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Pakistan Forms Special Maritime Force to Secure Chinese-built Port, Projects

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center, and Army Chief Raheel Sharif, second right, offer prayers at the opening of a pilot trade project at a ceremony at Gwadar port on November 13.

Pakistan has inaugurated a special maritime force to ensure security of its new Chinese-built Gwadar port, which is central to a multibillion-dollar economic cooperation agreement between the two countries.

China is investing around $50 billion in Pakistan to help build a network of road, rail, communications, and power projects that will eventually connect the western Chinese border region of Xinjiang to the deepwater port on the Arabian Sea.

Officials say the cooperation, dubbed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, will turn Gwadar into a gateway for imports and exports from Xinjiang to international markets.

Top Pakistani civilian and military officials along with Chinese diplomats traveled to the port Tuesday to witness the inauguration of the "Task Force-88" raised by the Pakistan Navy.

"(It) is aimed at ensuring security of Gwadar port, its seaward approaches, as well as CPEC-related and other maritime projects," said Zafar Mehmood Abbasi, deputy chief of the naval staff operations.

The marine force would comprise "warships, (attack) helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), duly supported by shore-based sensors," he added.

The Pakistani military has already established a Special Security Division of around 20,000 personnel for the protection of Chinese workers and land routes being built under CPEC.

Gwadar port is located in the insurgency-hit Balochistan Province, which also hosts a number of CPEC-related projects.

Pakistani officials have alleged that rival India is funding Baluch separatists in the province in its bid to try to undermine the CPEC building efforts, a charge that New Delhi denies. Islamabad also sees Afghanistan-based Islamic State affiliates as posing a threat to CPEC.

Chinese officials say CPEC is "the major and pilot project of the Belt and Road" initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping.

"We believe the Belt and Road initiative will serve the greatest interests of the international community and this region for common development and shared prosperity," said Sun Weidong, the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan.

He said 17 "early harvest" CPEC projects are already under "smooth" construction in Pakistan.

"There are more than 10,000 jobs that have been created for the local people with all these 17 projects.In the near future, we can see that CPEC projects will generate thousands of megawatts (of electricity) into the national grid of Pakistan."

-- Written by Ayaz Gul for Voice Of America