China is facing a new challenge in its geopolitical goals to cut short the route for Chinese goods through the Gwadar port in Balochistan, which is occupied by Pakistan, instead of sailing around South Asia- an area that is traditionally influenced by New Delhi and the Indian Navy.
Located in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, the Gwadar port and other Chinese investments are facing a direct threat from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).
The struggle against occupational forces in Balochistan is no longer aimed at just against Islamabad but also against Beijing as the Balochs have realised how the occupational forces in the region are today backed and led by China.
Recently, Pakistani security forces abandoned their check posts in Balochistan after they came under heavy stone pelting from protesters.
The protests had erupted in Brabchah, Balochistan and spread across the entire province on Wednesday after a 4-year old was shot down by Pakistan Army-backed terrorists in Turbat City.
Strong reaction has come from Baloch activists, and the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) has come down heavily on the Pakistan Army over this gruesome incident. It has termed the incident “a continuation of the massacre of Pakistan armed forces in Balochistan who have been engaged in kidnapping civilians for ransom and dumping mutilated bodies for the last several years”.
This is bad news for China as it directly jeopardises its ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor Project (CPEC) which links China’s far Western Xinjiang province to the Gwadar port. Beijing has invested 60 billion dollars in this project that also passes through Aksai Chin and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Gwadar port itself is being developed at a massive cost of 1.62 billion dollars, and Beijing’s ultimate aim is to gain a strong foothold over the Indian Ocean by accessing and repeating the Gwadar port.
In fact, China is looking to build a naval base in Gwadar that will complete its first overseas military base in Djibouti as far as Beijing’s presence and influence in the Indian Ocean are concerned.
According to Forbes, “Recent satellite images appear to show that several new complexes have been built in the last few years. One of them, identified as being used by a Chinese company involved in port development, has unusually high security.”
The magazine has added, “The high-security compound has been identified as being used by the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC Ltd). This is a majority state-owned company that is heavily involved in many Chinese civil engineering projects. While some degree of security is normal in the region, the level of security seen here is extensive.”
Satellite images also reveal that -vehicle berms, security fences, and a high wall. Sentry posts and elevated guard towers cover the perimeter between the fence and the inner wall. This suggests armed guards with rifles”.
Last year, two smaller sites were also built at the Gwadar port. Forbes has reported, “It has been suggested that these might be barracks for a Chinese Marine Corps garrison.”
Clearly, China has expansive plans and ambitions when it comes to the Gwadar port and this is why the Baloch insurgency could play spoilsport for China.
Beijing wants to avoid sailing around the South Asia, and wants to reach Middle East, African and European markets directly through road and rail travel to the Gwadar port and further shipping from the Baloch port city. This is why the CPEC and the Gwadar port are at the core of China’s trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
But things haven’t been moving at an impressive pace, and even though a deal was recently struck to allow an Afghanistan-bound trading ship to use the port, the fact remains that the port hasn’t really kicked off.
Last year, China’s COSCO Shipping Lines recently terminated its container liner services between Karachi and Gwadar, alleging that Pakistan’s inadequate policies and measures have impacted market development.
What has also fomented trouble for China is the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) that seeks an independent State for Baloch people.
Pakistan is an occupational force in Balochistan. The Baloch struggle is old and the BLA insurgents routinely target Pakistani armed forces personnel and naval officers.
Over the recent years, however there is growing discontentment within Balochs regarding the CPEC investments from Beijing in the region, and growing Chinese presence and influence. The Balochs have realised that Pakistan is selling off Balochistan to the Dragon.
Islamabad’s decision to hand over the Gwadar port to Beijing on a 45-year lease without even consulting the Balochs proved to be the last straw for Balochs.
Over the past two years, they have targeted Chinese investments in Gwadar such as the five-star Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel which is situated on a promontory overlooking the Gwadar port and they had also carried out an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi in 2018.
In fact, while the BLA initially focussed on Pakistani security personnel and Punjabi settlers or encorachers, it has now started targeting Chinese nationals. The Majeed Brigade of the BLA, formed in 2011, has in particular attacked Chinese nationals and Chinese-funded projects.
China has every reason to grow more and more conscious about the security of the Gwadar port, which is at the centre of Xi Jinping’s BRI project.
In 2017, it had reportedly deployed marines in Gwadar and it might be backing the Pakistani forces to commit human rights violations in Balochistan in order to ensure that the CPEC investments are not hampered.
In its Xinjiang province, China has been ruthlessly sending Uyghur Muslims to concentration camps in order to ensure that CPEC projects are not hampered.
It is very much possible that China might try to take matters in its own hands in Balochistan by buying out the Imran Khan government or the entire Islamic Republic of Pakistan for that matter.
Beijing fears a huge threat to the Gwadar port, as the Balochistan Liberation Army intensifies its struggle for independence.