Lately, the Pakistani blogosphere has been discussing the merits of handing over the administration of Gwadar Port on the Baluchistan coast to the Chinese government. This serves China’s interest as a big pearl in the string thereof (pdf), and China did build a great deal of the deepwater facility (putting forth four times the Pakistani investment in 2001). The port serves Chinese interests in checking both India and the Persian Gulf, and they can already use it (it’s a secure zone). I would think, though, Pakistan would prefer to hold on to the place as point of leverage, especially if a rail line through the Karakorum ever becomes a reality, and so will be a little surprised if Pakistan hands it over. Not that Pakistan’s politicians have lacked for short-sightedness.
India complains (using colorful yet simple analogies: “Chinese string of pearls could choke India”) as if a. they would be more comfortable with an increased Pak Navy presence there instead, or b. either Pakistan or China care what India thinks about the matter. I’m not sure why India hasn’t reacted more strongly to this; despite numerous heated editorials, what could be a grave threat earned little more than a bad joke from former foreign minister Mennon a year ago (“a string of pearls is a pretty ineffective murder weapon as any ‘clue’ aficionado will tell you”) and almost no action on the government’s part. Gwadar is the latest, and biggest of Chinese installations into what is arguably India’s backyard. This will lead, if India is savvy, to a new round of Indian engagement in Central Asia (Daily Mirror). Chinese and Indian firms bid over rights in mineral rights in Afghanistan, and India has shown great interest in air facilities in Tajikistan. Energy pipelines are also under discussion (pdf), although without Pakistan cooperation that could be tricky. India may see itself as China’s rival, but it has yet to convince me. China would no doubt enjoy the port, but it will damage Indo-Pak relations, and cause ripples across Central Asia.