By Taj M Khattak
Exercise ‘AMAN’-17 (AMAN meaning peace in Urdu) has been planned by Pakistan Navy in the North Arabian Sea from 10 to 14 February, 2017. It is a multinational exercise structured and organised by Pakistan Navy and involves ships, aircraft, helicopters, Special Operations Forces (SOF), Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD), marine teams and observers from regional as well extra-regional navies. This year’s participation includes ships, aircraft, helicopters, SOF/EOD/marines teams and observers from more than 35 countries.
This is a biennial activity since 2007 and the current exercise is fifth in ‘AMAN’ series. The idea of ‘Exercise AMAN’ is catching the imaginations of a number of maritime nations which nurture a keen interest in common use of seas of the world for peaceful co-existence. The number of participant countries this year has risen to more than 35 from 28 participants in 2007, which is a clear reflection of its resounding success and receptiveness of this initiative.
Exercise AMAN-17 is spread over harbour and sea phases. The sea phase will provide an opportunity to naval units to focus on interoperability and mutual understanding of capabilities and skill levels of each other through a wide range of activities like Search & Rescue (SAR) Operations, gunnery drills, anti-piracy demonstrations, Replenishment at Sea (RAS), anti-surface & anti-submarine warfare and interdiction exercises. The Special Operation Forces, Explosives Ordinance Disposal Teams and marine units will display and familiarise themselves with weapons and equipment of various countries, engage in table top discussions, hold mine disposal workshops, conduct scenario based exercises, demonstrate maritime counter terrorism operations, combat marksman training and boarding rehearsals.
During harbour phase, participants will witness maritime counter-terrorism demonstrations by Pak Marines besides ship visits of various navies for deeper understanding. The hall-mark of the harbour phase will be an International Maritime Conference (IMC) which will be held under the aegis of National Centre for Maritime Policy and Research (NCMPR) and will take place in tandem with sea phase.
The underlying theme of this year’s exercise is ‘Together for Peace’ - a laudable goal as history has repeatedly demonstrated since age of exploration from 15th to 17th century, that oceans across the globe have brought blessings as well as thrown up common challenges for mankind. Whenever and wherever nations have engaged with oceans, they have experienced progress and prosperity while isolation has led to decline and stagnation. Joining hands for peaceful use of oceans for benefit of all has brought development to countries while wars fought over the oceans have brought disaster.
The Indian Ocean has remained an important area throughout due to its unique strategic location and un-explored natural resources. It covers almost twenty percent of the world’s oceans with a total area of about 68 millions square kilometers or nearly five and half times the size of United States of America and has rightly been dubbed as ‘Energy Highway’ in the 21st century. It stretches from Andaman Sea, Java Sea, Savu Sea, Timor Sea and in the east to Mozambique Channel in the west and from Flores Sea, Great Australian Bight in the south to Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf in the north and includes such critical choke points as Straits of Hormuz, Malacca Straits, Bab-el-Mandeb, Sunda and Lambak Straits, Mozambique Channel and ten degrees and six degrees channels.
In our regional context, significance of Indian Ocean was first realised when Japan occupied Burma during WW-II. The period between two world wars set in motion a process which eventually led towards independence of many nations. The emergence of newly independent nation states around the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR), rich in natural resources but weak in infra-structure, unleashed its own dynamics of global seaborne trade and communications and ushered in a period of rapid development. The transition from colonies to independent states was a painful process for many as except China, Malaysia and Korea, none other could manage to follow any productive industrialisation trajectory. However, gradually shape of the world began to change from; mainly two spheres i.e. a trade dependent maritime region and a Eurasian continent, to a third emerging geo-strategic region in and around Indian Ocean. This region has all the features essential for influencing rest of the world such as its location, trade volume and its orientation as well as cultural and ideological bonds of regional population which act as catalysts for economic prosperity.
The Arabian Peninsula and Gulf compliment Indian Ocean region’s significance as it has nearly half of all proven oil resources of the world. Almost 40 percent of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean, which is a lifeline for both developed and developing countries. The economic development in the region, though uneven in some cases, has enhanced importance of connectivity and networking of global trade for which safe and innocent passage through shipping routes in accordance with international law is crucial. The accumulative of all these factors is that there is greater awareness amongst countries with asymmetrical combat power and capabilities to come together for their common cause of peaceful uses of oceans.
In the evolving regional scenario, Pakistan today is faced with a formidable challenge of safeguarding its maritime security in order to stimulate the country’s economic growth. The strategic outlook for Indian Ocean merits continuous examination for working out appropriate responses to the evolving challenges in the future. As such, reaching out to other partners, with whom Pakistan has a commonality of interest in promoting world peace and harmony in the Indian Ocean through deeper co-operation in maritime paradigm, assumes vital importance.
The CPEC project and creation of Task Force 88 for seaward defence of trade through Gwadar port has added a new dimension to importance of Indian Ocean. Iran, where Chahbahar port’s upgradation is being financed by India, has expressed its desire for Gwadar and Chahbahar to act as ‘sister’ ports. The warm-water port of Gwadar is expected to serve as a nodal point for goods through Pakistan to China and beyond to Central Asian Republic (CAR) states in the north. As a reputed Indian newspaper recently observed, the ‘One Belt One Road’ paradigm, of which CPEC is just one element, is no longer a mere project running through Pakistan but an economic initiative which will link 64 countries.
Exercise AMAN-17 is not aimed against anyone as Pakistan is a responsible state and is fully cognizant of intertwined security and economic interests of other regional players which are also heavily dependent on trade through vital shipping lanes crisscrossing the Indian Ocean. The security of Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs), as such, becomes a collective task in which everyone has huge stakes. In order to emphasise this point, a senior military official recently asked India to shun its ‘enmity’ towards Pakistan and join the $46 billion CPEC project, which is attracting unparalleled interest.
The diverse nature of participants in Exercise ‘AMAN-2017, some straddled on the shores of Indian Ocean for a millennium but with nascent maritime infrastructure and others from afar as established maritime powers in their own rights for centuries, reflects their deeper understanding about importance of unhindered flow of global trade through this critical but volatile sea space. Their participation in these maneuvers is a testimony to acknowledge Pakistan Navy’s centrality in regional maritime arena and a reposing of confidence by such a large number of nations in Pakistan Navy’s capabilities to play lead role in promoting cause of peace on one of the most important oceans of the world.