Pakistan Navy’s distinctive plans to protect Gwadar seaport and Chinese there

By S.C Kohli


Gwadar port city in Baluchistan was purchased by Pakistan from Oman in 1958 for Rs 5.5 billion Pak Rupees. At the present times, it is predominantly synonymous with China’s presence there. There is general perception that it was China which due to its strategic interests pursued Pakistan to develop Gwadar seaport.

Contrary to this belief, it was Pakistan Navy which was first to identify importance of this strategically located location at Gwadar and carried out practicability study to establish a port for navel and commercial activities. Simultaneously, in July1987, Pakistan Navy commissioned a base at Gwadar with a jetty and made it operational. However, it was the then Chinese vice-premier Wu Bangguo, who along with Preisdent Parvez Musharraf had laid the foundation stone a deep-sea part at Gawadar on March22, 2002.

Pakistan Navy was known as Royal Pakistan Navy and was commanded by Rear Admiral James Wilfred Jefford of British Navy when Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947. After partition of the Indian sub-continent, Royal Pakistan Navy, as its share, got four sloops (a single-mastered sailing vessel), four fleet minesweepers, eight motor minesweepers and harbor defense launches. On January 17, 1948 all ships of Royal Pakistan Navy (except one minesweeper) had left Bombay for Karachi to join Royal Pakistan Navy.

Meanwhile, on January 31, 1953, Vice Admiral Haji Mohd Siddiq Choudhri became the first Commander in Chief of Royal Pakistan Navy.  On March 23,1956, when Pakistan was proclaimed as ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ under the 1956 Constitution, Pakistan Navy was  re-designated  as ‘Pakistan Navy’, replacing Queen’s colour with Pakistani flag and the order of precedence was too changed from Navy, Army, Air Force to Army, Navy, Air Force.

Pakistan navy is mainly responsible for safeguarding country’s coastline along the Arabian Sea. It is supported by two other naval paramilitary forces viz Pakistan Coast Guard and Maritime Security Agency. More recently, with the increasing developmental activities at Gwadar seaport and China’s immense interest in the project, the responsibilities of Pakistan Navy have increased manifolds.

China has strategic interests in Gwadar seaport as it would give access to them of the” hot waters” of Arabian sea, bringing them close to the Middle -East market and more importantly China would be able to import oil through Gwadar Seaport and transport it to China through Korakoram Highway (KKH) in safe, secure, cheaper and shorter route to west of China.

With the commencement of  $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), to which Gwadar seaport is most important and significant project for China,  Pakistan army has raised a Special  Security  Division(SSD), led by Major General   Abdul Rafiue and comprising of nine army battalions and six wings of civil armed forces  to provide security cover to about 1500 Chinese on three thousand kilometer long route from Gwadar port , Baluchistan to China’s Kashgar city, northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Pakistan Navy too has been assigned with special responsibility to protect Gwadar seaport project from offshore threats and the over five hundred Chinese working there. CPEC was initially proposed by the then Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in May 2013 during his visit to Pakistan. CPEC, is also known as new Maritime Silk Route, came into existence in May 2015 during Chinese President Xi Jingping’s visit(April,2015) to Pakistan.

After Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan, Pakistan Navy had accelerated its operational activities to safe guard Chinese working in Gwadar seaport from any threat emanating from the waters of the Arabian Sea. Pakistan Navy conducted (August, 2015) an exercise viz; “Tahaffuz-e-Sahil” to check the efficacy of security mechanism for the safety and security of  Gwadar seaport and its associated infrastructure against any terrorist venture.   

Since China was concerned about any impending threat to Chinese working in Gwadar and its establishments there as well as other parts of the Pakistan, it sent a high level security and military delegation to Pakistan to take up the issue with the host country.  This was led by QU Jainjing, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, Chinese delegation which visited Gwadar (November 1, 2015) in this context. 

Following Chinese security delegation visit to Gwadar, Pakistan naval chief Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah also visited (November 7, 2015) and took stock of security arrangements there. There he disclosed the raising of a Special Marine Battalion against any impending threat to Chinese engineers working at Gwadar seaport as well as to infrastructure of the port. Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah also ensured protection of workers at Gwadar seaport and port itself from any asymmetric threats.

Meanwhile, ‘Navy News’ of the Pakistan Navy, in January 2016 reported that  Pakistan Navy had decided to deploy two more Marine Battalions at Gwadar  area for round the clock security of Chinese working  at several sites of the port as well as well any threat from the sea. These marines would also make the sea links secured which is used for communications and also provide protection to other trade ships routing in and out of the Gwadar port.   

In the meantime, Pakistan Navy had conducted (February 2016) mock exercises of boarding and unloading helicopters on its naval frigate in the sea. Pakistan Navy was also reportedly contemplating to take more operational measures to ensure security at safety at Gwadar seaport and Chinese working there, including shifting of  some of its operational assets from Karachi to  Jinnah Naval Base at Ormara, which is located about 350 Km from the Karachi port and it is mid way between Karachi and Gwadar.  

Gwadar seaport is considered to be the backbone of US$ 46 billion worth mega CPEC project. Pakistan Navy, therefore, is to play a major role in its security which is vital not only to Pakistan but for China too, who through this route has been planning to reach markets of Middle-East and to transport oil from Middle-East and Africa. For China it would be a low-cost, safe, secure route, reducing thousands of kilometers for oil transportation. China has already started operations at Gwadar seaport which is 70 kilometers from Iran and 700 kilometers from east of the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil supply route. Pakistan Navy is now operationally engaged to look after all sea related security aspects of the Gwadar seaport, its affiliated infrastructure and more importantly safety of Chinese engineers there.

In the meantime, China will invariably remain concerned not only about safety and security of its nationals working at Gwadar seaport but also for the entire project as in future it would be a China’s naval outpost on the Indian Ocean.