Robert D Kaplan contends that the Greater Indian Ocean, stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa including the 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 geopolitics in motion, he hoped that this century will be less violent (relatively peaceful) than the last one, but to a similar degree, it could have recognizable geography. So, today’s Greater Indian Ocean is Yesterday’s heartland. In this greater water stretch that there lie ganglia of global energy routes and the quiet seemingly inexorable rise of developing Asian nations.
The major part of this recognizable geography is its western half which has remained in the spotlight 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 an abundance of maritime economic resources but is equally challenged by a proliferation of security threats. Some important dynamics of this region include; Yemen conflict, Saudi-Iran relations, the rise of ISIS, and the Arab spring those shape the very character of this region. Few suggest that apart from being an 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 the monarchy. The zones of conflict include Somalia, Sudan, and countries with weak government structures having limited capacity for policing offshore activities. Illicit trade and unlawful activities have been flourishing in many parts of this region. For instance, the absence of central authority in Somalia at most parts is responsible for the emergence of piracy. The predicament brewed along the Somalian coastline and reached from the Gulf of Aden, out to the Arabian Sea, and large portions of the Western Indian Ocean. Today though these attacks are less common due to military initiatives e.g., NATO Shipping Centre (NSC), European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA), Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) comprising a number of Combined Task Forces (CTF), UK Maritime Trade Operations, (UKMTO), etc, they still continue to be a threat in this region often with increasing levels of violence. The transnational nature of these threats and the vast relatively less regulated sea realm required a collaborative approach at the regional as well as international level.
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 but also 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. While seas used to be regarded as the common heritage of mankind in pre–UN Convention on Law of the Sea (1982) era, the newer coordinated initiatives subject them under collective responsibility in Kaplan’s less violent 21st century, especially in the western Indian Ocean.
In the words of Quaid e 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 neighbors. In the light of these words Pakistan has always taken initiative in fostering peace in the region and our forces, including the Navy, are fully prepared to face any challenge. Any aggressive designs or unnatural arrangement for supremacy by the adversary would neither would it serve the purpose of peace and stability. In fact, the desire for peace is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s aspirations that echoes in speeches of almost all civil and military leaders.
Ensuring 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 the 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 a multinational naval exercise called AMAN which means peace in English. AMAN is a biennial exercise. The 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-21 is scheduled in the month of Feb making it the seventh one. So far more than forty countries have confirmed (still counting) their participation comprising naval platforms, Special Operating Forces (SOF), Marines, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams, and Observers. Australia, China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, UK, and the US are regular contributors to name a few. The idea of multi-country naval exercises is not a new one and has past precedent in different regions across the world. The net sum advantage is mutual cooperation and harmony apart from sharing of experiences and interoperability is the hour of need.
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:
- Enhance tactical interoperability between regional and extra regional navies thereby acting as a bridge between the regions.
- Display of united resolve against terrorism and crimes in maritime domain.
The exercise program is a nice assortment of harbor and sea activities with a flavor of ceremonial, international culture, sports activities apart from hardcore military maneuvers and exercises to hone skills / practicing responses against Maritime Security threats. The program also includes the International Maritime Conference (IMC) under the aegis of National Maritime Policy Research (NCMPR). NCMPR has been instrumental in hosting large participation of visiting navies in a very conducive environment in the previous AMAN exercises. The topics have been ranging from prevailing maritime threats to wider subjects of fishery preservation to climate change remedies under an overlying theme of maritime security in IOR. The proceedings do not end there, rather NCMPR analyzes the ideas shared at this forum and extracts and designs relevant policy options, response strategies, and operating procedures for the government and the regional countries to formulate viable strategies against the most pressing issues.
Exercise AMAN with an enduring slogan as “Together for Peace” has consolidated to become a jewel in the PN calendar of activities being considered as one of the top forums in the region for collaborative naval activities. It is a testimony of PN’s accumulated professional acumen, knowledge, expertise, and well worked up naval tactical procedures that can accommodate much larger participation of platforms at sea. Taking leverage of having commanded CTFs for the number of times, it provides confidence to the participating navies to join hands in protecting global commons, share experiences, and rehearse responses while at the same time acknowledging PN to be a reckonable naval force. Let us hope that our shared desire for peace gains winds as we continue to endeavor towards a world defined by harmony and peace in general and the North Arabian Sea in particular. “Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth”. Menachem Begin.