Since the end of cold war, security perception has undergone a fundamental metamorphosis. The post 9/11 world saw state-centric traditional security concerns becoming outmoded. But after a span of decade and a half, another shift is now underway. A new set of multifarious challenges have emerged and confront all states equally. Non-traditional threats such as piracy, terrorism, arms proliferation, illegal fishing, drug and human trafficking were once on the rise but consequently have abated to a large extent. In the new paradigm, the conventional state based threats alongside Violent Non-State Actors (VNSAs) and hybrid warfare is surfacing as the new phenomenon. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Indian Ocean and its peripheries.

Indian Ocean Region (IOR) can be deemed as a burning cauldron brimming with grave security threats and is rightly declared as the nuclear flashpoint of the world. United States’ unequivocal and explicit support for India’s entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMoA) between the two states has raised quite a few eyebrows. It is predicted to escalate an unwarranted arms race. The tit for tat missile testing by the arch rivals – India and Pakistan – further disturbs the security fabric in the region. Moreover, IOR has become the loci of conflicts and wars, in a single calendar year of 2009, a total of 170 political conflicts were estimated to be primarily waged in IOR. Added to this, trans-national terrorist networks may become a hindrance to the free flow of sea-traffic in the maritime domain.

As America’s global clout recedes, China is filling the power vacuum in Indian Ocean. By adopting a pragmatic realpolitik approach in securing its national interests, China has launched an ambitious commercial and economic drive overseas. Chinese infrastructural development along the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and investment in developing economic industrial zones has created quite the brouhaha. One Belt One Road (OBOR) is one such initiative. As part of Chinese grand strategic design, OBOR is aimed at expansion of reviving the ancient trade routes and economic ties with Central Asia, South Asia and Europe. Maritime Silk Road illustrates a master-stroke of Chinese diplomacy and can be envisaged as projection of its naval supremacy in the region to offset US presence and to secure its sea lines of communications or its energy lifelines. A major node of this initiative is China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has gained immense traction and is lauded as a game changer for the participant nations.

Amidst the current developments, it will be utterly prosaic to reiterate the significance of Indian Ocean region. It has long served as a political chessboard for the great power interests. India’s Kautilyan posture is a source of anguish for regional states. Growing discontent between regional rivals India and China has further escalated security imperatives.

Being fully cognizant of the magnitude of threats emanating from the maritime domain; Pakistan Navy has been an active participant in regional security coalitions and maritime awareness forums. Most notable are Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). CTF-150 and CTF-151 are US led ventures in countering terrorism and piracy respectively in IOR. While, IONS since its inaugural seminar of 2008, is deemed as a forum of collaborative mechanism for the littoral states and is intended to dispense cognitive maritime thinking across the aquatic expanse. Since the inception of above coalition task forces, Pakistan Navy has effectively commanded CTF-150 nine times in the past and at present tenth tenure of command is in progress. Similarly Pakistan Navy has successfully completed eight commands of CTF-151.

Undoubtedly, we have entered in an era of unprecedented change where maritime security should figure prominently in our nation’s security calculus. Unfortunately, Pakistani leadership and policy makers since independence have suffered from sea blindness- remaining oblivious of the crucial role of its oceanic sphere. The land-centric approach has long been entrenched firmly in the minds of our populace. This ignorance on the part of elite decision makers to foresee Pakistan’s maritime potential speaks volumes of the dearth of vision and will cost us drearily in the decades to come.

In bolstering the potential of maritime sector, Pakistan Navy has undertaken remarkable initiatives aimed at disseminating knowledge of oceanic affairs. Another meritorious effort of Pakistan Navy to ward off sea-blindness is to conduct a 15 days Maritime Security Workshop (MARSEW) which commenced on 11 September at Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore.

The main aim of this trailblazing workshop is to instil maritime awareness through information sharing and developing a common understanding and narrative towards countering terrorism, piracy, environmental and humanitarian disasters amongst the policy makers, academicians and senior civil bureaucrats.

MARSEW participants include members from politics, bureaucracy, civil and military dignitaries and media. The workshop is demarcated in two phases: study phase and sea phase. The main highlight of the former phase will be a scholarly gathering of maritime experts who will allude to regional and international developments unravelling in the Indian Ocean and their likely impact on Pakistan’s maritime environment. While the latter phase of MARSEW will entail a visit to coastal areas of Pakistan where the participants shall be apprised about the role, function and command structure of Pakistan Navy. Furthermore, participants shall be enlightened about the current developments at Gwadar and adjacent areas. This workshop is a clear demonstration of Pakistan Navy’s commitment and efforts directed towards promoting maritime awareness.

In consonance of its maritime interests and strategic objectives, Pakistan’s naval force has effectively engaged in soft power diplomatic ventures and has displayed credible and synergetic efforts in maintenance of peace in the region and beyond. Owing to tectonic shifts in the international political arena, sub-conventional threats will continue to haunt the nation states. It is expected that MARSEW will be potent in disseminating knowledge of maritime challenges and in averting sea blindness amongst the civil office-bearers.