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Lawrence Sellin | Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve    

11:56 AM 10/22/2018

School children in Pakistan’s vital port of Gwadar will be required to learn the Chinese language replacing their native Balochi language, according to the Indian Economic Times.

It is a further indication of China’s de facto colonial ambitions in Pakistan and the suppression of Balochi ethnic identity, both of which serve the political interests of Beijing and Islamabad.

Gwadar, situated on Pakistan’s southwestern Arabian Sea coast, is the linchpin of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), itself the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s roadmap for global domination.

The port, for which China holds a 40-year operational lease, is strategically-located within striking distance of the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil shipping chokepoint.

A January 1, 2018, article revealed a plan, later confirmed in two separate reports here and here, about for the construction of a Chinese naval base on the Jiwani Peninsula, just west of Gwadar, near the Iranian border.

To complement reported Chinese aspirations for a second overseas military installation, Pakistan opened a new naval air base in Turbat, a city approximately 100 miles northeast of Gwadar.

The base is meant to provide air surveillance and defense cover for the maritime areas between Gwadar and Pakistan’s Ormara naval base, where Chinese submarines have visited, advanced Chinese anti-ship missiles have been tested, Chinese cargo ships have docked, and from where Chinese construction personnel have been repeated flown to the nearby Pakistani island of Astola situated along international sea lanes.

According to sources, due to increased international scrutiny, Chinese and Pakistani officials and business personnel held a series of meetings in April and decided to disguise military construction as civilian projects and real estate development to reduce growing alarm to potential Chinese military expansion in South Asia.

Nevertheless, China’s commercial development of Gwadar follows the pattern set in Djibouti. A Chinese military base in Djibouti became operational in 2017, a facility which arose from an initial Chinese purchase of commercial harbor access.

Djibouti not only provides a base of operations to protect China’s interests in Africa, but it is located at another strategic choke point, the entrance to the Red Sea and the route to the Suez Canal.

CPEC is more than a commercial initiative. It is one element of China’s strategy to overtake the United States as the world’s foremost superpower.

Huge tracks of land in Gwadar for up to 500,000 Chinese professionals have been allocated for port and naval facility development as well as expansion of Gwadar’s international airport to handle heavy cargo flights.

An impediment to Chinese ambitions in Balochistan is Baloch ethnic and cultural identity and a festering insurgency for Balochistan independence resulting from its enforced incorporation into Pakistan in 1948.

Resentment of Chinese colonization of Balochistan has been steadily growing resulting in a concomitant rise in the number of attacks against Chinese workers. 

Suppression of Baloch ethnic identify is consistent with Pakistani government policy because ethnic separatism has been an issue plaguing Pakistan since its independence when the country was cobbled together as a collection of ethnic groups that never interacted but shared the same religious heritage.

Since its inception, successive Pakistani governments have used Islam as the societal glue to varying extents. That effort was significantly expanded by President Zia ul Haq (1977-1988), who instituted an aggressive Islamization program, which involved the proliferation of Islamic schools “madrasas” and the promotion of Islamic law.

It was specifically designed to create national unity by suppressing ethnic separatism and religious diversity. Over time, radical Islamic groups have proliferated, becoming increasingly more extreme and intolerant, but Pakistan decided that Islamic extremism could provide a useful tool for domestic control and as an instrument of its foreign policy.

Both Beijing and Islamabad will benefit from a successful exploitation of Balochistan, not only as an important part of a transportation network connecting China to the Arabian Sea, but it is a region rich in resources, estimated to be $1 trillion in gold, copper, oil, precious stones, coal, chromite and natural gas.

China cannot fully achieve its regional ambitions in South Asia while the United States maintains a presence in Afghanistan.

Control of Afghanistan through its client Pakistan and its proxy the Taliban will allow China to complete its BRI transportation corridors, power grids and oil and gas pipelines throughout Central and South Asia as well as tap into Afghanistan’s estimated $3 trillion in mineral resources.

Expect that China will begin to position itself as a mediator to end the war in Afghanistan and, thereby, help ensure its hegemony in South Asia with Balochistan as the geopolitical center of gravity. 

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.


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