THE significance of oceans and seas has long been recognized and advocated by strategists and thinkers. The essence of the relationship that has existed between man and the sea has been captured by Alfred Thayer Mahan in a simple but profound observation, ‘the first and most obvious light in which the sea presents itself from the social and political point of view is that of a great highway; or better, perhaps, of a wide common, over which men may pass in all directions’. Maritime combat in the 20th century warfare has attained due significance. Likewise when the concept of Blue Economy is gaining strength and popularity while considering the prominence of sea routes, any country’s Navy become a vital necessity. Indian Ocean, being the third largest ocean in the world, constitutes an important locus on the globe. The Indian Ocean provides major sea-routes which connect the Middle East with Europe, East Asia, Africa and the US. The sea lanes or routes in the Indian Ocean are strategically considered substantial as more than 80% World’s seaborne trade takes place via Indian Ocean and has important choke points for oil transits.
Through these choke points, 40% of transit is via the Strait of Hormuz, 35% takes place through the Strait of Malacca and 8% of it passes through the Bab el-Mandeb Channel. Apart from channels of transportation, Indian Ocean is shared by major powers for their marine compatibility and thus faces challenges too in the form of strategic developments by states. However, this Indian Ocean Region is considered volatile after the post-Cold War developments when it comes to domestic tumult or conflicts among several states, acquisition of nuclear capability by countries and indulging into arms race, proliferation of weapons, terrorism, drug & human trafficking, environmental degradation or threats of piracy.The present-day global maritime environment remains uptight with challenges from traditional and non-traditional threats. The oceans that serve as the arteries of global economy also attract illegal activities such as piracy, human smuggling and arms/drug trafficking etc.
Pakistan has always been divergent to such crimes and being a responsible maritime state has always contributed towards peace and stability in the region. Its commitment to ‘peaceful coexistence’, regional harmony and cooperation is also reflected through Pakistan’s defence forces participation in UN Peacekeeping missions, UN mandated Combined Maritime Task Forces 150 & 151 and various joint exercises. To promote regional cooperation and stability, greater interoperability and to display a united resolve against terrorism and crimes in maritime domain including piracy, PN in 2007, took an initiative of holding biennial Multinational Exercise named AMAN. The word AMAN means ‘Peace’ and the slogan of the exercise is ‘Together for Peace’. Since then, 6 exercises have been conducted and 7th is planned in February 2021. This Exercise has become a major International naval event as in first exercise in 2007, navies of around 28 countries participated with 29 observers whereas in 6th exercise in 2019 number overshot to 46 countries and 115 observers.
This time also AMAN Exercise is planned with focused and intensive objectives to enhance interoperability with regional and extra regional navies and thereby acting as a bridge between the regions and showcase united resolve against terrorism and crimes in the maritime domain. This time too, exercise will be conducted in a well planned, safe and secure environment following SOPs and protocols pertaining to Covid-19, with back-to-back activities at the harbour as well as exercise in the Sea. Harbour events would include an opening ceremony at PN Dockyard followed by wreath laying at Yadgar-e-Shuhada International Band Display and Maritime Counter Terrorism demo would be worth another watching event. Table top discussions on professional topics by these top reputed naval participants would help in enhancing their knowledge through mutual learning.
Definitely, the concept behind such exercises is not to show off military strength but to assess one’s preparedness for any kind of challenges and with many countries being part of such activities one can judge its capability and operational preparedness from a better lens. Likewise, the concept of exercise, AMAN revolves around information sharing, mutual understanding and identifying areas of common interests for participating navies with emphasis on maritime security operations, counter terrorism operations and humanitarian assistance operations. Based on this, the exercise seeks to develop and practise response tactics, techniques and procedures (RTTP) for maritime infrastructure, assets and forces against traditional and non-traditional threats.
The economic importance of sea in peace time is growing and will continue to do so but protection of own SLOCs for national security has been and will remain the key role of naval forces. However, modern-day threats at sea have emerged as a new challenge for naval powers. A maritime nation today needs a balanced fleet of merchant flag carriers for economic support and a potent navy to protect it whereas military alliances have given way to combine response to threats and capability sharing among the partners. Exercise AMAN will certainly continue practising all of these concepts whereas this exercise not only contributes towards regional peace and stability but presence of extra regional navies and displaying with them mutual resolve makes Pakistan Navy shipping in Indian Ocean Region as a herald in journey for collaborative security.
—The Islamabad-based writer works as Senior Coordinator at PAYF.