THE seventh biennial AMAN exercise taking place on 11-16 February 2021 hit headlines across the globe when a press release from Russian Ministry of Defence informed that ships from its Black Sea Fleet will be participating in the exercise with other countries, including US and NATO member states. The development is significant because the Russian fleet will be joining AMAN naval drills along with NATO nations at a time when there is a new administration in Washington.
However this is not the first time that Pakistan will be bringing strategic rivals on one page through maritime multilateralism. Pakistan has always promoted harmony and security through its participation in various maritime initiatives. Maritime multilateralism in the Indian Ocean region became prominent after 9/11, when US-led coalition of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) was formed in 2002 to address issues of maritime security and terrorism at sea.
The initial mandate of CMF was to ensure maritime security in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, for which Combined Task Forces 150 and 152 were created. Later in 2009, when the United Nations’ Security Council called upon states to take measures against piracy off the coast of Somalia, Combined Task Force 151 was created to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden region.
Pakistan became part of the Combined Maritime Forces from the onset, just as it joined the effort in global war on terror on ground. Pakistan has been the most active member of CMF task forces for maritime security and counter-piracy. Pakistan Navy has led the Combined Task Forces 150 and 151 for 11 and 9 times respectively, and has most recently taken the command of CTF 151 in December 2020. Pakistan also joined the United Nations’ Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) in 2010 to support international anti-piracy efforts in Somalia.
In the same light, Pakistan also started AMAN exercises in 2007 to promote maritime multilateralism and bring different actors from across the globe on one platform. The exercise is conducted biennially in two phases i.e. harbour phase including an International Maritime Conference and sea phase. From 2007 to 2019, many countries have participated in the exercises on different occasions in six rounds of AMAN, with the highest number of participants being 46 in AMAN 2019. Keeping with the tradition, 2021’s AMAN exercise will also host more than 40 nations including US, Russia and China.
This is in contrast to recent developments in the Indian Ocean where the region is increasingly being polarized and militarized by India and other extra-regional powers who seek Indian pre-eminence in the region to contain other nations. Steps taken by India in this regard include nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean, and recent operationalisation of the Quad under Malabar exercises.
Involvement of hitherto extra-regional actors like US, France, Australia etc., suggested an increasing polarization in the Indian Ocean region between supposedly Indian and Chinese blocs. India is also the only regional country which has never participated in AMAN, and has repeatedly blocked Pakistan’s entry into Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
Therefore, AMAN 2021 will be doing justice with its name by bringing different regional and extra-regional actors on one platform at a time when the Indian Ocean region is increasingly being polarized. On one hand, it will be bringing a large number of navies together to promote interoperability against common threats to global maritime security. While on the other hand, it will be bringing actors with diverging interests like China, US and Russia together on one platform.
—The writer is Research Associate at Maritime Study Forum Islamabad.