Lawrence Sellin | Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve
11:30 AM 11/06/2018
I am not talking about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a program of infrastructure and resource exploitation projects linked to a transportation network that connects China to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi on the Arabian Sea, the flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Beijing’s blueprint for global domination.
I am talking about CPEC’s hard power component, the enormous expansion of dual-use military facilities being established all along Pakistan’s southern Balochistan coast.
The purchase of land in Balochistan by the Pakistani Navy and the expansion of naval facilities in the province have occurred in parallel with the onset of Chinese investment in the deep-water port of Gwadar after an agreement was signed during the state visit of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in 2001. Construction began in 2002 and subsequent to completion of Phase 1 in 2007, the first commercial cargo vessel docked at the port on March 15, 2008, the then Chinese “POS Glory,” with 70,000 metric tons of wheat.
In 2008, the Pakistani Navy obtained 2,500 acres of land near Kunchiti village in the Dasht subdivision along the M8 highway, which eventually became part of the CPEC land route connecting China to Gwadar. In that area, there is a large parcel of fenced land with watchtowers where Chinese officials and engineers have visited and conducted pre-construction soil sampling. The site is believed to be designated for the housing of personnel.
In 2010, the Pakistani Navy acquired, some might say confiscated, farmland on the outskirts of Turbat, a city northeast of Gwadar and approximately 100 kilometers inland from the coast. In 2017, Pakistan opened — and the Chinese visited — a new naval air base outside of Turbat. The base is meant to provide air surveillance and defense cover for the maritime areas between Gwadar and Pakistan’s Ormara naval base, considered of strategic importance to CPEC.
In December 2017, it was reported that high-level Chinese delegations had visited Sonmiani, just north of Karachi, and purchased large tracts of land in the area. Sonmiani is the location of Pakistan’s space center and the newly-established Weapon Testing Range, built with the support of China.
This year there have been revelations about plans to build a Chinese naval base on the Jiwani peninsula, Chinese submarine visits to Pakistan’s Ormara naval base and Chinese-Pakistani discussions related to potential military projects on the island of Astola, which is located adjacent to vital sea lanes about twenty miles off the coast between the Pakistani naval bases at Pasni and Ormara.
Recently, local residents claim the Pakistan Navy is buying thousands of acres of land around the Kalmat Khor Lagoon, roughly halfway between the Balochistan’s coastal towns of Pasni and Ormara (again), even though the area surrounding the lagoon is a designated wildlife sanctuary. Fishermen in the village of Kalmat say their access to the lagoon has been blocked by security posts being built by the Pakistan Navy.
Thus, in less than a decade, there has been an unprecedented increase in Pakistani-Chinese naval capability along the entire Balochistan coast from the Jiwani peninsula near the Iranian border to Sonmiani just north of Karachi.
Seen as an extension of CPEC, this “China-Pakistan Military Corridor,” commenced last month under the guise of Pakistan’s Regional Maritime Security Patrols (RMSP). It is being advertised as a means “to protect national and international shipping” and an ability for “generating rapid support to contingencies like Humanitarian Assistance, Search and Rescue and Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations in times of need.”
More likely, RMSP and the expansion of dual-use Pakistani-Chinese naval capability in Balochistan is to secure CPEC, control “critical sea areas and choke points in the Indian Ocean region” and provide a strategic link between China’s bases in the South China Sea and its naval facility in Djibouti at entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
The “China-Pakistan Military Corridor” will isolate India, increase the vulnerability of U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf area and outflank the U.S. naval base on Diego Garcia.
Beijing’s ambitions remain unchecked.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. 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.