The true essence of the above quote lies in the fact that the very person who unlocked the most forceful weapon mankind has ever witnessed advocated peace through understanding; which compels us to establish it as a reality of life.  In the short span history of the modern world, mankind has witnessed quite a lot of horrific wars fought in the name of peace.  Time and again the above quote has held its weight, and reaffirmed to the inhabitants of planet earth, that peace prevails only through understanding.  As a major player in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), Pakistan has always played its part to promote regional peace and harmony.  It is not only in our own interest to have safe and freely navigable seas but also in the prime interests of other countries of this region.  Countries heavily dependent on Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) for their trade and economic activity are especially affected by the various threats harboring in the high seas.

The western half of the IOR remained at the centre stage of economic, military and diplomatic activities during the last few decades.  The militarized zones (Ops Enduring Freedom), piracy off Somalia, the Yemen conflict, rise of the ISIS, dynamic Iran-West-Saudi relations, the Arab spring, turmoil in Levant, are a few significant developments worthy of mention with regards to challenges in the IOR.  The Indian Ocean region’s strategic importance lies in its geography which renders it as a bridge between East and West.  Politically, the region has a strange admixture of democracy, military dictatorship, absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchy; several regimes in the region are politically unstable and provide a fertile ground for external intervention.

The regions diverse nature of threats also includes a multitude of problems such as narco-trafficking, gun running, human trafficking and maritime terrorism.

Individually, each of these threats has directly impacted the regional peace which also transcends all over the globe.  These issues are in some way or the other all interconnected under the garb of maritime terrorism.  Post 9/11, the terrorist outfits have not only schemed to attack global trade through sinking merchantmen at various choke points, but also have generated huge amounts of revenue through drug/ arms/ human trafficking to feed their nefarious designs.  Consequently, in the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism), a major part was played by the sea campaigns which provided direct support to land forces as well as counter the auxiliary operations of terrorist outfits at sea.  The piracy is another angle of challenges/ threats to safety of shipping/ trade at high seas.

The contemporary global maritime environment remains fraught with challenges from traditional and non-traditional threats.  The oceans which serve as great highways to carry the life blood of global economic system also provide attractive avenue for illegal activities such as piracy, human smuggling and arms/ drugs trafficking etc.  Such acts being transnational require collaborative approach at regional as well as international level.  The inherent challenges in the IOR demand an initiative by the resident countries to form a forum designed for experience sharing and gaining interoperability to tackle theses menaces together.  In the spirit of promoting peace through collaborative approach, Pakistan Navy took the driving seat and initiated the AMAN series of exercises.  These exercises are held biennially, the first of which was held in 2007. 

The exercises have over the years seen an encouraging rise in regional and extra-regional participants which portrays the emerging need of knowledge sharing and understanding between countries, to achieve the underlying aim of persistent peace and harmony.  The 6th exercise of this series is being held in the first quarter of 2019 has participation from more than 40 countries including extra-regional countries such as USA, China, Russia, Japan and UK to name a few.  These multi-country naval exercises are not a new concept and have various examples from different regions across the world, which demonstrate the benefits gained through cooperation and maritime harmony.

AMAN series of exercises are playing a pivotal role against regional threats, for not just the participating countries, but for the extra-regional countries as well.  The shared knowledge and skill enhances interoperability between participants which bears fruit in the form of a well-connected and stable sea body with enhanced cooperation between all stakeholders.  AMAN series of exercises are undoubtedly the most significant initiative of Pakistan Navy in the field of maritime diplomacy, aimed at reinforcing regional maritime security and cooperation between partnering nations.  The biennial exercise preceded by International Maritime Conference has since become a regular mega event in the PN calendar which is considered as one of the top forums in the region for maritime knowledge sharing. 

Over the years, International Maritimes Conference has evolved into a revered forum where delegates from reputable maritime organizations from all over the globe present their thoughts and views on various emerging maritime threats and issues.  The ideas are shared in a highly conducive environment with a large participation of visiting navies.  The organization which has actively hosted these conferences throughout and has generated a huge cache of highly acclaimed papers is the NCMPR (National Centre for Maritime Policy Research).  The NCMPR, analyzes the ideas shared in this forum and extracts and designs relevant policy options, response strategies and operating procedures for the Government and the regional countries to formulate viable strategies against the most pressing issues.  These are not only limited to the inherent threats in the region, but also include a wide array of topics ranging from fishery preservation to climate change remedies. 

The concept of AMAN centers around information sharing, identifying areas of common interest for participating navies and a shared understanding on maritime security operations, counter terrorism operations and operations related to humanitarian assistance.  It can also be said that the AMAN Exercise is a clear manifestation of Pakistan’s deep commitment in promoting peace and stability in the region through harmony and collaborative efforts between navies of East and West.

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war.  Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace.  Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.”

With the wisdom carried in the above quote, it is evident that furthering the cause of peace dictates that we understand each other and realize the importance of maritime diplomacy in the process.  AMAN exercises are not only the means of enhancing interoperability between the countries, it is also a direct manifestation of Pakistan’s mission of peace and harmony in the region.  It cannot be achieved overnight and it cannot be made to last forever, but understanding the challenges associated and the rapidly evolving threats in the region is a big step in the right direction.  Slowly yet surely, AMAN exercises are bridging the gaps, connecting the dots and providing a medium forinterconnectivity between regional countries, all of which share the common goal for a peaceful and prospering region.  The slogan of AMAN exercise, “Together for Peace” is very aptly summarized in the quote mentioned below, and as we grow together, our shared desire for peace also strengthens and we continue to work towards a world defined by harmony.  Let’s hope we reach there; and we reach there soon.