As you move westwards from Gwadar Town on Makran Coastal Highway, after about 55 kilometres, a sign reads to the road leading to Jiwani, a small town with a population of about 22000, surrounded by lush mangroves and pristine beaches where endangered sea creatures like Green Turtles and Olive Ridley come for nesting.
The strategically located town is just 34 kilometres away from the Iranian border, and can significantly control all the movements through the Persian Gulf. The main business is fishing and, hence, there are many small export-oriented fish packaging plants operating here.
The town is located on a small peninsula projecting into the sea and, hence, has a dominating position in the area. This is the reason why Pakistan has created a small naval base, some observation and surveillance facilities with a small 1700-meter runway for the landing of aircrafts.
Stories tell that it was a major airfield used by the Allied forces during WWII, the traces of which are still found on the coastal town in the form of broken airstrips, traces of broken barracks, a Victoria Hut made probably to host the Queen here. You can find a marvel of the engineering, in the form of an old water storage facility and purification system. These were used in WWII to not only collect rainwater and purify it in various stages but also pump it to the locations up to 5kms away, using a setup of pipelines and small water channels.
18 December 2017 was just like an ordinary day for the people of Jiwani and the Coast Guard detachment stationed there when a large cavalcade of vehicles approached the place. Such sightings are not common so it piqued the interest of locals. The guests were unique too, 16 senior Chinese military officers and about 10 Pakistani military officers with their support staff. Over next few hours, the entire group visited the small peninsula, its coastline and inspected other infrastructure before returning to Gwadar late in the evening.
Over the next few days, Pakistani officers were busy signing an agreement with Chinese PLA on constructing a strong Chinese military base at Jiwani where China will invest over $500 million in the form of grants to be given to locals towards their resettlement at some other location. Also, another $230 million will come from the Chinese towards the construction of a military base with an advanced airport to handle all types of cargo. As per the project report, all the residents of Jiwani will be shifted to other towns in Baluchistan after being paid due compensation for their losses.
The String of Pearls is a reality coming up very fast. As recent as last July, China started operating from its newly constructed military base at Djibouti, a strategic town located in the Horn of Africa. The base came up quite fast and, within a year, all the desired constructions and activation of the facilities were completed.
Jiwani is just 34 kilometres away from the Iranian border. (Others)
Both Djibouti and Jiwani has a striking similarity. Both are located on two most important and strategic oil routes of the world. While Djibouti is located at the mouth of Red Sea and can control the entire movement through the Suez Canal, Jiwani has the potential to control the movement of the entire Persian Gulf. The current presence of a large number of PLA Soldiers and their warlike equipment in Gwadar Port suggests that they are going to operationalise the Jiwani base at the earliest.
Gwadar has a limitation of being the primary port of CPEC; there is a lot of commercial movement and, hence, stationing a large and dedicated military detachment there is not very advisable. That’s why China selected the old and trusted base of Jiwani which has all the necessary facets to cater to PLA’s interests.
Whether it is Hambantota, Djibouti or Jiwani, China is clever enough to safeguard its interests. It is establishing military bases at all strategic sea routes so that its supplies and exports are uninterrupted. Also, it creates a kind of security pressure on the neighbouring countries, especially India.
China is stuck up in many conflicts as of now. Whether it is South China Sea, Taiwan, North Korea, Indo- China Border Dispute or Sino- America tug of war, China needs to have military bases located strategically on its supply routes so that it can sustain its export-based economy and ensure uninterrupted supply of oil. It already got some committed allies in Indian Peninsula, namely Pakistan and Sri Lanka who are suffering from a crippling economy and corrupt leadership and, hence, are compelled to dance to its tunes.
These bases also provide support to its One Belt One Road Initiative to ensure that its exports reach the destination safely.
India has a genuine concern in this scenario. While the establishment of these bases cannot be stopped, it is high time that being the leader of South Asia, India should make a robust plan to counter anything violating its interest.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).