Robert D Kaplan contends that the Greater Indian Ocean, stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa including Indian Subcontinent all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond may comprise a map as iconic to the 21st century as Europe was to the previous one. With all the geopolitics in motion, he hoped that, this century will be less violent (relatively peaceful) [connotation mine] than the last one, but to a similar degree, it could have a recognizable geography. So today’s Greater Indian Ocean is Yesterday’s heartland. In this greater water stretch that there lies a ganglia of global energy routes and quite seemingly inexorable rise of developing Asian nations.
The major part of this recognizable geography is its western half which has remained at the spot light of post cold war era maritime, economic, military and diplomatic activities. The zone is a vital conduit that offers trade routes to Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Australia. It has abundance of maritime economic resources but is equally challenged by a proliferation of security threats. Some important dynamics of this region, which include Yemen conflict, Saudi-Iran relations, rise of ISIS and the Arab Spring, shape the very character of this region. Few suggest that apart from being energy conduit this region provides a linkage between East and West in terms of age of connectivity. Politically, the region has an odd mélange of various forms of governments from democracy to military dictatorship to monarchy. The zones of conflict include Somalia, Sudan, and countries with frail government structures having limited capacity for policing offshore activities. Illicit trade and unlawful activities have been flourishing in many parts of this region.
Being a major player in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Pakistan has been playing its role as a responsible maritime nation to promote regional peace and harmony. Not only it has been a chief contributor in CTFs, it has embarked upon a recent initiative known as Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP) while still retaining its active engagement with CTFs. The RMSP has the potential to draw regional countries to join hands in a coordinated framework that assigns the maritime security mandate of the region to the countries that are located within it.
In the words of Quaid-i-Azam, one of our founding principles of state was to “have peace within and peace without”. That was to live peacefully and maintain cordial/ friendly relations with the world at large including our neighbours. In the same spirit present Naval Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi has reiterated that “Pakistan does not harbour any aggressive designs, and our forces, including the Navy, are fully prepared to face any challenge”, and that “any disguised or unnatural arrangement for supremacy would not succeed, nor would it serve the purpose of peace and stability”. He also asserted on many occasions that “Pakistan’s desire for peace should not be mistaken for weakness”. Recently in his message on Defence Day of Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that “Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence”. In fact the desire for peace is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s aspirations that echoes in speeches of almost all civil and military leaders.
It is not a coincidence that Pakistan shot down an Indian spy quadcopter on Line of Control (Satwal Sector) at dawn of the new year precisely on 02 Jan 19. One, it is a new year reminder for we have to remain mindful of the nefarious designs lurking in the neighbourhood. And two, it re-invigorates our resolve and commitment towards defending our great country no matter how minute the scale of incursion is! Let alone our adversary’s exasperated and unfulfilled desire of surgical strike. The occurrence exemplifies that though peace remains our resolve but at the same time we are prepared to take on all threats we might be challenged with.
Going back to peace, it is not only in our own interest to have safe and freely navigable seas in the region but also in the interests of other countries of this region and beyond who heavily rely on cheapest mode of trade through a grid of Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). Taking stock of Pakistan’s reliance on sea trade and its assigned responsibilities of protecting maritime interests, Pakistan Navy in 2007 took the initiative of organizing multinational naval exercise called AMAN which means peace in English. AMAN is a biennial exercise. Purpose of this exercise is to promote cooperation and interoperability between the regional and extra regional navies operating in the IOR. With its kick start in 2007, 28 countries participated in the exercise that proved to be an instant success. So far in the series, five exercises have been conducted which have seen increased participation from our friends and partners. AMAN – 19 is scheduled in this month (February) making it the sixth one in the series. So far 43 countries, including Australia, China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, UK and US, have confirmed (still counting) their participation.
The AMAN concept revolves around collaborative maritime security by building partnerships for making sea a safer place for sea fearers and merchant shipping. Exercise has following salient objectives: (i) Develop coalition building and multi-layered security cooperation that promotes a safe and sustainable maritime environment, (ii) Enhance tactical interoperability between regional and extra regional navies thereby acting as a bridge between the regions, (iii) Project positive image of Pakistan as a country contributing towards regional peace and stability, (iv) Consolidate Pakistan Navy’s (PN) position in the regional maritime arena, (v) Display of united resolve against terrorism and crimes in maritime domain & (vi) Intermingling of multinationals with depiction of their respective cultures. Exercise AMAN with an enduring slogan as “Together for Peace” has consolidated to become a jewel in PN calendar of activities being considered as one of the top forums in the region for collaborative naval activities.