Pakistan, GCC and the world: Together for peace on the high seas
Peace is a difficult objective and has to be undertaken collaboratively by different countries. There is no denying that maritime commerce is the lifeline of the international economy. The ‘blue economy,’ which is essentially the judicious and sustainable use of marine resources, is rightly getting more traction. Ocean pollution is threatening marine ecosystems. Rising sea tempratures and higher water tables are ominous not only for marine life but also people and wildlife living on the coastal areas. Pakistan has a long coast, busy ports at Karachi and Gwadar, and the bulk of the Gulf’s energy resources pass through Pakistan’s territorial waters.
The Aman (peace) 2023 multinational naval exercises were held in Karachi on 10-14 February, the eighth international naval exercise of its kind, hosted by Pakistan since 2007 when 27 countries had attended. The number of participants has been gradually increasing. 50 countries have participated this year, with the US and Chinese navies among them. From the region, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Turkiye, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have sent their naval ships and sailors. Some countries have sent their aircraft as well. Turkiye could not send its aircraft this year because of its earthquake rescue and relief operations.
The exercise was divided into two parts running simultaneously. On shore activities included an exhibition of naval equipment and a series of conferences and seminars. The theme of the main conference was: Embracing the blue economy- challenges and opportunities for developing countries. The other part of the exercise, and the main one, was various joint activities at sea, including maritime anti- terrorism exercises. Both parts were equally important as they complemented each other. Such occasions also promote understanding and help build bonds across borders and territorial waters. The exhibition and conference part was inaugurated by the Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs in the presence of the Pakistan Naval Chief.
50 countries have participated this year, with the US and Chinese navies among them. From the region, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Turkey, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have sent their naval ships and sailors.
The term ‘blue economy’ deserves to be dilated upon. Our seas and oceans have their own ecosystems, food chains, seafood for humans, energy resources as bounties of nature. Apart from the hydrocarbons under their beds, the oceans can also contribute renewable energy. They afford us economical ways of transportation. It is estimated that the current annual value of the global Blue Economy is in the vicinity of one and a half trillion dollars. Pakistan’s share in this right now is negligible. It must fully exploit the resources in its exclusive economic zone to generate additional income, boost exports and generate employment.
An internationally accepted definition of the blue economy is that it is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of ecosystems. The Pakistani blue economy is right now mainly confined to the income generated by its ports. Its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 240,000 sq. km is under-utilized. This potential wealth can be fully exploited through collaboration with developed countries. It is through the exchange of ideas in international moots like the one that just concluded in Karachi, that joint ventures can be established with developed maritime nations.
Post 9/11 security fears, piracy around the Horn of Africa and growing narcotics trade across the world have posed asymmetrical challenges to maritime security everywhere. For a country like Pakistan, with a long coastline sitting close to tension prone areas, these challenges have to be faced on a regular basis. To meet such challenges, maritime nations established a Combined Task Force (CTF) with its base in Bahrain. Pakistan was one of the founding members and has commanded this force several times. Collaborative action is essential to meet such mounting challenges at regional and international levels.
The concluding ceremony of Aman 23 was witnessed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as Chief Guest. All armed forces’ chiefs were present on a naval ship to receive the Prime Minister. A shortened version of the exercises was displayed, and all participating naval vessels and aircraft took part with Pakistan’s largest navy ship PNS Muawin in the middle. This logistics ship was built in Karachi with Turkish collaboration. The Prime Minister, federal ministers and Chief Minister of Sindh Province also met the dignitaries who came to witness the exercise and participate in conferences from other countries.
With ever evolving security challenges and man-made problems like marine pollution, solutions do not lie in unilateral decision-making by countries. It’s just not enough. All of us are stronger working in collaboration. For example, Pakistan has cooperated closely with the GCC navies. This is because the Gulf nations’ naval strength is essential to deter threats to maritime commerce in the Gulf, Arabian and Red seas.
Pakistan has always been a responsible member of the international community, at the forefront of collaborative efforts to achieve regional and international peace and security. Aman 23 was the continuation of those efforts and it will certainly not be the last.
- Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst. Twitter: @JavedHafiz8