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As regards Chinese military interests, China needs this critical choke point to achieve its strategic objective of becoming an “impregnable naval power” in the Indian Ocean. It is calculated to check the Indo-US domination of the Arabian Sea, and use Gwadar port as an alternate sea route in case India blocks the Strait of Malacca. China will establish a listening post here to observe the naval actions and maneuvers of the US in the Persian Gulf and those of India at nearby Indian bases of Gujarat and Mumbai. Moreover, China also intends to monitor the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) from the Persian Gulf because about 60 per cent of Chinese energy requirements come from the Gulf. Furthermore, China also wants to control the oil sea routes and trade links among regions such as South Asia, Africa, Central Asia, Gulf and the Middle East.
Kaplan opines that, “China’s involvement and projection to utilize the geostrategic importance of Gwadar as the development of an oil pipeline which would transport Middle Eastern oil into the western provinces of China, as a result of this action, reducing India’s power to hinder Chinese oil supply through Straits of Malacca.” Quite probably, Chinese commanding presence at Gwadar port and that of Indian at nearby Chahabar will disturb regional naval calculus at the disadvantage of Pakistan. Both Chinese and Indian blue sea navies will play asymmetrically a competitive naval muscle flexing and encirclement of each other primarily calculated to clip the naval wings of each other and the domination of energy passages. Such maritime practices will tremendously intensify owing to greatly divergent regional interests of both powers in the near future.
The Central Asia Republics (CAR) are rich in mineral resources specifically oil and gas and possess thriving markets which have craved for Gwadar port since the 1990s. These republics bank on Russian oil and gas companies to supply energy resources and in return they have to silently but unwittingly adopt Russian policy dictations on significant domestic and foreign affairs. As a result, sometimes they unwillingly compromise on matters of immense importance related to their vital national interests; recent stoppage of gas supply to the European Union by Russia over the strategic incursion on Crimea resulted in loss of revenues and credibility is a case in point.
Unfortunately, these republics are landlocked and have to rely on other littoral states for port access for their exports and import purposes. The region provides two port accesses to CARs, namely Iranian Chahabar port and Gwadar sea port. The former is surrounded by a host of uncertainties and imminent barriers due to Iranian covert nuclear programme. Therefore, the Central Asia states are disposed to utilize the Gwadar port to access Indian, Far East Asian, Middle Eastern, African and European markets.
To the advantage of CARs, all Central Asia republics are members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and have intimate historical, cultural, ideological and religious connections and affinity with Pakistan, which would greatly help them to foster economic ties with Pakistan and capitalize upon its ports. More importantly, Pakistan has recently gained full membership status at the powerful Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and it is likely that the republics will ratchet up diplomatic endeavors aimed at enhancing bilateral relations so that their long-cherished dream of accessing Gwadar port be fully realized.
Iranian and Indian Interests
Gwadar port is not in Iranian and Indian strategic interests as they perceive it as a threat to their escalating regional interests. Both have established the deep-sea-port at Chabahar in Iran mostly helped and encouraged by the Indian investors. With the advantage of developed road infrastructure, through Afghanistan to Central Asia, Chabahar is ready to take the most important position in the region. Interestingly, Chabahar and Gwadar ports are separated by a distance less than 110 miles and both Iranian and Pakistani governments are leaving no stones unturned to take part in a competition to exploit the Central Asian resources.
India is predisposed to import oil and gas at throwaway prices from the region while exporting cars, computers and information technology related products to Central Asia and Afghanistan. Moreover, India also wishes to singlehandedly access and fully utilizes $3 trillion worth resources of Afghanistan while hampering Chinese interests on the Afghan resources. Both India and China, Asian giants, are trying to develop major ports, road, train connectivity calculated to approach the Central Asian natural reserves. It has created intense competition between China and India. Kaplan says that, “the geopolitical, military, and financial competition between China and India has increased to some degree by competing Chinese and Indian influence and interests in Central Asia”.
(To Be continued)
Author is a former assistant researcher at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), now independent researcher, columnist and blogger. He can be reached at AyazAhmed6666@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @ayazahmed66665
Published in The Balochistan Point on September 13, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them.