The Indian Ocean Region is having immense political and economic opportunities for Pakistan. The safety of sea-lanes is crucial for its economic prosperity and sovereign defense. Indeed, the cashing of political and economic opportunities requires stability in the region, intelligent engagement with the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and comprehensive maritime security policy.
Pakistan is among the leading littoral state of the Indian Ocean. It shares a 990km long coastline located at the heart of the Arabian. Notably, the Indian Ocean region is the world’s third largest Ocean after the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. The geo-strategic and geo-economic significance of the Indian Ocean makes it very attractive for the seafaring nations’ economic survival and development. It is because, it connects three shores of the continents, Africa, Australia and Asia and its southern end outstretch Antarctica. Therefore, it provides small economic routes for transportation and communications between two seas. Moreover, it is an intersection to the Mediterranean Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb, Red sea to the Suez Canal and the Pacific Ocean through the Malaaca strait. Precisely, it provides a major trade route connecting Europe and America through the Middle East, Africa and the East Asia.
Pakistan is heavily depended on the seaborne trade. On May 7, 2018, Prime Minister Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while addressing an International Maritime Symposium, organized by Maritime Institute, Bahria University pointed out that ‘Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone is almost 40% of the country’s land mass but it remained undeveloped. He said its development is critical as almost 80% of the trade volume in the world is done by sea.’ Indeed, the development of exclusive economic zone would be catalyst for foreign direct investment.
The encouraging development is that the government is not only cognizant of the maritime resources, but is also keen to utilize oceanic advantageous. It is setting up modern shipyard at Gwadar. Premier Abbasi announced that the government is also trying to establish another shipyard along Pakistani coast in the private sector. The building of shipyards is a right step in the right direction to benefit from costal industry. In addition, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan is establishing Gwadar University. The University primary focus is to produce high quality human resource, support advance research, innovation and creation of new knowledge and shall be responsible for economic, social, and cultural development of the region. It would fill the gap in educational and technological fields, which may creep up due to upcoming high profile projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Perhaps, such developments would contribute significantly to country’s economy.
The strategic environment of the Indian Ocean is complex due to precarious strategic competition among the Great powers. The critical examination of the global political landscape reveals that the region would experience extra-regional actors decisive interference in its affairs. The danger of a Great Power confrontation is underlined by the continuing American naval presence in the region; Chinese dependency on the sea-lines of Indian Ocean; and India’s naval expansion program. In addition, the Persian/Arabic Gulf contains the high risk of a serious military conflict due to regional competition for influence between/among Iran and Qatar versus Saudi Arab and United Arab Emirates; the risk of asymmetric war in the Gulf; conventional arms race; Iran’s buildup of ballistic missile force; and Trump administration Iran policy.
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions alarmed about the probability of nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf. On May 8, 2018, President Trump stated: “Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.” He claimed that the agreement “allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium.” In simple terms he alleged Tehran for continuing developing its nuclear weapon program. He added added. “The fact is, this was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm. It didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” Undeniably, the revival of nuclear tussle between Washington and Tehran is perilous for the regional strategic stability.
Without security the economic stability is impossible. The coastal line defense and guarding of maritime interests necessitate the maintenance of a strong Navy. According to Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi “despite numerous challenges, Pakistan Navy has formulated a robust strategy to safeguard national maritime interests.” Pakistan Navy’s capability to ensure maritime security certainly enhance its economic connectivity with the other seafaring nations as well as land locked Central Asian Republics. It also boosts CPEC, which is the flagship project of China’s one-belt, one-road initiative.
To conclude, the constitution and execution of comprehensive maritime security policy, is imperative for the pursuit of Pakistan’s national interest.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.