Threats on the high seas and the Pak-Saudi partnership
Nasim al Bahar naval exercises between Pakistan and the Royal Saudi navies are three decades old now and performed every two years, alternating between the two countries. The latest exercise in this series concluded in the Kingdom city of Al Jubail this month. This three-day bilateral exercise was divided in two parts, on shore activities and sea exercises involving ships and aircraft. Bilateral defense co-operation is however, not confined to the navies alone. In fact a couple of weeks ago a joint anti-terrorism army exercise was conducted in the army special forces center at Cherat.
The bulk of the earth is covered by the oceans. For Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, territorial waters are important as they are the cheapest and most practical channels for commercial activities. While Saudi Arabia exports its oil overseas through tankers, Pakistan gets its oil and gas through its ports. The safe and smooth transport of energy resources is not only important for the Kingdom and Pakistan, but indeed the entire world. Therefore, ever vigilant navies, jointly working to secure international waters, are a global necessity.
Threats at sea are broadly divided into two categories; traditional and non- traditional. Traditional threats originate from the states perceived as antagonistic. It is necessary to correctly assess enemy capabilities and plans. Preparations to defend territorial waters and ports can be sound only if the threat perception is correct.
Nasim al Bahar has not only contributed to bilateral security but also enhanced regional peace and future prosperity.
- Javed Hafeez
Earlier this year, Pakistan hosted a multi-national naval exercise called Aman 2023. It was attended by 50 naval contingents from around the globe, including Saudi Arabia. It amply depicted that both the Kingdom and Pakistan accord high importance to securing not only their own territorial waters but the high seas as well. Global prosperity and resultant economic activity is beneficial to all nations. And of the three forces, naval international co-operation is more in vogue now. Combined Task Forces (CTF) 150 , 151 and 152 , stationed in the Gulf are proof of that.
Non-traditional threats on the high seas have also proliferated in recent years. These include piracy, human, drug and arms smuggling. Nations have to guard against illegal fishing in their territorial waters. Similarly, vigilance is essential against nuclear waste dumping. Ecosystems in the oceans and seas have to be safeguarded. All these aspects are regularly discussed at Pak-Saudi naval exercises.
Pakistan Navy ships Saif, Dehshat, Himmat and Muhafiz sailed to Al Jubail especially for these exercises. Marines from both sides also participated. Helicopters for rescue operations were provided by the Royal Saudi Air Force. Seminars and workshops were held to discuss and hone tactical procedures. Special co-ordination meetings were held to discuss and decide the details of the exercise. As soon as the harbor phase endes, sailors and marines are readying themselves for sea activities.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long coastlines and important ports. The Kingdom has the port of Dammam on the Gulf and Jeddah on the Red Sea, apart from five other major ports. Pakistan has major ports of Karachi, Bin Qasim and Gwadar on a 700 km long coastline. Foolproof security around these ports and in their territorial waters is essential for the two countries. Their bilateral naval cooperation is also built around this imperative and, therefore, assumes strategic dimension.
The main aim of such exercises is to enhance the interoperability of two forces not using identical ships, arms and equipment. They also afford an opportunity to test new arms and equipment in a real time war situation. Seminars and workshops are good occasions not only to learn much needed technical skills but also share their experiences about the tackling of traditional and non- traditional threats and challenges. Over and above, the soldiers develop mutual bonhomie. And increasing cooperation between two navies further cements the already brotherly ties.
This is eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Both countries have faced threats of various kinds in their territorial waters and beyond. The sea lanes in our region will assume great importance as trade between China, GCC and Africa picks up via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Pakistani port of Gwadar will play a pivotal role in that scenario. Regional ports will become busier hubs of economic and commercial activity.
Only a secure and stable polity can achieve economic prosperity. And general prosperity is the best anecdote to extremism. Nasim al Bahar 14 has also been called Daraa al Bahar which means shield of the sea. It is necessary to enhance naval defense in order to keep security threats away from the land. Security and prosperity have a symbiotic relationship. Nasim al Bahar has not only contributed to bilateral security but also enhanced regional peace and future prosperity.
- 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.