Muslim societies with few exceptions, Arabs in the Mediterranean till the 11th century, Turks, Omanis and the Barbary Corsairs, have neglected the importance of sea power and paid a heavy price as the Mughals found to their cost.

Paradoxically, while naval officers despite their small number have the most cosmopolitan worldview in our armed forces due to their sea voyage exposure, there is a paucity of interest in naval strategy beyond the navy itself. And this faced with an often hostile neighbour for whom Panniker in 1945 wrote that “the Indian Ocean must, therefore, remain truly Indian”, and laid down the Indian policy objective that it must dominate the region from the Gulf of Suez to the Straits of Malacca.

It is appropriate, therefore, that Pakistan Navy (PN) is conducting in the Arabian Sea a multinational exercise, AMAN 13, the fourth in a series begun in 2007, from March 4 to 7, 2013, with many countries participating. The objectives are to display a united resolve against terrorism and other crimes in the maritime domain; contribute to regional peace and stability; and enhance interoperability at a time when regional and international cooperation on the high seas to combat piracy, terrorism, WMD proliferation, narcotics, pollution and to keep sea lanes open is keeping pace with global concerns and policy.

Though not a linear progression, from the navy, nonetheless, this exercise reflects a sustained effort ever since Pakistan’s independence to increase its relevance on the high seas with the objectives of developing a naval capability to deter aggression at and from the sea, contribute effectively to deterrence and national security, and radiate influence region-wide.

Over the years, Pakistan’s military training programme for the army, naval and air forces from other countries, particularly the GCC and other OIC states, has been an important factor in creating close ties, and a factor that has prevented various efforts to isolate Pakistan. The naval component, which has included sending deputationists abroad, has played a major part in this effort and earned much good will.

Sending naval ships on flag voyages abroad, to nearby and far off countries, has earned more goodwill. In addition, the navy has been interacting with regional and extra-regional navies through holding and participating in bilateral and multilateral exercises over the years.

The latest phase of Pakistani navy’s sustained high seas cooperation began with the USA/Nato/Isaf setup after 9/11, of a naval component to promote maritime security to combat terrorist networks. Of course, Pakistan had rightly kept away from the campaign against Afghanistan. However, the possibility of a multilateral naval task operating in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and part of the Indian Ocean close to our waters, which we were not part of, would not have been prudent and could have otherwise left an unwelcome vacuum.

I was part of the combined navy and Foreign Office team that examined this issue, obtained permission to begin negotiations to set out the parameters of participation, and obtained sanction for the agreement reached. Pakistan joined the 25 nations multinational Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), as an equal partner and sent its first ship to participate in 2004. Since then, 44 Pakistani naval ships have been on patrol with CTF 150,  commanding it five times, with the second highest on- patrol time second only to the USA. This has enhanced the navy’s logistic experience of sustained operations and interoperability; and made it measure up to the command, current tactics and operation levels of the most advanced navies. A valuable learning curve.

After that, given the rise of piracy emanating from a Somalia sadly mired in a continuing turmoil, it was logical for the Pak Navy to join in 2009 Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) set up to conduct counter piracy to operate in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. Fifteen Pakistani ships have participated so far and the PN has commanded CTF 151 three times.

Hence, the navy’s initiation of the AMAN exercises in 2007 was a natural progression of this more activist external involvement. The AMAN exercises of 2007, 2009 and 2011 attracted wide participation. The current AMAN 13 in the North Arabian Sea is the best attended of the series. Thirty three countries are participating with 18 ships, sea borne helicopters, long range surveillance aircraft, nine Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) teams, and 40 observers, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UAE, UK and USA with naval assets. There are observers from Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Sudan, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tanzania, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, UAE and USA.

Landside there will be a three-day Maritime Security Conference with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister delivering the keynote address and the Naval Chief the summing up. Two response exercises against terrorist and piracy threats will be carried out off PNS Kassem beach and on the high seas in Pakistani waters to foster multinational cooperation against traditional and asymmetrical threats. A ‘Fleet Review’ will conclude the exercise.

AMAN 13 will be good for building bridges with other countries and for Pakistan’s standing as a consistent contributor to regional and international cooperation on global issues of concern. It also provides grounds for reflection. Where does the PN go from here?

Despite periodic high expenditure on its vital submarine fleet that needs replenishing, the navy gets the least from the defence budget allocation,10 percent compared to the air force’s approximately 21 percent and the army’s 48 percent. This is understandable given the historical and current predominance of the threat from both land borders, but needs to be reviewed.

Pakistan with a 960km coastline, 200km Exclusive Economic Zone, with 95 percent of its trade and 100 percent of its energy imports coming by sea, sits astride both the Straits of Hormuz that transits 17 million barrels of crude oil daily as well as LPG, and the Arabian Gulf through which thousands of tankers and cargo ships pass annually. Resources have to be generated for a more robust navy - a navy whose submarines should eventually carry the third leg of Pakistan’s nuclear triad, a capability that for all nuclear counties constitutes the most secure deterrent.

Pakistan’s deterrent capability is vital for maintaining peace and security in South Asia. For naval modernisation, as for all the armed forces, the imperative is for Pakistan to grow its economy, for its peoples well being first and further for their security and defence.

The writer is ex-ambassador and former additional foreign secretary. Email: ambassador.tariqosmanhyder@gmail.com