Across Land and Water

Spearhead Analysis – 24.10.2016

By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research


From moral highgrounds to slippery slopes, Indo-Pak relations have seen them all. In a recent revelation, the Pakistan Navy announced that an Indian Navy submarine was spotted and later escorted away from Pakistani territorial waters. According to analysts, since both countries are not at war – if war is taken in the traditional sense – the Indian submarine was on an intelligence mission in and around territorial waters, synchronized with the departure of the first fleet from Gwadar port under a recently accomplished CPEC project. Another viewpoint seems to be, one initially disclosed by anti-submarine expert retired Commodore Zafar Iqbal, that the submarine may have intended to deliver saboteurs or weapons supply for terrorist groups.

With CPEC gaining momentum, and the infiltration of Pakistan’s waters becoming a dangerous reality, the strategic importance and role of the navy in providing security and safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity seems more crucial than ever.

Enhancing Navy Capabilities

The successful outcome of the CPEC and the Gwadar port project is directly contingent on a safe maritime environment in the Indian Ocean, and particularly in the Arabian Sea. The security of the Gwadar port, the Chinese personnel working within the port, and harbor defence responsibility have all been handed over to the Pakistan Navy, as a result of which a Force Protection Battalion of Pak Marines is deployed to ensure security. There is no doubt that Pakistan is located at a geo-strategic location, the fruits of which can be fully reaped through the development of a strong navy for effective seaward defense and for national and international trade along the coast. The strategic and economic implications of providing seaward security to the CPEC and Gwadar port is as, if not more, important than the provision of security on land. Thus, the role of the navy becomes paramount in translating the strategic location of the country into meaningful effects.

The Pakistan Navy has currently taken on a multi-pronged approach to tackle the ongoing challenges to maritime security by conducting Collaborative Maritime Security exercises and missions with both regional and extra-regional navies, administering security patrols and exercises, and bolstering security along the Gwadar port. Naval collaborations have been on the rise to promote peace and security. The Pakistan Navy recently concluded a bilateral exercise with the Peoples Liberation Army-Navy in the North Arabian Sea, which proved to be of increased significance against the backdrop of CPEC and the possible challenges it could face in the maritime domain. In another milestone in strategic and defense cooperation between China and Pakistan, the third Azmat-class fast attack craft built at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering works was inducted into Pakistan Navy fleet – a step forward in augmenting the operational capability of Pakistan’s Navy to secure the country’s maritime zones.

In October, Iranian Naval ships arrived in Pakistan with officers intending to interact with Pakistan’s navy on matters of mutual interest, and indulging in operational training activities, exchange of visits by naval personnel, and sports activities. In a recent news, Pakistan Naval Ship Alamgir has arrived in Turkey to participate in a multinational maritime exercise hosting NATO navies, hosted by the Turkish Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Keeping in mind the nature of maritime challenges, it is noteworthy that no nation has the capacity to handle them alone. It is for this reason that collaborative efforts are pivotal in ensuring regional maritime security through communication and joint training exercises to help generate a coordinated and timely response when the need arises.

CPEC and Maritime Security

With the multi billion dollar CPEC project on its way to becoming operational for sea trade, which would function as a corridor for trade worth billions of dollars, the collaboration between Pakistan and China has become more significant. However, existing challenges to CPEC with regards to land and sea security have slowed down the progression of the project. Mindful of this, the Pakistan Army has raised a special division to cater to this problem, alongside a newly established mechanism by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency and the Pakistan Navy to ensure security of waters around Gwadar. However, increased maritime activity and possibility of contemporary challenges and threats require further enrichment in the ability of the Pakistan Navy and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency to counter both conventional as well as unconventional and asymmetric threats from menacing neighbors and forces inimical to regional integration and change. As mentioned earlier, to reap the benefits of the strategic location of the deep sea-port, the capability of the Pakistan Navy to provide seaward defense needs to be enhanced promptly to establish a safe corridor to national and international trade. India’s opposition to the CPEC, due to its claim on Gilgit as being a part of Indian territory, and its unceasing propaganda and ceasefire violations across the Line of Control makes this the need of the hour.

India’s opposition to CPEC and the Gwadar port project seems to be resting on irrational politics of hate and polarization. Keeping in mind that the trade between India and China is estimated around 80 billion US dollars, the construction of the Pak-China corridor through Gwadar would provide a shorter route from China to the Indian western coast – cutting down transportation costs as well as time, and benefiting India economically. Not only will CPEC broaden the horizon of trade between India and China, but would also integrate the economies of the entire region. China will have the quickest access to the Indian Ocean to touch the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Central Asian Region, which is currently landlocked, will also be linked to the rest of the world through the Gwadar port and CPEC. This would promote an environment of regional security and shared interests by gathering states together to achieve common objectives of economic and security interests.

Despite the benefits glaring at the region, India is adamant on remaining on a collision course with Pakistan. With CPEC functioning as a source of hope for Pakistan, and discomfort for the hostile neighbors that surround it, the role of Pakistan’s Navy is being redefined and shuffled in this tug of war.