Making the Indian ocean peaceful and economically vibrant


With the end of the Cold War and post 9/11, the world has witnessed flux in the global strategic landscape. Uncertainty and complexity characterize today’s environment which shows little signs of letting up in the near future. Additionally, the ambit of security has also broadened manifold to include multifaceted aspects. Another defining feature of contemporary environment is the fact that Geo economics has emerged as the preeminent strategic thought, thus access to resources (energy, food or water) sits on top of states’ agenda. As a natural sequel to it, security of global seaborne trade and energy lifelines which underpin global economic system has gained unprecedented prominence.The assurance of free and uninterrupted use of the world’s oceans underlines our future course. Sea transport accounts for 90 per cent of world trade and the highest tonnages of goods pass through the Indian Ocean, with almost 100,000 ships transiting annually. This includes two-thirds of world oil shipments, one-third of bulk cargo and half the world’s container shipments. The value of international trade that transits IOR sea lanes is almost one trillion US Dollars.

While physical and economic dimensions of maritime environment are obvious and perhaps overbearing yet one cannot ignore the diplomatic, political, legal and military aspects as well. These multiple features of maritime environment are intrinsically intertwined thus challenges thrown up at sea or from the sea often require multi pronged approaches.

Today the greater Indian Ocean Region besides being home to maritime great game of the 21st century is a microcosm of various conflicts, disputes and threats, which cut across the entire conventional and non-conventional spectrums. These include traditional maritime security concerns, including the risks of interstate or intrastate conflict; threats to good order at sea, such as maritime terrorism, piracy, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and non-traditional security concerns, including climate change, marine natural hazards, energy, food, environment and human security.
Of the challenges confronting this smooth flow of trade, the scourge of piracy in the Indian Ocean Region emanating from Somalia has evolved as a major threat as well as challenge. The enabling conditions like favourable maritime geography, political instability resulting in absence of rule of law and presence of safe havens ashore have all contributed in mushrooming the menace of piracy. Similarly the grievances of Somali people vis-a-vis IUU fishing off Somali coast and illegal dumping of toxic waste by other countries cannot be conveniently ignored. The pirates have become increasingly sophisticated both in terms of their tactics and the equipment they use. As a consequence the cost of ships transiting through Gulf of Aden has risen by US $ 20,000 per ship per voyage. Likewise the insurance premiums have increased by 350% since 2008.

It is worth mentioning that the success story against piracy, in case of straits of Malacca gives at least a glimmer of hope that the piracy problem off Somalia can also be tackled. But analysts warn that the lessons of Malacca cannot be applied on Somalian region on account of various dis similarities . While cooperation by all regional and extra-regional countries is considered important to combat the menace of Somali piracy it remains a fact that sustainable solution to Somali piracy lies in tackling the problem ashore with institution of a stable political setup capable of enforcing the rule of law. Another significant factor contributing towards failing to arrest piracy is complex prosecution procedures.
Another related maritime challenge is that of terrorism. However fortunately, terrorism incidents at sea have been far and few yet the peril is ever present. This challenge can have devastating effects on global economies should any disruption is caused to SLOCs especially the energy supplies.

Another major challenge is the depletion of ocean resources largely driven by rapid economic and population growth. The competition for resources is increasing, which while unearthing newer opportunities for resource extraction mainly due to technological advancements is also identified as a potential source of conflict over access to natural resources. Global fish stocks are under major stress, 87% of which are reportedly under crisis or fully exploited. Illegal fishing and poaching, which is already a cause of concern in the IOR, is set to increase. In the absence of effective capability to police their oceanic areas of responsibility, many IOR countries can do very little to check IUU fishing.

In the regional context, countries are facing the growing problem of unabated transgression into their EEZ and the consequent illegal foreign fishing. Pakistan’s EEZ is rich in both living and non-living resources. Most significantly, the Indus Delta region is abundant with the prime quality fish which is quite lucrative for fishermen. Such incursions are not restricted to a few but quite often run in hundreds. Moreover, the methods like bottom trawling, unauthorized nets, use of chemical or explosive devices can practically eradicate all forms of marine life. The consequences of such practices and violation of international norms are most disastrous on the ecosystem. Such poaching activities, besides depleting the highly priced marine species in our region, cause enormous revenue loss to the Government Exchequer to the tune of Rs 8.1 billion per annum (official website of PMSA) and also deprive the poor fishing community of Pakistan of their livelihood and means of sustenance.

It is also pertinent to mention here the challenges poised by non traditional concerns like climate change. Frequency of natural disasters has registered an upward trend and is yet another challenge that affects all. The changing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems, making many IOR countries particularly vulnerable. Furthering the argument it may be pertinent to mention that the frequency of natural disasters as a consequence of this climate change or otherwise has seen a significant increase in IOR affecting millions of people. Tsunami in 2004, Pakistan’s earthquake in 2005 and cyclones in Bangladesh are some of the vivid examples of the same.

Many IOR developing countries have very little capacity to mitigate the immense risks to human and environmental coastal systems caused by the ongoing climate change. Cooperative regional response is considered imperative for speedy assistance to affected population in case of a natural disasters and marine pollution accidents.

It remains a well established fact that no one single nation has the resources to address the challenges of maritime domain as a whole. As our interests in the maritime domain are increasingly interlinked and interdependent, so is the requirement to understand the collective responsibility to deal with these challenges. It is extremely important to protect vital common interests like preserving maritime trade flows, protection of marine resources in respective EEZs and responding to natural disasters. Arguably devising mechanisms to deal with such non-traditional maritime security threats offers significant potential for states to cooperate and work collectively than more contentious security matters.Some of the non-traditional maritime security threats and key areas of mutual cooperation affect not only the regional states surrounding IOR but the global community as a whole.

Considering that the Indian Ocean is home to important SLOCs and maritime choke points and the fact that a large volume of international long haul maritime cargo from the Persian Gulf, Africa and Europe transits through this ocean, the best approach to trade security obviously lies in extensive cooperation, however, due variance of interests, it generates diverse response. The notion of perceived intrusion into aspects of national sovereignty from multilateral cooperation hinders advancement. Thus comprehensive security strategies encompassing differing perceptions and national interests need to be devised for ensuring the security of sea lanes.

Pakistan remains committed for promotion of peace and stability in the region. Cognizant of its international obligations, PN was the first Navy of the region to join Combined Task force 150 in 2004, which is the maritime component of Operation Enduring Freedom. Similarly PN has also joined Multi-national Task Force-151 to combat piracy in area off HOA and Somali coast. PN ships with embarked helos are regularly participating in anti-piracy operations under aegis of TF-151. Moving a step further, Pakistan also organises a multi – national maritime exercise AMAN series biennially since 2007 in which around 30 to 35 countries participated in each exercise. The third such exercise commenced just yesterday. These exercises are clear manifestation of Pakistan’s commitment towards peace and stability through harmony and collaborative maritime security between regional and extra-regional navies. Pakistan in line with its Government policies will continue to contribute towards regional maritime security. Seas hold the key to future well being of humankind and together with collective efforts of nations we can make Indian Ocean a zone of peace and economic prosperity.