‘Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea’, says Antonio in Shakespeare’s famous play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’. The same dictum is equally applicable to Pakistan, a country whose major reliance for all trade, in fact more than 96 percent, is on sea. The international trade lanes that traverse the Indian Ocean waters pass close to Pakistan’s area of interest and its territorial waters. Sitting on the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz– from where 35% of the world’s seaborne oil shipments and 20% of oil traded worldwide passes on a daily basis– Pakistan has a major stake in the world’s energy and economic security.
Cognizant of the strategic significance of its geographical location, Pakistan Navy (PN) has been preeminently playing its role with the international navies to make its area of influence secure for sea-trade. In this regard, PN has been participating in the US-led Combined Task Forces CTF-150 and CTF-151 (for countering terrorism and smuggling) as well as commanding them several times. In a similar vein, PN has been hosting AMAN exercises since 2007.
“The exercises are undoubtedly the most significant initiative by PN that serves Pakistan’s strategic interests at several levels.”
The exercises are held every two years and the measure of the success of these multilateral exercises hosted by PN can be gauged from the fact that since the first exercise held in 2007 the number of participating states has been increasing continually. This year’s AMAN exercise (10-14 February 2019) has witnessed the participation from navies of 45 states apart from Pakistan. Representatives from the navies of the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Iran and Japan, were some notable participating nations in the exercise.
As the center of global international trade is shifting to the seas alongside the shifting dynamics of the Indian Ocean, the AMAN series of exercises are playing a pivotal role against thwarting regional threats, by developing amongst the participating navies’ doctrinal synergy, as well as skills that enhance interoperability between participants which is important for ensuring good order at sea. The exercise has a global outlook as it engages regional as well as extra-regional navies for actualizing the mission of making the global commons and north Arabian seas safe from the threats of piracy, terrorism, drug trafficking and human smuggling etc.
The exercises are undoubtedly the most significant initiative by PN that serves Pakistan’s strategic interests at several levels. Firstly, Pakistan’s reliance on the sea for its trade makes it incumbent to ensure maritime security of Sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). Secondly, with the operationalization of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor this region will witness enhanced economic activity; the level of success of which will be determined by the measures for maritime security undertaken in this regard.
These exercises would be fundamental in imparting several lessons for PN. As stated earlier, they reinforce the regional maritime security and cooperation between partnering nations. The AMAN exercises have two phases; i.e. a harbour phase and a sea phase. They provide a common forum for information sharing, mutual understanding and identifying areas of common interests between participating navies and during the harbour phase help develop and practice response tactics, techniques and procedures against asymmetric and traditional threats.
In a time when the geopolitics of Indian Ocean is sowing the seeds of competitiveness by shifting power dynamics, the exercises are a commendable feature of PN’s mission of providing a platform to world navies for maintenance of peace in the region and beyond.
This article was published in the Global Village Space on February 15, 2019.
Saima Aman Sial is working as a Senior Research Fellow and expert in strategic issues at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad. She is a former Nonproliferation Fellow the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Sandia National Laboratories.