THE Pakistan Navy will host the largest multinational maritime exercise with 43 international navies arriving the nations coast. It is the seventh edition of Aman (peace). Pakistan Navy initiated this exercise in 2007, with only 8 participants. This initiative highlights the importance of collaborative maritime security and has been globally welcomed, where the participance has expanded to 43 in 2021.
Commodore (R) Syed Mohammad Obaidullah rightly said, “it is a huge achievement for Pakistan Navy that the numbers of participating countries grew immensely in a few years as the message of peace and collaboration appealed to both eastern and western navies. The aim is to attain regional peace and counter maritime challenges.”
The exercise is taking place under the motto “Together for Peace”. World’s top will take part in the series, held every two years since 2007. The significance of this exercise is even more, because it is for the first time in a decade that “Russian Black Sea Fleet” with three ships will take part in the joint military exercise with NATO members. The three largest navies of US, China and Russia will be exercising for collaborative maritime security model.
The objective is to come together and put aside differences to defeat common adversaries and menace, like terrorism, piracy, drugs, and arms trafficking, human smuggling, and climate change. Rightly encapsulated by Pakistan’s Navy Chief Admiral Khan Niazi, who said, “Aman exercise is about bridging gaps and making it possible to operate together in pursuance of shared objectives”.
The 21st century highlight of international relations, is the rising competition between the US and China. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has the history of being the back water to major power rivalry and global geopolitics. Despite being the smallest of world oceans, the commercial and economic importance of it is undeniable.
It hosts major sea routes connecting four continents Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. It
has gained immense geostrategic importance because of rising Chinese naval power and a refocus on sea lanes as an arena of both competition and co-operation. The domination of the seas has remained a prerequisite for acquisition of power in inter-
IOR facilitates maritime trade in the region, transports more than half of the world’s sea-borne oil, and hosts twenty-three of the world’s top 100 container ports. However, it is often seen through a highly securitized lens. Three major powers which account for nearly half of global economy in the Indian Ocean arena, India, China, and United States, are vying for influence. China’s large and growing economic investment is reshaping the region, forcing both US and India to adapt.
It has the maritime silk road which is half of the Belt and Road Initiative. United States responded to it with the Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pivot strategy, and India through its Act-East, Look-West policy, which is a saffron version of Monroe doctrine. This could be the beginning of a tripolar great game amongst Beijing, Washington, and New Delhi. The thrust could be regional cooperation, competition, or acute confrontation.
Pakistan being one of the major trade corridors in IOR, possesses the golden chair. It is in the unique position of playing a positive role in the complex geostrategic and geo-economic conflict matrix of the region. Pakistan is the theater of tripolar great game amongst Beijing and Washington and New Delhi. However, the strategic competition is not in the military realm, but in the areas like economics, global governance, and technology.
The Aman-21 initiative is a step in that direction, its major objective is contribution to regional peace and stability, and more importantly, bridging the gaps for peace and enhancing inter and intra operability between regional and extra regional navies.
Pakistan’s unique geostrategic location is further enhanced with the development of Gwadar port. It is located close to the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil transit check point. It also has the distinction of connecting South Asia, Middle
East, and Central Asia.
The Indian Ocean has not witnessed a conflict between states in more than 30 years. The increasing competition between China and the US, which earlier was limited to the Pacific, has now extended to the Indian Ocean, changing, and complicating the power dynamics of the region. Pakistan has the potential to act as a bridge to defuse tensions in the exceedingly polarized Indian Ocean.
The Pakistan fleet commander has rightly pointed out that like any maritime nation, Pakistan has substantial stakes in the maritime domain. Pakistan is interested in safer and crime-free sea. This is rooted in three conspicuous realities: Pakistan’s extraordinary dependence on the sea for trade; making the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project operational; and its strategic location astride the global energy highway. These make maritime stability an important component of not only Pakistan’s national security, but for other countries whose prosperity are strongly bonded with the seas.
Aman-21 is the face of Pakistan’s Indian Ocean Policy. It is all about bridging gaps for peace and stability. It is committed to countering the new cold war unfolding on the sea lanes between the major power of the world. They also collectively account for nearly half of the global economy. It is important to assert the significance of cooperation over competition or acute confrontation, all the state stand to benefit from it. The new cold war even if it takes roots, will see a crisscross of geo-economics and geopolitics. Thus, at best cooperation and at worst competition, acute confrontation is NOT an option.
—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi. She may be reached at [email protected] and www.humabaqai.com