Indian Ocean is the oldest and most efficient trade corridor. On its one side are hydrocarbon rich countries and on the other side are energy deficient but major energy consuming and industrially developed countries. The ships carrying goods destined for Europe using Suez Canal also passes through Indian Ocean. In order to provide security to their maritime trade navies of different countries are also present in the Indian Ocean. In the recent past pirates having safe sanctuaries in Somalia have created serious havoc, which prompted many countries to further enhance their presence in the Indian Ocean, which also included India.
India not only claims that it is the strongest regional super power, but also openly denounces any world super power that refuses to accept its hegemony in the Indian Ocean. India is fully cognizant of the fact that bulk of the international trade, energy products, consumable and capital goods pass through Indian Ocean. It is also a fact that India and China have never enjoyed cordial relationships; in fact they are involved in boarder disputes for decades. In such a scenario, China has no option but to protect its maritime trade, particularly movement of energy products. The US Navy is also active in Indian Ocean and it has been constantly increasing its presence around Striate of Hurmaz and in the Malacca Striate. In South China Sea dispute, Japan and Korea are fully supported by the US, which also wishes to contain Chinese growth.
India has emerged as the biggest opponent of Chinese program, which is commonly known as ‘String of Pearls’. Under this program China is building sea ports in various countries and out of these Gwadar is one. While China says that all these ports fall under the category of ‘Listening Ports’ that helps in the movement of merchant ships. However, India has been refuting Chinese claim and call these ‘Chinese Naval Bases’ and term these a serious threat to its sovereignty.
India is actively operating in Afghanistan, under the disguise of developmental work. Afghanistan is a land locked country and bulk of its transit goods having been passing through Pakistan for ages. India often complains that its Afghan destined goods are not allowed to pass through Pakistan conveniently. In this backdrop India has invested huge amounts in constructing Chabahar port in Iran and linking it to the Central Asian Countries via Afghanistan by road and rail. While the Indian endeavor may succeed in offering an alternative route, the undeniable fact is that Pakistan offers the shortest and the most efficient passage to Afghanistan. This fact became most obvious when Pakistan stopped movement of NATO supplies though land route.
Pakistan decided to handover management control of Gwadar Port to China and also entered into an agreement for the construction of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor will link Gwadar with Kashgar and enable China to contain transit time of its imports/exports. The goods will move on-land rather than sea. Under CPEC, Gwadar port will be linked to china by construction of allied infrastructure - road and railway track. India is opposing construction of CPEC section passing through newly constituted Gilgit-Baltistan Province of Pakistan.
With the commencement of full scale activities at Gwadar Port and construction of road and rail networks, Baluchistan is likely to reap enormous benefits. Over the years India has been supporting rebel groups and supplying them funds and arms. A banned outfit Jundullah had enjoyed external support but the group was disintegrated after the hanging of its chief in Iran. Lately, ‘Free Baluchistan’ banners were seen in Switzerland and analysts suspect that it is the work of those Baloch groups who have obtained political asylum there.
One can still recall that India announced to disassociate itself from Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) project due to security reasons as the gas pipeline has to pass through troubled Baluchistan province. Later on, it dawned that another gas pipeline project, Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) was being sponsored by the opponents of IPI. A point beyond comprehension was that India decided to quit IPI because of security issue in Baluchistan, but joined TAPI that has to pass through war-torn Afghanistan.
A substantial part of road network that will ultimately become part of the CPEC has already been constructed and now it is being revamped to offer speedy and safe mode of transportation. It is believed that CPEC will change the entire landscape. India has the realization that it has missed the opportunity by strangulating its relationship with China. It also fears that Chabahar port would never be as efficient and cost effective as Gwadar. Therefore, it is making last ditched efforts to sabotage Gwadr Port and CPEC projects. Now it is the responsibility of all the Pakistanis to frustrate Indian efforts and make Pakistan ‘natural corridor for trade and energy’.
This article was originally published in Pakistan & Gulf Economist