By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Even before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “loud-thinking” the idea of making Gwadar into a free port- India moved in May this year to counter China, upgrading Iran’s Chahbahar port that gives a transit route to land-locked Afghanistan. An investment of $100 million is envisaged in the upgrade. Of course USA may not want big bucks being invested in developing of infrastructure in Iran by her new ally India, from the region. Admirably, India has stood for her ground in favor of her national interest; like every nation should. Chabahar is a roughly 100 miles from the Gwadar port. Surrounded by a free zone port, Chahbahar has strategic economic importance since Pakistan has not yet developed the transit route linking Gwadar with Qandahar.
Gwadar port; located at the entrance of Strait of Hormuz, offers huge economic opportunities not only to Pakistan but to others too ie the Central Asian Republics, Middle East, South Asia and the Gulf States. By the very virtue of this strategic geographical location it creates a conflict of interests between nations deeply influenced by its development. Gwadar also provides the shortest possible access for Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean and is the most cost effective.
Therefore under an agreement entered into by Iran and India, it were the Indian army engineers who built a road from the port leading to Dilaram for onward linkage across Oxus, thus creating and giving an alternative transit route to Afghanistan. In 1995 the first Tripartite Agreement was signed between India, Iran and Russia, when Iranian President Rafsanjani visited India. This focused on the opening of Bandar Abbas port for the Indian goods and trade, linking with Russia and later Eastern Europe. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee pursued the matter further on his visit to Iran in 2001, resultantly; the Iranian President Khatami was invited in 2003 as the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations, which resulted in the 2003 Tripartite Defense and Trade Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan.
Since 2001 with the laying of foundation stone of Gwadar Port by the then Chinese Vice Premier Wu Bangguo, the project has been mired in difficulties erupting from political instability overall and specifically in Baluchistan. The primary investors in the port, adjacent road and rail infrastructure and planned city of Gwadar have been China and the government of Pakistan. Construction on the highway link to Karachi and on the port began in 2002. (Reuters May 26, 2011) Sardar Akhtar Mengal admitted to the presence of “death squads sponsored by Pakistan’s neighbors and foreign powers” in Baluchistan. (Published July 8, 2013 in a local newspaper) For Pakistan, a victim of terrorism; the development of an anti-terrorism strategy cannot be emphasized enough!
I could not but link Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s words to The Kao Plan. A 240 page plan, it aims to destabilize Pakistan at three levels. “The first, known as Kao’s Bangla Plan (KBP) was chalked out to start an insurgency movement in East Pakistan and transform the Eastern part of Pakistan into a new State. The 2nd plan, known as Kao’s Balochistan Plan (KBP-II) was architected to create a similar scenario in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, while the 3rd one was relating to organize a separation movement in the then North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and now Khyber PakhtunKhwah to establish an independent State there and this one is known as the Kao’s Pakhtoonistan Plan (KPP).” The plan was, according to research source was envisaged way back in 1968 by India. Named after Rameshwar Nath Kao, the then head of IB External Division head and the founder of Directorate General of Security termed as DG (S) in India, the plan was very intelligently based on the ethnic fault lines within Pakistan.
Baluchistan’s issues are multidimensional and would require a separate article to deal with it. Suffice to say, these have been exploited by the local leaders as well as external forces interested in taking advantage of the situation. At the end of the day, it remains the responsibility of our successive provincial and central governments who have failed to evolve a cohesive economic plan for the development of Baluchistan.
China is deeply interested in Gwadar. Not because it is our “fair weather” friend as touted by many but because it sees Gwadar as a harbor from where goods from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (petro-chemicals) and that from Afghanistan (minerals) can be shipped home. In addition, it offers a substitute trade route for the western Xinjiang province. Xinjiang shares borders with Pakistan, Eastern Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan. It provides China with an option to avail of the shortest approach to the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden, only by travelling a mere 2500km via the existing Silk Route. Gwadar is part of the “string of pearl strategy” consisting of a number of friendly ports offering possible naval facilities throughout the Indian Ocean to China. This “string of pearls strategy” can be then effectively relied upon to support any mission to protect key shipping routes between China and the Middle East or Europe through the Suez. A country like China, aspiring to take its place in the world as the next giant, is taking the right course by investing in trade routes. For Pakistan, Chinese presence in Gwader offers a strategic advantage; Chinese naval presence at this crucial point of Gulf can check the INDO-US domination of Indian Ocean. Also, Chinese naval presence is most likely to beef up Pakistan’s coastal defense. This is a development that may be viewed as threatening by many in India.
US would want to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The thawing of ice between America and Iran in the past few days notwithstanding, it does not change the American strategy. Also, US and India will be on the same page so far the question of Gwadar is concerned, both wanting to curtail the increasing China’s influence in the area, however, they may very well have different approaches towards the policy to be followed in entering into an understanding between Iran and India aimed to achieve this objective. China’s approach to the Central Asian countries has been to offer excellent terms of trade coupled with loan offers and unlike America does not pressurize Central Asian leaders to concur to a timetable and agenda for internal reforms within their country. Interestingly, there is another diplomatic twist here. Iran herself will not want to alienate China. According to a congressional commission report that came to the light in December 2012, China’s government provided goods and expertise for Iran’s nuclear program in the past and also gave Tehran’s Islamist regime missiles and other arms as part of the nations’ anti-United States policies.
Pakistan, with an objective to develop the Gwadar port, must address the issues hampering in this goal being achieved. Better sooner than later. Any country’s national interests must always first and foremost be based on the need of the country itself and then the determination as to what tactics to use and which strategic partnerships to put in use to achieve the objectives. Governments come and governments go but the long term national interest strategies are ensured implementation by succeeding political dispensations. This is exactly what India does. It does not change gears on issues of national importance with changing governments. Pakistan too must devise intelligent strategies to ensure a robust and thriving Gwadar Port. Intelligent strategies demand intelligent leadership. I am reminded here of Jeff Sessions who once said, “I certainly believe that improving our intelligence is of important national interest.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.