Ever wondered waiting in a long queue to refuel your vehicle as how does this fuel come to your city and what would happen if it cannot be delivered for few days! Oil tankers, most of us know, transport petroleum from Karachi to all corners of Pakistan; but many of us might not know how does it end up in Karachi and what all it takes to ensure it gets there safely and securely.
This area is related to what we call ‘maritime security’. Much has been written and talked about the concept and, let me say the idea, of ‘maritime security’ but plenty remains to be figured out as to what ‘exactly’ does it mean?
Before we expound on the phrase, we should agree on the term ‘security’ that it is a state of being free from threat or danger. The maritime security would then, in a very simple manner, means our seas and the waters connected with the seas, remain free from those activities, which could threaten its use for economic, military and scientific purposes. Some of these ‘activities’ include terrorism, piracy, armed robbery, human smuggling, drug trafficking, gun running, poaching, acts causing marine pollution, to name a few. Some call these activities as ‘non-traditional’ threats and choose to assign those in the calculus of threats worth responding by the naval forces. It is important, nonetheless, to comprehend why sea and maritime security matter these days? Simple statistical facts would reveal the concerns that people of Pakistan should know. Our 95pc trade is totally dependent on sea; imagine a scenario when this path is blocked, or for some reasons, cannot be used.
Our industries, exports and imports would come to a grinding halt as goods’ transportation to and from other countries via land and air routes is not just expensive, it is extremely inconvenient, which involves highly complex diplomatic, political and military aspects. Over 15 million barrels of crude oil is shipped through right across our coast from the Gulf countries daily. In terms of percentage dependence on the Middle Eastern oil, out of total oil imports, the figures are; China 52pc, United States 25pc, India 59pc, Japan 90pc and Pakistan 99pc. Apart from oil, 90pc of world trade measured by weight and volume, and 80pc by value is carried in seaborne commerce; and this trend appears to be steadily increasing with every year.
This inseparable human dependence on sea would continue to grow and would necessitate measures to safeguard it from non-traditional threats. Our seas, the Indian Ocean in general and the Arabian Sea, in particular, would remain in the limelight owing due to massive dependence of oil from the Middle Eastern countries for rest of the world. Though there has not been significant manifestation of non-traditional threats in our seas, yet their emergence now or anytime in future cannot be ignored, which means the idea of maritime security should not escape our focus.
Add to the non-traditional threats’ matrix the traditional threat of India. There is always a likelihood of India abetting, aiding or sustaining non-traditional elements of instability and chaos, the terrorists, to harm Pakistan’s vital security interests. In modern warfare a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare parlance the phenomenon of hybrid warfare which implies both conventional and non-traditional instruments of force and violence. More suited in the case when Pakistan and China’s strategic partnership solidifies, India may restless to adopt any measure necessary to sabotage, jeopardize and compromise Sino-Pak joint strategic interests by supporting maritime terrorism through maritime military hybridization i.e. using maritime domain through conventional and unconventional means of combat. Changing geopolitical milieu also complicates the security environment for Pakistan.
There is no question that strategic economic and, for that matter political interests, of many nations, intersect at sea, therefore, maritime security should be regarded as a ‘shared concern’ as far as the non-traditional threats are viewed as a ‘common adversary’. In pursuance of this theorem of ‘shared concern & common adversary’, Pakistan Navy remains at the forefront of regional and global collaborative efforts of creating a secured maritime environment, where economic, scientific and commercial activities may go on unhindered and uninterrupted.
In these troubling times, Pakistan’s economy cannot be left to insecure seas, therefore, entail 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. Taking a lead, Pakistan Navy took the maiden initiative and organized a two week Maritime Security Workshop (MARSEW 17) at Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore. The slogan for MARSEW 17 has been chosen very appropriately i.e. secure seas – prosperous Pakistan. The Workshop is aimed at disseminating knowledge of Maritime affairs to participants 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 was a scholarly gathering of maritime experts who alluded to regional and international developments unraveling in the Indian Ocean and their likely impact on Pakistan’s maritime environment. While the latter phase of MARSEW entailed visit to Karachi and coastal areas of Pakistan where the participants were apprised about the role, function and command structure of Pakistan Navy.
Furthermore, participants were 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 addition, being sensitive to the significance of Arabian Sea as a vital conduit of world’s energy, Pakistan Navy has played an effective, proactive and consistent role in its security, safety and usability by all concerned nations. Pakistan Navy joined the American led initiatives of Combined Task Forces (CTF)-150 (counterterrorism) and CTF-151 (antipiracy). Pakistan Navy has contributed ships and aircraft in these global efforts, despite enormous fiscal and operational constraints. Pakistan Navy also joined the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Naval Symposium for sharing and learning the imperatives of maritime security in the changing environment.
The phrase of ‘maritime security’ may find its meaning clearer in some parts of the world, where military and political leadership work together knowing it to be a crucial ingredient of overall national security. In Pakistan, however, there is a pervasive maritime oblivion – which urgently requires to be addressed. Some aspects of this oblivion are: sea blindness, land-locked thinking and agrarian mindset, which has cumulatively kept the masses gaze away from sea and its importance. Through such measures as MARSEW – an effort is being made to pay a bit more attention to maritime domain, which is fast transforming to be a national security arena in times to come. The sooner we understand its value, the better will Pakistan find itself prepared to face the challenges of economy and security that originate from the seas.