LAHORE - Naval and marine personnel and observers from over 40 countries will be in Karachi, in early February 2019, to participate in Exercise Aman with a clear purpose: peace can best be realized through cooperation and not competition. This time the event would have more participants than the last edition of Aman held in 2017, wherein 35 countries made their presence. It signifies the wider acceptance of the message Pakistan has been radiating through Aman since 2007. The message is: maritime threats and challenges need cooperative response, which can make the seas safer for all positive human activities. Aman provides the right platform for several maritime nations to come together and figure out the nature and kind of response to current and emerging maritime threats through academic and operational rigors.

There are three key questions that a general reader would most likely ask about Aman: 1) Why do we hold Aman? 2) What are the prime objectives, which Aman pursues? 3) How are those objectives realized? However, before debating on these questions, it is quintessential to contextualize events that have led to exercises like Aman and its dividends that we may be interested in.

Seas provide the cheapest and the most environment-friendly means of transportation and link the world in ways, which may never be thought over land. Seas are not the sovereign property of any nation, unlike land, therefore, its use is governed by the UN Convention on Law of the Sea ratified by almost all countries of the world in 1982. This law allows ships of any country to move in any part of the world, unhindered and unquestioned, provided the ships do not get involved into unlawful acts, and it were the seas that truly contributed to emergence of a globalized world.

World’s trade, 80% by volume, traverses through the oceans, and it was carried by 94,171 vessels in 2018. With the growing capacity of economic power houses in Asia, the maritime trade would further increase. It is interesting to note that 80% of the world’s seaborne trade in oil passes through the Indian Ocean and world’s 40% oil goes by just in front our coast, from the Strait of Hormuz. This massive maritime trade fuels the world’s economy in an unparalleled manner.

Maritime threats to international shipping, principally, come from sea piracy and maritime terrorism. Other threats, which are not directly related to the shipping, but are a serious concern to maritime states include: human smuggling, drug trafficking and gun running. Climate change and the consequent sea-level rise pose a far greater threat to coastal states than earlier thought. Cumulatively, these are a set of dangers that no single state, irrespective of its military potential or economic superiority, could handle. It is from this reality that Aman draws the inspiration of its theme, which the Commander Pakistan Fleet calls: ‘securitization through cooperation’. A reflection on these threats is necessary before the ideal of ‘cooperation’ can be argued further as a defining benchmark for Aman.

International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s statistics show the trend of piracy as ‘slowing down’ world-wide, with nearly 175 piracy incidents reported in 2018 and about 12 incidents in January 2019. IMB, however, has classified South East Asia and the Indian Sub-Continent as the ‘piracy and armed robbery prone areas’.

Maritime terrorism came to global attention, in 2000, when USS Cole was attacked by an explosive laden boat off the Yemeni coast resulting into deaths of 17 sailors and injuries to 39 others. French super tanker, MV Limburg was burnt in 2002, leaving the world shocked with the devastation that a terror incident can bring to an oil tanker. Yemeni rebels attacked a UAE ferry and a US navy destroyer with missiles in 2016. A Saudi navy frigate was attacked with suicide boats in 2017 off the Yemeni coast consequently leading to deaths of 2 Saudi sailors. Maritime terrorism would remain a tool for terrorist organizations leveraging the advantage of ungoverned sea spaces for terrorism.

Human smuggling is a serious organized delinquency that, according to UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), results in a yearly illegal movement of about 2.5 million migrants with a business amounting to US $ 5-6 Billion. Through the seas, for instance, nearly 117,000 people were smuggled from the Horn of Africa into the Arabian Peninsula, in 2018, for revenues that ranged US $ 9-22 Million. Most of the deaths, that the illegal migrants suffer, occur at sea. In 2018, about 4000 people, being smuggled, died due to drowning or sinking of boats.

Illegal drugs are now a global concern as UNODC contends that the “range of drugs and drug markets are expanding and diversifying as never before”. Globally, nearly 275 million people use drugs with 450,000 dying every year due to its harmful effects. Drugs outflow from Makran Coast, through a route known as ‘smack track’, is a usual occurrence these days. Jane’s reported that about 11 tonnes of heroine was ceased in the North Arabian Sea, between 2012 to mid-2017, by the ships of CTF-150. Australian navy frigate Ballarat seized more than 2.1 tonnes of hashish and 345 kilograms of heroin, in the Arabian Sea, on 2 February 2019. This drug bust follows previous seizures of 931 kilograms of heroin on 21 December 2018 and 3.1 tonnes of hashish in early January 2019. It signifies the prevalence of this maritime threat in our region that can hardly be ignored.

Climate change and its devastating effects on the lives of coastal communities are perilous – something that the Tsunami of 2004 starkly reminds us. This maritime threat convinces us more than anything else that a cooperative response is the answer to alleviate the sufferings of people who endure the tests of climate change. Floods in North India, in July 2013, killed 5700 people and affected over 4000 villages. Pakistan faced the 18th deadliest earthquake of all time in 2005 that killed nearly 87,000 people and left 3.5 million displaced. Three years later, China lost 87,500 people after an earthquake jolted Sichuan province. Myanmar cyclone in 2008 left 140,000 dead, Cyclone ‘Phet’ affected Oman, Pakistan and India in May/June 2010. Besides killing nearly 2000 souls, it rendered 20 million people homeless. Cyclone Ockhi, in November 2017, caused 318 deaths across Sri Lanka and India with damage to property estimated to be about US $ 518 Million.

The above contextualization now sets to answer the first key question, i.e., why do we hold Aman – the larger aim of Aman is to help generate a cooperative response to maritime threats that concern most of Indian Ocean’s littoral nations. The second question unravels the prime objectives of Exercise Aman – it is expected that, by the end of the exercise, the participants, would be able to: 1) Appreciate the contemporary challenges in the maritime domain that necessitate cooperative response; 2) Enhance interoperability amongst the participants so that the effectiveness of a cooperative response would be better; and 3) Refine tactics, procedures and manoeuvres to counter piracy, terrorism and narco-human traffickers at sea.

The third question, i.e., how the above listed objectives are pursued by various events of Aman, is worth discussing. Description of threats, given above, gives a few implicit highlights of the contemporary maritime environment, which has fluidity, vulnerability and uncertainty as defining characteristics. Academic exploration of the environment to sort out risks and opportunities; and application of this academic learning to functioning of naval forces, is the ‘Aman’s Toolkit’ for enhancing cooperative maritime security.

Academic handling of maritime issues would be done through International Maritime Conference (IMC) under the auspices of National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) at Karachi. The conference, thematically arranged on ‘Global geopolitics in transition: rethinking maritime dynamics in the Indian Ocean’, will have 3-days of intense academic discourse.

Each day will have 3 sessions covering various areas of concern from the maritime domain. Sessions will be held on topics like: 1) Implications of emerging geopolitical dynamics on Indian Ocean region; 2) Potential of blue economy in the Indian Ocean; 3) Maritime security & strategy; 4) Maritime dynamics of western Indian Ocean; 5) Ocean governance & maritime environment. Speakers from different universities, think tanks and policy institutes will be presenting their views during the event.

The operational phase of Aman includes diverse military demonstrations on land, ranging from anti-terrorism drills to advance weapon handling. At sea, myriad exercises, tactical procedures and manoeuvres will be conducted focusing on: anti-piracy & counterterrorism operations, humanitarian assistance & disaster relief, and measures to reduce the impact of marine pollution. Traditional naval drill of the ‘International Fleet Review’ will also be held, where all participating ships will be formed up to present an impressive show for the chief guest(s) of the ceremony.

This year’s Aman is expected to send its message of ‘closer together, closer to peace’, i.e., a message of operating together for an enduring peace, to wider public in and outside Pakistan. It is also likely that more regional countries will become part of this biennial activity. With the successful holding of Aman series, one after the other, since 2007, it is hoped that India would also be extended an invitation to join the maritime activity from the next edition onwards. This would be pivotal in maintaining Pakistan’s ‘region-centric focus’, i.e., region-led, region-owned efforts, on ensuring freedom of the seas.