By Anoshka Johum
The oceans are ‘shared global commons’ and the ‘lifeline’ of international trade. Oceans hold the key to the present and future economic development, prosperity, and foremost, security for all nations.
It is estimated that more than three billion people worldwide, mainly in developing countries, depend on the ocean for their livelihood and well-being.
However, in the era of globalization and increased non-traditional security challenges, the dynamics of international maritime security have changed. Today, the security of the maritime sector is being undermined by unprecedented threats and challenges such as contested navigation routes, depletion of natural resources, piracy and armed robbery, terrorism, trafficking (human, drugs, arms, and nuclear materials), smuggling of migrants, illegal activities in the fisheries sector, and intentional and unlawful damage to the marine environment.
All these issues represent acute challenges to global efforts in maintaining international peace and security. Furthermore, maritime disputes between several countries, climate change, and natural disasters also pose a great challenge while keeping the world’s oceans accessible and safe for economic and developmental purposes.
With these growing challenges and changing threat dynamics of the maritime sector, the emphasis on maintaining strong naval power has increased manifold. Naval power plays a pivotal role in enhancing the influence of coastal states.
Very often, the fact that naval power especially maintaining blue water navies might play an important part in conventional as well as non-conventional deterrence is either overlooked or ignored. Navies perform important and diverse tasks in peacetime and operations short of war.
Therefore, many states are increasing their naval presence around the maritime economic hubs and strategically significant choke points to guard their economic, political, and strategic interests.
Approximately 80% of global oil shipments and one-third of bulk cargo transit via the Sea Line of Communication in the Indian Ocean.
It is home to more than 2.7 billion people. IOR is rich in natural resources and is very significant due to its geological, political, economic, and strategic features. Owing to the increased geostrategic significance of the Indian Ocean for not only littoral but non-littoral states, there is an upsurge in the number of countries maintaining their naval presence in the IOR.
The unprecedented increase in the levels of insecurity in the Indian Ocean region particularly around the Gulf, West Africa, the Strait of Malacca, and the Arabian Sea is concerning for many littoral states. As a result, there was a clear understanding that no one country could handle the magnitude of this current danger alone.
To enhance security at sea, strong international cooperation was needed which would not only address these challenges but would also focus on eliminating their root causes such as poverty, a lack of alternative livelihoods, insecurity, and weak governance structures.
The growing and interlinked maritime security threats called for a truly global and integrated response because making a coordinated maritime policy was a must. As a result, maritime states turned to the formation of marine alliances and the conduct of naval exercises to improve interoperability among world navies and mitigate maritime security challenges together.
Being a major stakeholder in the IOR, maintaining peace and security in the region is the foremost priority of Pakistan. In view thereof, the Pakistan Navy is going to organize its multi-national naval “Exercise Aman” in February 2023. The exercise will be the 8th of the series and is expected to be attended by more than 50 countries from various parts of the world.
With the slogan of “Together for peace and security” Aman Exercise, as the name indicates, is primarily focused on maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean. Pakistan Navy holds this mega event biennially to signify Pakistan’s commitment to making seas safer for positive human activities while inviting regional and extra-regional navies.
Aman represents a ‘bridge’ that allows several countries to meet and operate through their naval forces with each other. Aman is a manifestation of securitization through cooperation, which emphasizes collectivism rather than states competing for the maximization of their own security irrespective of others.
Since its inaugural session in 2007, the number of countries participating in Aman Exercises steadily grew from 28 in the first year to 43 in 2021 and the figure is expected to hit 100 countries this year. Aman Exercises had made their landmark in the Indian Ocean region as a symbol of sustainable peace and security.
The rising trajectory of participation signals an acceptance of Pakistan’s message of peace and security. The frequent conduct of Aman Exercise demonstrates Pakistan’s resolve to combat crimes and terrorism in the maritime domain and also showcases the professional excellence of the Pakistan Navy.
Aman Exercise validates Pakistan’s commitment, will, and expertise to promote international cooperation in maritime affairs to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the region and beyond.
The ‘Aman-2023’ exercise aims to strengthen and develop military cooperation between the countries participating in the maneuvers in the interests of security and stability at sea, as well as sharing experience in countering the threats of maritime piracy in areas of heavy shipping and conducting search and rescue operations at sea.
The event will help participating countries explore new avenues of mutual interest, naval cooperation, regional maritime security, and bilateral collaboration. The objective of ‘Aman-2023’ is to enhance interoperability between regional and other navies.
It serves as a global platform for strengthening communication amongst participating naval fleets. In the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean, Aman promotes a shared vision for enhancing maritime security. The exercise is designed to ensure unhindered and safe trade through the Indian Ocean region.
The exercise aimed to consolidate the process of collaborative maritime security among countries across the globe; demonstrate joint resolve against the threats emanating from the maritime domain; enhance interoperability among the participating nations; and achieve a shared understanding of maritime security operations, counter-terrorism operations, and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operations (HADR).
To achieve these objectives, the exercise has been designed in such a way that it is divided into two phases: Harbor and Sea. In the harbor phase activities, such as Friendly Sports Matches, and International Cultural Displays, are being conducted. Whereas in the sea phase, International Fleet Review is carried out along with other various exercises to practice response against maritime security threats in a multinational environment. Moreover, Special Forces’ teams of the participating nations take part in the counter-piracy operations to develop Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) for combined action against asymmetric threats at sea.
Apart from ensuring peace and security, Aman Exercise provides an opportunity to observe the varied cultures of participating countries, it will promote regional cooperation and stability, greater interoperability, and a united resolve against terrorism and crimes in the maritime domain. This exercise is evidence of Pakistan’s military multilateralism.
A large number of observers, foreign diplomats, personnel from the participating navies, and senior officials of the armed forces of Pakistan are expected to attend the event and witness the captivating demonstrations put on display.
Aman Exercise is going to be conducted simultaneously with the maiden Pakistan International Maritime Expo and conference (PIMEC) planned in February 2023. PIMEC aims to showcase our country’s maritime potential and explore new avenues for cooperation and the blue economy.
Pakistan has always been a responsible state, and its commitment to peaceful coexistence and desire for regional stability is evident through its participation in various international peacekeeping missions, Combined Task Forces 150 and 151, various indigenous initiatives, and multilateral exercises like Regional Maritime Security Patrols (RMSP) and Aman exercises.
Pakistan strongly favors collaboration as a tactical option when it comes to handling circumstances that endanger common human interests. According to its doctrine, the Pakistan Navy accepts the presence of a “cooperative continuum” that enables fleets to cooperate through regional and extra-regional coalitions and respond to both conventional and novel maritime threats. In search of maritime security, the Pakistan Navy is keen to operate through its own started and sustained multilateral agreements.
Based on the tenet of “proactive engagement,” the Pakistan Navy views maritime outreach as a chance to establish and strengthen alliances that go beyond the conventional interest-based strategy. Aman is a reflection of Pakistan’s desire for engagement over alienation, ties over barriers, and cooperation over competitiveness rather than a response to any regional maritime infrastructure. Therefore, Aman is appropriately referred to as an operational expression of Pakistan’s foreign policy.