In a mid-December op-ed at The Daily Caller, I questioned what appeared to be signs of Chinese militarization of Pakistan, in particular, and in the Indian Ocean, in general.
In the last few months, there have been persistent reports of Chinese survey teams in the areas west of Gwadar, a seaport considered critical to the success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the linchpin to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an effort to achieve Chinese commercial dominance in South Asia and as a connection to its strategic interests in the Middle East and Africa.
In the last two weeks, meetings held between high-ranking Chinese and Pakistani military officers indicate that a new Chinese military facility will be built on the Jiwani peninsula between Gwadar and the Iranian border. The plan is said to include a naval base and an expansion of the already-existing airport on the peninsula, both requiring the establishment of a security zone and the forced relocation of long-time Balochi residents.
The potential of Pakistan-China cooperation in establishing joint military bases in Pakistan’s restive southwest province of Balochistan was revealed as early as May 2011 just after the secret U.S. raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which killed Osama bin Laden
At that time, according to The Wall Street Journal, China had agreed “to take over operation of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar, and that Islamabad would like the Chinese to build a base there for the Pakistani navy.”
In a more recent report, a Pakistani diplomat admitted that, in 2011, Pakistan invited China to build naval base for itself on Pakistan’s southern coast, implying it was a response to the bin Laden raid.
Since 2011, China has signed a 40-year lease to expand and operate the seaport of Gwadar, has agreed to extend the Gwadar International Airport to handle heavy cargo flights, has built a military base in Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea and the southern entrance to the Suez Canal, and has signed a 99-year lease to operate the strategically important port of Hambantota, Sri Lanka.
A report issued by the U.S. Department of Defense in June 2017 noted: “China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan.”
A Chinese military base in Jiwani would control the vital sea lanes in the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and provide another link in a string of potential military facilities from the South China Sea to Africa, outflanking both India and the U.S. naval base in Diego Garcia.
In addition, it would spell checkmate for the U.S. counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan, which is already hampered by Pakistani control of the operational tempo through its Taliban proxies and Pakistan’s stranglehold on the supply of our troops into landlocked Afghanistan.
In a further development this past week, as part of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Dialogue, a newly created trilateral format, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a major announcement that Beijing and Islamabad will look at extending the US$57 billion Chinese investment in CPEC to Afghanistan.
Oddly, in this month’s most recent report to Congress, the Pentagon views China’s moves in Afghanistan as benign, driven solely by domestic security concerns.
I think there is a rude awakening on the Pentagon’s horizon, specifically, on the Jiwani peninsula.
One wonders how long it will be before Afghanistan asks the U.S. to leave.
Plan B anyone?
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and an IT command and control subject matter expert trained in Arabic and Kurdish. He is a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at [email protected]