sixty percent of US’ naval assets are likely to be deployed to the Asia Pacific by 2020. This would impact China’s ability to foray out of its geographical confines to play a proactive role in world politics and trade. China will contest being hemmed in or circumscribed by the US and its allies. Further, China’s greatest vulnerability lies at the Malacca Straits which is the biggest choke point in the SLOCs to and from the Asia Pacific region. Thus any power (ostensibly the US and its allies) controlling the Malacca Straits could use this leverage to devastating strategic effect on any country in the Asia Pacific. By bringing the Straits of Hormuz within its strategic reach China too would acquire a corresponding and competing leverage.

India is expected to play a very important role in the manifestation of this US grand strategic design.

Pakistan and China will do well to operationalize a North-South trade corridor emanating from the Xinjiang Province and going down south to Port Qasim, Karachi and Gwadar. This trade corridor must comprise an expanded and improved KKH with a railway line running parallel to it. Since India has opted out of the IPI gas pipeline project under US pressure therefore it must now be converted into an Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) gas pipeline. China could further secure its oil supplies (60% of its crude comes from Iran) by having an oil pipeline from Iran running parallel to the IPC gas pipeline.

India stands to lose enormously if it blindly follows the US lead in containing China. It has already soiled its relations with Iran (too) to a great extent by siding with the US on its nuclear program issue and opting out of the IPI gas pipeline project. (Ironically it has not opted out of the TAPI project!) Indian SLOCs to and from the Persian Gulf and CARs (via Chah Bahar – Herat) would lie within constant Chinese oversight and strategic reach. The Indians are already wary of the Chinese who they feel are encircling them through a series of ports – a consequence of its Strategy of a String of Pearls!

By establishing the North-South trade corridor the Chinese would literally outflank the Indo-US design of containing it to a very great extent.

Pakistan has done well to develop Gwadar into a meaningful port. Its strategic implications are apparent too. China is making a massive investment in the Gwadar area, adding twenty more berths there and will also develop the road infrastructure in its hinterland, (Road Gwadar – Rato Derro). It also intends to create an Economic Zone in Gwadar which should go a long way in boosting the local, national and regional economy. Furthermore Iran has shown readiness to establish a US$ 4 Billion oil refinery there. The IP gas pipeline would have an enormous economic impact in the region too. Pakistan and China must also develop a road-railways network from Port Qasim-Karachi along the west bank of the River Indus and take it right upto Torkham and beyond.

India on the other hand must understand the leverage that Pakistan is developing. Good relations with Pakistan could ensure the provision of gas and oil through land routes from Iran and the CARs. India could possibly open land trade routes to the west and get access to Iran and Turkey on the one hand and  Afghanistan, CARs, Russia and Europe on the other – NSRP. Its energy needs could be met expeditiously and at much lower transportation costs. In return it could make all out efforts to genuinely resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan. Kashmir and the water disputes rank the highest these days. Pakistan in return could ensure that Indian energy requirements could be met through the fossil fuel pipelines from Iran and the CARs. Further the NSRP could become a reality. However if it turns into a gas and oil versus water war then both sides are likely to suffer. We must seek a win-win solution.

Gwadar is truly a port of immense possibilities and will be the hub of most political, strategic and economic developments in the region for a very long time to come.

The author is a retired Brigadier and a former Defence Advisor to Australia and New Zealand. Currently he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Anwar Ahmed  On February 25, 2013 at 5:28 am

    An excellent article. I agree and endorse views of Brig Imran. However Pakistan should have taken in to confidence Baluch leadership and the population in the area. They should have been made to feel proud of the project and participants in the benefits accrued. Apparently some thing was amiss. Every Baluch I meet is unhappy and feels a sense of neglect

  • Zubair  On February 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

    An excellent piece. However, the Govt has other priorities. This country itself, by the way, is a land full of unlimited possibilities which no one has ever exploited—-just look at Thar coal, untapped gas and mineral reserves of Baluchistan etc. all opportunities require one hing only—good governance. do we have any or do we hope to have in the next 5 years.

  • Shaheen  On February 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

    All I read is that u.s.a. Or china or India or Iran. What are GOP doing? Can’t they build something or are they there to get commissions and sell our assets?

    Sent from my iPad

  • Faisal Imam  On February 25, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Are we going to be an asset for humanity or just a corridor for other’s economic gains?
    What are the strategic decisions required to put Pakistan on the economic map of the region?

    Sent from my iPad

  • SHOMU BHATTACHARYA  On February 26, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    How very true–it is no longer an old medieval Baluchi fishing village–it is now a strategic port and a well planned city and where everybody God forbid should not throw the line and go to fish

  • Khan Zia  On February 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Gwadar – An Act of Treason?

    A port is little more than an interface between sea and land communications. These are invariably located as near as possible to areas where exportable materials abound or there is a demand for imported commodities or preferably both. It is little short of madness to build a port next to nowhere, hundreds of miles away from areas of both production as well as consumption and existing lines of land communication.

    Having built a port where none need exist in the first place, it is even greater madness to suggest that we should now build railway lines, roads, power, gas and telephone lines etc. adding billions of dollars to the cost to justify its existence. No shipper in his right mind would want to incur the extra freight charges involved merely for the pleasure of using Gwadar.

    To Justify building a port at Gwadar on grounds of national defence is equally flawed. You don’t build ports where it is convenient for defence. Maritime trade is an economic activity and has to follow its laws. If maritime interests are to be defended their defence has to be mounted where the interests lie. You cannot dictate maritime trade to conform to the convenience of defence and consign it to economically nonviable locations. Paradoxically, a port at far away Gwadar makes defence much more difficult for Pakistan for the simple reason that it will oblige the navy to split its force leading to weakness at both ends. It is also for consideration that any interference with maritime trade is an act of war which should be unthinkable when it involves nuclear powers.

    The suggestion that the existence of a port gives rise to industrial and economic growth may be true for some places but certainly not for Gwadar. It is meaningless to talk of such development in the absence of necessities such as trained man power and adequate infrastructure. Most important is the availability of fresh water of which very little can be found in Gwadar. There is not enough water to support a population of more than a few thousand what to talk of large scale industry.

    If there was one thing that Pakistan did not need it was another port. The existing port capacity is enough to last her for centuries. Many people may not know that Port Qasim alone has a potential capacity larger than all the ports in the sub-continent put together. If the idea was to facilitate some outside power gain access to Central Asian or Persian Gulf resources Karachi and Port Qasim are more than capable of handling the additional load. You don’t need Gwadar for that. In any case why should poor Pakistan foot the bill for someone else’s benefit?

    So, why did they build another port that Pakistan never needed and could never use profitably? Why not build another dam instead to meet the water and power shortages that are becoming acute by the day and gravely threatening national security and survival? Could it be that while Gwadar serves no useful purpose for Pakistan it will come in very handy if and when an independent Baluchistan comes into existence?

    While on the subject, for the amount of money Pakistan has expended on helping the US occupy Afghanistan and in the process bring terrorism to Pakistan, she could have built twelve new dams or more than fifty modern universities and rebuilt her dilapidated transport, health and education systems. Never in history has a country sacrificed so much for so little in return. It makes one wonder why this particular aspect is never discussed by the people in power or the media pundits in Pakistan?

  • Khalid Rahim  On March 19, 2013 at 6:59 am

    Small minds think negatively and fail to see beyond the horizon if they only knew where it lies. Well expressed article which should be studied thoughtfully both on terms of Chinese and US rivalry in the economic field and our own strategy to counter the impact of New World Order of Neocons and Zionists. Gwadar being haned to China has pinched Saudi Arabia also in the bottom specially in relation to the recently signed gas pipeline deal between two nations both under the heavy pounding of New World Order. Accepting of Chinese aid in the development of the project and pushing aside the Qatar proposal was not liked by some quarters. It will now depend upon the newly elected government how she controls the situation as it arises with time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: