The Pakistan Navy has created a new task force for the defense of the port at Gwadar, the terminus of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – and, controversially, Chinese naval forces may contribute to its security as well.
CPEC is a massive $46 billion infrastructure project linking Kashgar with the Arabian Sea, and its security is a strategic priority for Pakistan. The new port security task force, TF-88, is said to be equipped with drones, aerial surveillance aircraft and missile boats. It mirrors a special security force set up for the defense of shoreside facilities; Gwadar is located in the province of Balochistan, which has been fighting an on-and-off militant insurgency since founding of Pakistan.
Two Pakistan Navy warships are already based at Gwadar. The service is said to be in talks with Turkish and Chinese yards for construction of four to six new "fast attack craft," smaller multirole vessels for littoral and near-coastal defense. A source told the Express Tribune that the investment was spurred by developments at Gwadar.
Separately, the source added that Chinese warships would contribute to maritime security at the port – an unusual arrangement, but consistent with China's role in the project. Chinese military spokesman Col Yang Yujun would not confirm these comments in an interview with India's Economic Times, but he noted that the Chinese and Pakistani militaries "have maintained good exchanges and practical cooperation," including "port calls of naval ships as well as logistic supplies."
When Pakistani officials first proposed the port project at Gwadar in 2011, they described it explicitly as a forward naval base for Chinese warships. “We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” defense minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar told the FT at the time. As a naval base, Gwadar could have implications for the region’s balance of power: it lies roughly 330 nm from the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and about 680 nm from the Indian Navy's main base at Mumbai – less than a day's voyage for a modern destroyer.
India expresses concern over Chinese deployments
Indian Navy sources say that they respect China's economic interests in Pakistan, but that they remain alert to PLA(N) warship movements in the region. "The Navy has holistically reviewed its employment philosophy to proactively deter any menace that may threaten our sovereignty," a spokesman told the India Times.
The concerns are not one-sided. The Pakistan Navy claims to have "forced" an Indian submarine out of international waters off the Pakistani coast on November 14, a few days before the start of Pakistani-Chinese naval exercises in the Arabian Sea; the service alleged that the sub was attempting to spy on activity at Gwadar. An Indian Navy spokesman categorically denied the report.
Pakistan Maritime Security Agency buys boats for Gwadar patrols
The Pakistan Navy's plans for new patrol craft follow after an order by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), which commissioned two new fast patrol boats at China Shipbuilding Trade Company in Guangzhou early this week.
In comments at the ceremony, PMSA director RAdm. Jamil Akhtar said that the boats would help fulfill new maritime security requirements for the CPEC project. The PMSA intends to acquire six of the patrol boats, four to be built in China and two at a shipyard in Karachi.