F Z Khan and Prof Khurram
China’s first official defence white paper published in early 2015 enunciates
quite clearly that “the traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be
abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and
oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.”
The establishment of Pakistan Navy’s special ‘Task Force-88′ (TF-88) on December
13 2016, exclusively for maritime security of Gwadar port, is the next logical
step that Pakistan has taken after it operationalised the China-Pakistan
Economic Corridor (CPEC) end of last year. The special maritime force has been
set up after the work was already begun on the CPEC project. It has been agreed
that the task force will be equipped and financed by China, just the way it
financed, designed and built, and now operates the Gwadar port.
Owing to the economic corridor's operationalisation, the challenges and threats
to both Gwadar port and CPEC have increased. Last November, Pakistan Navy chased
an Indian submarine out of Pakistani waters after it had attempted to
infiltrate. Thus it was ineluctable to come up with such maritime force to nip
the evil in the bud. Task Force 88 will work jointly with the Special Security
Division (SSD) that has been established to protect the CPEC projects.
Pakistan Navy in ensuring safe and secure maritime environment, which is an
essential prerequisite for the maritime economy to flourish. The role of
Pakistan Navy is deeply embedded in the maritime operationalisation of CPEC as
it will be required to shoulder greater responsibilities to ensure the
protection of growing maritime trade and to provide security to our sea lanes.
With this new geopolitical reality, it is inevitable to conclude that Pakistan
has outsourced its national security, particularly in the Indian Ocean, by
integrating it with that of China. India had time and again adopted threatening
postures against Pakistan not only during the 1965 and 1971 wars but also
recently threatened both China and Pakistan of grave repercussions if they went
ahead with the CPEC project. Therefore, in future, both countries are compelled
to act to protect their ships, equipment and personnel stationed at Gwadar. So
it must be kept in mind that any unfounded notions about Indian naval hegemony
in the region must now be seriously reviewed and revised after this newfangled
development, not surprising though.
This also underscores Pakistan’s increasing commitment to CPEC running from
China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Balochistan province. In current
scenario when many other countries have shown their fondness to join the CPEC,
it is both a necessity and a tool for power projection highlighting that all the
security apparatus is intact regarding this milestone project.
The commissioning of TF-88, made at an International Maritime Conference on the
CPEC, the first held at Gwadar, was accompanied by announcement of the
objective: For “protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and
The creation of TF-88 has been necessitated by the surge in maritime activity at
Gwadar port — CPEC’s nodal point that is bound to impact the region’s sea lanes
and with that come maritime risks.
TF-88 is to comprise ships, Fast Attack Craft, aircraft, drones (unmanned aerial
vehicles), and surveillance assets. Additio¬nally, marines would be deployed at
sea and around Gwadar for security operations.
Considerable planning has obviously been undertaken. In a move in October last
year, which will strengthen the defence of Gwadar, Pakistan negotiated with
China the purchase of eight Type 41 Yuan-class diesel-powered, conventionally
armed attack submarines. Half of these submarines maybe built in Pakistan while
the other half would be made in China and transferred later to Pakistan. This
acquisition, which is reportedly part of the CPEC package, would be one of
Pakistan’s biggest weapons purchases ever, at about $6 billion. Pakistan’s
possession of such submarines, which are very quiet and lethal, would seriously
complicate any Indian attempt in blockading Karachi or Gwadar.
In a bilateral relationship that has spanned five decades, CPEC is certainly the
most significant Sino-Pak commitment that is obviously aimed at fulfilling its
long-cherished trade desires utilizing Gwadar port, very close to the Gulf
region, the hydrocarbons’ hub. Looking at the dimensions of CPEC and the need to
protect it, this would be only a small but significant portion of the overall
defence of Gwadar port. On land, Pakistan has already committed to raising a
special force to guard the corridor from internal troubles including militants
and outlaws of banned outfits.
With focus on the CPEC, the Navies of both sides recently engaged in a joint
exercise. The fourth such exercise concluded on November 21, 2016. On its part,
the Pakistan Navy has been increasing security at Gwadar port, conducting
security patrols and coastal exercises, enhancing maritime domain awareness and
engaging law enforcement agencies. It is reportedly considering buying
super-fast ships from China and Turkey for its special squadron to be deployed
for the security of Gwadar port.
A ship-building project is being deliberated at Port Qasim in Karachi and Gwadar.
The two advanced shipyards would design and develop ships and other security
equipment for Pakistan Navy. Confirming Islamabad’s determination to prevent
CPEC, the Pakistani government has already promised to provide 10,000 troops,
including 5,000 specifically trained to counter terrorism.
While the Pakistan security forces put together the all out efforts to
materialize the progression, India cannot help itself keeping it far from the
CPEC and it has been maneuvering espionage activities to subvert this ambitious
joint venture. As mentioned before Pakistan Navy, on November 14, detected an
Indian submarine that was sleuthing close to Pakistani waters and shooed it away
intrepidly from Pakistan’s EEZ and extension of Continental Shelf. Soon after
this Indian steerage, announcement of TF-88’s commissioning surfaced. Pakistan
Navy’s role in maritime security and CPEC has become more crucial after this
incident and there is a need for comprehensive policymaking on the maritime
economy, which is now underway.
Notwithstanding Indian trumpets against CPEC many countries are looking forward
to be the part of this game changer in the region. Iran, Britain, Germany and
South Africa are keen to have their prospects in the project.
Gwadar had a significant visitor, last November: Russia’s Federal Security
Services chief Alexander Bogdanov. He was reportedly on an inspection tour to
assess whether Gwadar would be suitable for visits by Russian ships as well?
This is not surprising considering Russia’s growing proximity to China and
efforts to find an alternative market to sell its military hardware, now that
India, the old ally, has increasingly preferred Western defence systems.
Significantly, this first ever visit to Gwadar, a gateway to the Indian Ocean,
came within days of American people voted Donald Trump to become their next
With joint efforts of the security forces at home, the people’s cooperation
towards positive and impressive policies of the government, the law and order
situation has improved a lot in Balochistan. Peace and development have great
association with each other, and the Pakistan security forces are jointly making
all-out efforts to restore complete peace and order in the country for speedy
development of mega projects like CPEC.
Inimical forces, elements of hate inside and outside, especially the Indian
strategic planners must now realize the inevitable that despite its all
conspiracies against the sustaining development, the Force 88 – a harbinger of
peace and endurance – along with the security forces of Pakistan will fight back
to knuckle them down. (ENDS)
(The authors are security analysts based in Islamabad)