Tag Archives: Pakistan

Reinforcing China’s Malacca Dilemma

The Red Queen’s Navy

Written by Vidya Sagar Reddy, The Red Queen’s Navy will discuss the The Red Queeninfluence of emerging naval platforms and technologies in the geostrategic contours of the Indo-Pacific region. It identifies relevant historical precedents, forming the basis for various maritime development and security related projects in the region.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”– The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll.

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

China has been pressing to complete the Gwadar port in Pakistan and build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), allowing it to be connected over land to an Indian Ocean port. Gwadar and CPEC allow China to circumvent the Strait of Malacca which can be blockaded by rival navies in the event of  conflict, termed as “Malacca Dilemma.” However, the rising activism of Balochistan independence parties could complicate these projects, compelling China to continue to depend on this Strait. This situation certainly bodes well for maintaining regional stability.

As China’s economic power burgeoned, its political class sought to transform the country into a major power by building comprehensive national power, which also requires investing in a sophisticated military. Political narratives were developed citing “historical” facts and figures to re-establish China’s position in the world order. However, China’s attitude towards its neighborhood has become increasingly assertive in  recent years, signaling the rise of a potential regional hegemon. Those countries with stakes in maintaining the peace dividend responded by building alliances and partnerships to counter this security threat.

By signaling the intent to blockade the Strait of Malacca, these regional countries seek to deter China from military adventurism in the region. China’s economic growth is dependent on the seas, both for receiving energy and other raw materials required for low cost manufacturing, as well as the shipping of finished goods to markets in the U.S., Europe, etc. These ships have to pass through the Strait of Malacca situated between Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Therefore a blockade of this Strait will impose energy and trade crises in China that can trickle down to hurt society, and in turn lead to pressure on the political class. Losing the people’s support will undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China and could lead to an internal political transition. In fact, China’s history shows such transitions occurring after wars.

India has established credible naval presence in the Andaman Sea adjacent to the Strait of Malacca and is partnering with the U.S. and other countries in safeguarding it. Such presence can be translated into a formidable blockade. On the other hand, China has yet to showcase its capabilities and willingness to fight to keep this Strait open for its ships. Citing these developments, Hu Jintao termed this situation “Malacca Dilemma.”

His successor Xi Jinping resolved to overcome this dilemma by investing in the One Belt, One Road initiative. China moved determinedly to build ports in the Indian Ocean countries Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been transformed into a blue water navy and is routinely deployed in the Indian Ocean. The docking of PLAN ships and submarines in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region signals China’s intent to safeguard its energy and trade shipments in the Indian Ocean.

china-pakistan-economic-corridor-cpec
A map depicting China’s sea lines of communication through the Malacca Strait as well as the land route of the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. (SCMP)

The ports in Myanmar and Pakistan have the added advantage of being connected to China via overland routes. This sea/land interspersed connectivity allows China to minimize maritime threats by rerouting its energy and trade over the land. During a conflict, China can focus its forward deployed naval assets f in the Indian Ocean on safeguarding the sea lines of communication connected to its ports in Pakistan and Myanmar instead of stretching those assets across the Ocean. The development of overland routes also serves Beijing’s intention to develop poorer western regions of the country.

China’s projects in Myanmar are proceeding with difficulties, with some of them cancelled due to opposition from local communities and environmental groups. Furthermore, China’s ships have to navigate the Bay of Bengal to reach Myanmar’s port which gives opportunity for rival navies to interdict. More significantly, Myanmar has recently undergone political transition from military rule to a democratically elected government. This transition signaled the country’s willingness to break through international isolation and normalize diplomatic relations with the outside world. As a result, China lost Myanmar as a client state and can expect a review of its projects as the new government balances between competing political and economic narratives in the region.    

The trump card for China remains to be Pakistan. Despite international condemnation and American displeasure for its unwillingness to cease state sponsored terrorism, Pakistan continues to enjoy diplomatic leverage with the U.S., and despite the show of political clout in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Maldives, India is still lacking a credible strategy to curtail Pakistan’s destabilizing behavior in the region.

China has adopted the earlier U.S. policy of hyphenating India with Pakistan and is willing to safeguard its client state’s interests across international forums. It has promised to invest $46 billion in Pakistan to complete the CPEC project. In addition, China is building nuclear plants, co-producing military jets, and will sell eight submarines; all incentives for Pakistan to align its interests with China’s.

In return, China will gain access to the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean, which is connected to the Persian Gulf, through the Gwadar port. The CPEC envisions building the requisite land route from Gwadar to China via the sensitive Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Karakoram mountains, ignoring India’s apprehensions regarding building infrastructure in the disputed territories without consultations.

However, Pakistan itself is not without problems. The Balochistan province where Gwadar is located forms a major part of Pakistan’s territory and is highly rich in natural resources. However, its development needs have long been ignored by Islamabad. The Baloch people argue that neither the Gwadar port will benefit them but can instead lead to further exploitation of the province’s natural resources and affect their livelihoods.

silk-roads-china
A graphic depicting the various forms of investment, their estimated costs, and proposed infrastructure linkages. (Wall Street Journal)

India is convinced that the Gwadar port and the CPEC projects have underlying strategic intentions while the Baloch people question the veracity of economic benefits that can be derived from these projects to their province. Both parties are concerned about infrastructure build up in those areas considered sensitive for historical or strategic reasons. In this situation, Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his recent Independence Day speech signals India’s willingness to work with the Baloch people to confront the common problem and fulfil mutual interests.

While more details are pending, China is apparently concerned with these developments as its options to connect to the Indian Ocean via land routes fall into jeopardy, forcing continued reliance on the Strait of Malacca. This could be a welcomed development for upholding regional stability as it offers concerned countries an opportunity to maintain strategic deterrence and escalation dominance against China by controlling access to the Strait of Malacca.

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a research assistant in the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Featured Image: Crew members work on the Chinese Navy ship Wei Fang as it docks in Myanmar on the outskirts of Yangon on May 23, 2014 (AFP 2016/ SOE THAN WIN)

Pakistan’s Navy: A Quick Look

By Alex Calvo

Traditionally the junior service, operating in the Army’s shadow and receiving a ten percent share of the 2015 defence budget of $6.6 billion, Pakistan’s Navy personnel numbers more than 22,000 active, plus 5,000 in the reserve. This secondary role stands in contrast with the economy’s dependence on the sea, with the port city of Karachi contributing 25 percent of GDP and the proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) raising the country’s maritime profile even further.

Much of the Navy’s backbone, including its seven submarines, five French-made ‘Khalid’ class conventional hunter-killer (SSKs) acquired in the 1990s plus two ‘Hashmat’ class SSKs from the 1970s, is nearing retirement. The Navy is working to acquire new surface and undersea combatants, boosting domestic shipbuilding in the process and in cooperation with Beijing.

Plans include procuring an additional four 3000-ton F-22P/’Zulfiqar’ (Sword) class frigates with improved sensors and weapons (including HQ-17 surface-to-air missiles, developed from Russia’s Tor 1/SA-N-9), as well as six Type-022 Houbei stealth catamaran missile boats. State-owned shipbuilder Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW) is responsible for these programs, and is expanding its facilities with a new foundry, manufacturing areas, and two dry docks of 26,000 and 18,000 dead weight tons, spread over 71 acres. Islamabad had been hoping to procure six Perry-class frigates from the US on easy terms, but congressional hostility has prompted greater reliance on China, a country heavily committed at all levels to Pakistan, being a key to Beijing’s strategy of securing access to the Indian Ocean and keeping New Delhi distracted by a regional rival.

Sword class frigate of the Pakistani Navy.
Sword class frigate of the Pakistani Navy.

Karachi is the traditional home of the Pakistani Navy, and remains of the utmost importance, despite diversification into other bases, among them PNS Siddique (in Turbat, in the south-west, close to the strategic deepwater port of Gwadar and the border with Iran), Pasni, and Jinnah Naval Base (also in the south-west). Asked whether security is considered by the Pakistani Navy as a reason to push for further diversification away from the city, Zoha Waseem (PhD Candidate at King’s College London and an expert in Pakistani security and policing) explains that “the situation in Karachi in terms of the ongoing operation is linked with the need of the military to keep investing in Karachi. The construction of military bases, infrastructure, and training centres and accommodation does not appear to be decreasing. Karachi is an ATM machine, and a prime location for any stakeholder to have its assets here.”

PNS Badr, a British-built Type-21 frigate, was decommissioned in 2014. Despite being the junior service and the country facing a difficult fiscal position, Pakistan's Navy has been pushing for ambitious plans in terms of both surface and undersea combatants. Source Flickr.
PNS Badr, a British-built Type-21 frigate, was decommissioned in 2014. Despite being the junior service and the country facing a difficult fiscal position, Pakistan’s Navy has been pushing for ambitious plans in terms of both surface and undersea combatants. Source Flickr.

While new ships are seen as essential in terms of maritime security and the fight against piracy, it is Pakistani plans to acquire new submarines that have met with the greatest concern in New Delhi. In March 2015, Islamabad announced plans to procure eight new Chinese submarines, and in October 2015 confirmed that four would be purchased from Beijing and four built at KSEW. The package includes a training centre in Karachi and probably includes access to China’s Beidou-II (BDS-2) satellite navigation network. Thanks to similar designs, Beijing, in turn, gets to enjoy the necessary maintenance personnel and facilities enabling her to operate her own submarines much more efficiently in the Indian Ocean, home to vital SLOCs (sea lanes of communication) for China. Ideally the Navy would like a total of 12 new boats. These Chinese-designed submarines will probably be based on the air independent propulsion (AIP) equipped Type 39B Yuan SSK (known as S-20 in its export version). Displacing 2,300 tons, they can fire both cruise missiles and 533 mm torpedoes, and can also deploy mines and special forces. Pakistan, already working on a version of the National Defence Complex Babur missile capable of launch from her old Khalid submarines, sees the S-20 as more than a conventional platform, although preventing an Indian blockade is certainly a major goal in and by itself. A sea-based deterrent would provide Islamabad with a second strike capability, while avoiding perceptions of falling behind India in the nuclear sphere. The resulting improvement in survivability is seen by Mansoor Ahmed (Stanton Nuclear Security junior faculty fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center), as providing greater strategic stability to South Asia, given that India could not be sure of completely destroying Pakistani nuclear forces and thus escape unacceptable damage herself.

Work on a sea-based deterrent may also be closely linked to the Navy’s status within the military. According to Scott Cheney-Peters (US Navy reserve officer and CIMSEC founder) “Unless Pakistan’s Navy can develop an at-sea strategic nuclear deterrent it is likely to remain the ‘junior service.’ This means it has a strong institutional incentive to pursue an SLBM second-strike capability. But just as this incentive may not be enough to bring the capability to fruition any time soon, so the second-capability may not be enough to remove the perception of the Navy as a junior partner in the nation’s armed forces.”

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan) focusing on security and defence policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. A member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank, he is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. He tweets @Alex__Calvo and his work can be found here.

Featured Image: MAYPORT, Fla. (Aug. 31, 2010) Pakistan sailors parade their country’s colors during the decommissioning ceremony of the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8) at Naval Station Mayport. During the ceremony, McInerney was commissioned into the Pakistan navy as PNS Alamgir (F 260). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr./Released).

Interview with Zoha Waseem: Pakistani Navy Remains Committed to Karachi

By Alex Calvo

In the Second World War, Karachi was a key component in the long logistics chain connecting unoccupied China with the United States. After decolonization and partition, the city retained her significance, at both the economic and political level. Among others, it was and still is the main base for the Pakistani Navy, as well as a shipbuilding centre. Often in the news due to a challenging security situation, no look at naval developments in the Indo-Pacific Ocean Region is complete without Karachi. We have thus interviewed Zoha Waseem, an expert in policing and counterterrorism and PhD candidate at King’s College London.

Calvo.- Is the situation in Karachi considered by the Pakistani Navy as a reason to push for further diversification away from the city, in terms of naval basing and construction?

Waseem.- The situation in Karachi in terms of the ongoing operation is linked with the need of the Military to keep investing in Karachi. The construction of military bases, infrastructure and training centres and accommodation does not appear to be decreasing. Karachi is an ATM machine, and a prime location for any stakeholder to have its assets here. Karachi is an important port, being connected to the Arabian Sea, connecting the city by water to Iran and India. That said, there does exist an alternative Naval base 200 kilometres away from Karachi (Jinnah Naval Base in Ormara, Balochistan). Heavy investments have been made into this base since the Navy came under threat in Karachi.

Railway (Karachi Port)
Railway (Karachi Port).

Calvo.- Are the demands of internal security preventing Pakistan from devoting enough funds and political attention to military modernization?

Waseem.- Military modernization is generally regarded not as falling within the domain of political actors but of the military. The Armed Forces appear to be devoting enough funds to military modernisation. Internal security operations take manpower away from the armed forces but their budgetary allocations come from different departments.

Calvo.- Are the Armed Forces, to the detriment of civilian police, seen by most citizens as the mainstay of security?

Waseem.- The general public appears to have bought into the narrative that armed forces are the only bodies capable of dealing with security issues. This is taking focus away from the police, especially in areas where armed forces have acquired policing powers of search and arrest. Nevertheless, there are voices on ground that call for the strengthening of police forces for internal security, law and order.

Karachi Port
Karachi Port.

Calvo.- What are the prospects for police reform in the mid-term? What are its main aspects, and most significant obstacles?

Waseem.- There were police reforms in 2002 which were reversed in 2011 in Sindh and Balochistan. No serious initiatives appear to be in place at the moment. Main obstacles for this are: political interferences, weak leadership, and corruption. Policing falls under the domain of the provincial governments and there will be no serious reforms implemented till the will of these governments is not present.

Calvo.- Does Beijing trust Islamabad’s promises to severely prosecute groups assisting Xinjiang activists? What about guarantees of better protection of Chinese nationals in Pakistan?

I’m not sure what Beijing is thinking at the moment, but Pakistan seems to be making efforts to curb any apprehensions on their part. For instance, both the armed forces and civilian government has decided to strengthen security measures of the Chinese in Gwadar, Balochistan. Plans for deploying 10,000 army personnel for their security and deweaponisation of Gwadar are underway too. Much of the reason for the escalation in the internal security operation in Karachi is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Zoha Waseem got her LLB from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) and her MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London. She has studied in Karachi, Chicago, and Washington DC, and interned at different Pakistani news channels. From 2012 to 2013 she was an intern at Interpol’s Public Safety and Terrorism Sub-Directorate, in Lyon (France). She is currently working on her PhD thesis, at King’s College, on “Enforcement, Encounters and the Everyday: Contemporary Policing in Karachi, Pakistan”. Waseem’s research interests include Pakistan, policing and security, urban violence, counterterrorism, and police culture. She tweets at @ZohaWaseem and recently wrote “Darkness in the city of light” on Paris’ terror attacks.

Interview by CIMSEC member Alex Calvo.

The Other Deep-Water Battleground

This article originally featured on Reuters and was republished with the author’s permission. Read it in its original form here

By Peter Marino 

A floating dock of the Indian navy is pictured at the naval base at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Sanjeev Miglani

The Indian Ocean may be the only ocean named for a country, but it’ s still heavily contested territory. Both China and India, who have major strategic interests there, are suspicious of each other. Their struggle for leadership in the “emerging world” will play out for decades and all around the globe, but today the Indian Ocean is Ground Zero.

The South China Sea is home to overlapping claims by China, the Philippines, and other countries in the region. And the Arctic Ocean, increasingly, has seen a build-up of U.S. and Russian troops, lured by the possibility of billions of barrels of untapped oil. The Indian Ocean is significant because of its strategically important sea lanes — particularly for India and China, two of the world’s largest importers.

China imports most of its oil by sea, and 80 percent of it crosses the Indian Ocean before it passes through the Straits of Malacca, on its way to the Chinese market. Beijing is very concerned about its dependency on a waterway it does not control, and is using diplomacy, both carrots and sticks, to ensure that it can continue to access the sea lanes. As part of this effort, Xi Jinping’s “maritime silk road” program will offer cheap Chinese financing to cash-strapped governments for trade and industrial infrastructure along such routes.

China is using hard power as well. Through China’s longstanding alliance with the Pakistani government, it has funded improvements at the deepwater port of Gwadar, Pakistan, where a state-owned Chinese company now has a 40-year management contract. That agreement allowed the port to host ships owned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, giving the Chinese a permanent, or at least semi-permanent, presence in the region.

China’s participation, since 2012, in the international anti-piracy coalition that mans the Gulf of Aden has also allowed it to operate in the Western Indian Ocean, where it is reported to be conducting studies of the sea depth, presumably to aid future submarine patrol missions.

Delhi has been paying close attention, and is mobilizing its own diplomatic and hard-power tools to shore up its influence in its home region. Indian foreign aid, while not yet on the scale of Chinese state investment, is being spread liberally to countries near the Indian Ocean, especially to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. India’s proximity and cultural similarities give it some advantages over the Chinese efforts. Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been notably active in this area, making the first trip by an Indian PM to Sri Lanka in 28 years as part of the push to improve bilateral relations.

Moreover, Delhi is aware of the gap between the strength of its own forces, and that of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which has been modernizing for 20 years. India is opening up its checkbook for better equipment, including a multi-billion-euro deal for advanced Rafale fighter jets from France to replace its aging Russian Sukhois. And it is becoming less shy about the idea that it is countering China at sea. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Delhi in June this year, he signed early paperwork establishing a collaboration to develop India’s next generation of aircraft carriers. Because China had recently launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and was constructing two more, the motivation behind this proposed Indo-U.S. partnership was unmistakable.

Despite these conflicting interests, China and India could still have room to collaborate on several major global issues. As two of the world’s biggest importers of agricultural goods, minerals and energy, they share an interest in working with exporters to help smooth out price volatility in commodity cycles. And as countries that will be “great powers” while still relatively poor, they should work with each other to push through reforms at the United Nations, World Bank and other international groups that were set up by the rich world. Their shared interest in a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia should contribute to their joint participation in peaceful diplomacy there, too.

But for the moment, Delhi and Beijing are mostly in a mode of competition in the Indian Ocean, and the tendrils of their struggle extend even further, across the steppes of Central Asia, to the Western part of Africa, and into the Persian Gulf, as well. The Indian Ocean is the one major ocean not bounded by one of the existing great powers, which makes it the perfect locale in which the struggle for primacy in the “emerging world” can play out. What we are seeing now is only the beginning.

Peter Marino holds an MSc in Global Politics from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of Norwich University. He lived in Shanghai from 2003 to 2008 and served as head of China development for London-based Aurigon, Ltd. He founded and sold Quaternion, a political risk startup, and is currently establishing a new Think Tank for International Affairs aimed at promoting engagement with the “Millennial Generation.” He also produces Globalogues, a video blog with commentary on global politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.