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February 9, 2021

AMAN-21 - Fostering shared vision for maritime security in Indian Ocean

Islamabad

February 9, 2021

Aman (peace), a major multinational exercise is a biennial event organised every two years since 2007. This notable effort is organised by Pakistan Navy (PN). It aims to augment inter-navy cooperation. Exercise Aman enhances interoperability potential between regional and other navies. The impressive assembly brings together navies from host of other nations, The cress manning ships from participating nations together with observers from other freely mingle with officers and men of Pakistan Navy. As a transnational platform, Exercise Aman helps to improve professional understanding between navies. The event also serves in raising the image of Pakistan amongst comity of nations. Such events promote Pakistan’s cultural values. It provides good understanding of Pakistan to visiting nations. The exercise is a perfect example of maritime diplomacy. Exercise Aman is an enabler to enhance country’s standing, promote professional competence of PN personnel and build synergy between participating navies.

Aman-21 is unique in several ways. With its slogan, “Together for Peace”, the multinational exercise comes at a time of some seismic changes taking place globally. These changes are having profound impact on Indian Ocean and its peripheries. For the first time, Russian navy will be participating in this year’s naval drills. Other than Russia, Pakistan navy will host 30 countries in Aman-21. The current exercise will be seventh in Aman series. The endeavor is one of the several initiatives Pakistan Navy has relentlessly pursued for past two decades or so. These initiatives validate PN’s unfaltering resolve to advance the cause of “freedom of seas” and raise prestige of Pakistan. In holding such exercises PN attempts to eliminate from Indian Ocean illicit activities in all their forms and manifestations. It has largely facilitated smooth and steady flow of commerce on its maritime highways. This is especially true for the western quadrant of Indian Ocean. The exercise also emphasizes developing combined potential for humanitarian assistance in the region.

Never since the end of cold war was the power struggle for global ascendancy been so intense in Indian Ocean as it is today. A new era of multi-polarity is emerging. Unlike the previous instance where Eurasian landmass was the principal battleground, it is the Indian and Pacific Oceans that are now focus of developing rivalry. The power politics is advanced in two oceans via maritime military power. The latest show of power came by way of two phased naval exercise jointly conducted by India, US, Australia and Japanese navies first, in Bay of Bengal and later in Arabian Sea. The exercise is seemingly founded on shared values and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order. It is however anything but. In reality, it is a patent show of combined naval strength aimed at “containing” China.

The US cold war policy of “containment” is back after all, the United States must invent “threats” every now and then to keep its own military industrial complex, support factories and research and development facilities humming with activities. Under Modi, India too must create Chinese hysteria it serves two purposes. The alarm keeps New Delhi strategic relevance to the United States alive and buoyant. It also distracts attention of domestic audience from an underperforming economy and shelters a government under blistering criticism in world capitals owing to cruelty and blatant HR violations unleashed against minorities in Kashmir and across mainland India.

The Indian Ocean is ‘the world’s busiest trade corridor’. Two thirds of global oil shipments and a third of bulk cargo transit via this Ocean, roughly 80 per cent of China’s. Around 90 per cent of South Korea’s and 90 per cent of Japan’s oil passes through the Indian Ocean’, Aman promotes a shared vision to reinforce maritime security in the Indian Ocean. The exercise is designed to ensure trade continues to ply unhindered in the Indian Ocean region and with safety and security it merits.

As a large naval assemblage, Aman has no political undertones. It does not aim to target any country except ensure peace and stability. It is focused at counteracting against unconventional challenges like piracy, trafficking, terrorism, natural disaster etc. In recent times, the intensity of transnational criminal activities and other crimes has significantly declined in the maritime region of interest to Pakistan. Thanks in large part to Pakistan Navy; operations in the UNSCR instituted coalition(s), independent patrolling and exercises like Aman that largely contributed towards this decline. The menace nonetheless still lurks.

Exercise Aman begins with a marathon international conference bringing together renowned scholars and professional experts on contemporary maritime security issues this is followed by diverse panel of experts who engage in extensive discussions the conversation and dialogue in these forums examine disparate challenges and their impact on maritime security. The solutions proffered are optimistic and often helpful. The event is followed by combined maneuvers at sea. Large presence is augmented by observers embarked on board various participating units conducting series of previously agreed drills. It leads to developing synergy and better professional understanding of each other’s modus operandi.

Last year saw the global landscape and lives of mankind alter as perhaps never before in known history. The year left a dark indelible imprint on minds of humanity More people died in the United States alone on daily basis than in 9/11 attacks. By third week of December 2020, the death toll in America had reached a staggering 315 K while worldwide deaths were recorded at 1.7 million. There were more than 146 K deaths in India up until third week of December last. A new format of human life has already begun on planet. And it continues to unravel.

Vaccine or no vaccine, the novel corona virus is here to stay More pandemics are likely to hit humanity in coming years Climate change, flawed development models and curse of unchecked capitalism will continue to bring more misery on earth, humanity is encroaching on the habitat of wild species. This brings those still uncovered maladies in contact with humans with devastating results Militaries are not immune to pandemics. Covid provided a taste of environment in which future warfare will likely take place. The combat potential and readiness of any force is directly proportional to the morale and physical well-being of its manpower The men who run and operate military machines too, are susceptible to such external influences.

Future military forces will be grappling with changing nature and character of warfare and impact of advance technologies like Al and drone swarming aerial attacks, they will have to prepare to combat pandemics in rank and file The problem aggravates in case of navies which require working in tight spaces and for extended durations. Automation may not necessarily lead to complete replacement of human beings, yet the story is not new. In 430 BC during the much studied Peloponnesian war. The ancient Greece was struck by a devastating plague Fought between two powerful alliances of their time, Athens and Sparta. The former experienced a serious setback with outbreak of plague.

The writer is a contributing columnist on maritime security matters.