Navy chief explains his vision for Pakistan Navy

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi explains the newer opportunities and challenges facing Pakistan’s maritime borders in wake of CPEC and how the navy is responding to them.


Pakistan Navy (PN) has been hosting multinational exercise AMAN every alternate year since 2007 and the sixth exercise of the series is scheduled for February 2019. Exercise AMAN provides a platform to regional and international navies to share experiences and exchange ideas to combat common maritime challenges and improve standard operating procedures – referred to as interoperability in naval terms. During the last Exercise AMAN-17, 35 nations participated. During AMAN-19 more than 40 nations are expected to participate.

Pakistan, cognizant of its geostrategic location astride important energy Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) and its international obligations, has been playing an active role in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean. PN has been participating in all regional/ international efforts and initiatives taken for maintaining good order at sea. PN support to Combined Maritime Forces, operating under the auspices of US NAVCENT, exemplifies PN’s commitment to the common goal of ensuring freedom of navigation and uninterrupted flow of sea trade. PN has also recently instituted ‘Regional Maritime Security Patrols’ to fulfill its international obligations for maritime security in our Area of Interest and to safeguard Pakistan’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region.

GVS: Pakistan Navy has taken lead in the region in organizing a unique kind of Multinational Exercise since 2007. What is the vision behind and what have you achieved?

Admiral Zafar: Pakistan, a nation-state of more than 200 million people, is heavily reliant on its maritime trade, not only for its industrial supplies, imports and exports but also for its energy needs. Given this context, one of the key responsibilities of PN is to ensure the security of the regional sea routes and to contribute for ‘Good order at sea’.

We had thus maintained active participation in the maritime security and counter-piracy operations along with other partner navies for quite some time. In 2007, PN moved ahead to further expand its relationship with partner navies through AMAN exercises. Our initiative of AMAN series of multinational exercises on biennial basis is a result of this broad vision.

Pakistan enjoys a very unique geostrategc location close to the Guld of Oman and Strait of Hormuz through which almost 30% of the world’s energy trae transits. Pakistan’s 90% trade is sea brone and almost 100% of our energy imports are transported through the sea. 

The purpose of this multinational exercise is to engage our partners, promote cooperation and interoperability between the regional and extra-regional navies operating in the Indian Ocean Region. In the first Exercise AMAN held in 2007, 28 countries participated which was a great success.

So far five exercises of the series have been conducted which has seen increased participation by our friends and partners. In the upcoming AMAN-19, planned in Feb 2019, more than 43 countries are expected to participate.

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GVS:  What is the importance and relevance of AMAN exercise for other countries in the region and international partners?

Admiral Zafar: All littoral states in the region, and international stakeholders, are getting aware that maritime environment in the wider region is facing a number of challenges like terrorism, piracy, drugs smuggling, arms trafficking and natural calamities. The vastness of oceans, and easy availability of newer technologies has made the maritime arena an attractive avenue for these illegal activities.

Therefore, a consensus is growing that myriad maritime security challenges of the present era require a collaborative approach at regional and international level. This can be achieved by enhancing cooperation, better understanding and interoperability amongst the navies. Exercise AMAN is, therefore, Pakistan’s humble but deft initiative in this direction.

Admiral's vision for Pakistan Navy
Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi with PM Imran Khan.

You have to understand that Pakistan enjoys a very unique geostrategic location close to the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz through which almost 30% of the world’s energy trade transits. Pakistan’s 90% trade is seaborne and almost 100% of our energy imports are transported through the sea.

Pakistan being a responsible state has always contributed towards maritime security in our area of responsibility and beyond. Exercise AMAN is, therefore, a manifestation of Pakistan’s sincere commitments towards peace and stability which is aptly reflected in its motto ‘Together for Peace’; bringing navies of East and West under a common platform for the good of global commons.

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GVS: How would you describe Pakistan Navy’s core role and responsibility in national defence in overall regional defence architecture?

Admiral Zafar: PN’s core tasks are to ensure the seaward defence of Pakistan, protection of its vital sea routes and maritime interests of Pakistan. The security challenges to Pakistan in the maritime domain include both traditional and non-traditional threats.

PN is a well-balanced four-dimensional force fully capable to cope with the entire spectrum of these challenges. In addition, PN has been participating in all regional and international efforts and initiatives taken for maintaining good order and cooperation at high seas.

PN’s continuous support to ‘Combined Maritime Forces’, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom against terrorism, operating under the auspices of US NAVCENT, is a good example of our commitment to international responsibilities in ensuring freedom of navigation, for uninterrupted flow of sea trade.

In the same spirit, we have been participating in various international fora, multinational exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts and we have also undertaken the non-combatant evacuation of stranded Pakistani and foreign nationals from conflict zones like Yemen.

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GVS: You mentioned Pakistan Navy’s support to Combined Maritime Forces and from media, we hear that Pakistan Navy has also contributed to Multinational Combined Task Forces (CTF 150 & 151). What exactly has been your role and how you have increased the effectiveness of CMF?

Admiral ZafarPN has been contributing significantly in maritime security and counter-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for quite some time now. We joined Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) in 2004, which is mandated to ensure maritime security, under the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), in the Western Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Similarly, PN responded promptly to the international calls to counter the increasing acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa by joining the Combined Task Force-151 (CTF-151) for anti-piracy operations in 2009. PN officers have commanded both these Task Forces several times. For the last 15 years, PN has been the largest contributor to Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Operations, second only to the United States Navy.

GVS: Pakistan Navy has a separate initiative of Regional Maritime Security Patrol, what are its objectives?

Admiral Zafar: Yes, in view of the changing geo-strategic realities in the region, and progress of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), PN in 2018, has instituted maritime security initiative of ‘Regional Maritime Security Patrols (RMSP)’. The purpose of RMSP is to fulfill our international obligations and safeguard our national interests in the Indian Ocean Region.

This initiative is in addition to our contributions in the coalition efforts under Combined Maritime Forces. RMSP is focussed on establishing maritime patrols along the vital choke points and important maritime areas in the Indian Ocean Region by PN ships with embarked helicopters. The broad objectives of RMSP initiative include a contribution towards maintaining good order at sea.

That means not only deterring and curbing the menace of piracy but also confronting maritime terrorism, narco trade, arms and human smuggling and other illicit activities. These patrols have been established along three important axes namely Horn of Africa, North Arabian Sea and Central Indian Ocean. RMSP is also aimed to foster partnerships with regional countries and enhance interoperability.

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GVS: How is Pakistan Navy developing its capacity to tackle current and future challenges in the Indian Ocean region?

Admiral Zafar: We believe that all kinds of maritime terrorism, drugs and arms trafficking and piracy in the Indian Ocean Region threatens good order on the high seas and interferes with the development and exploitation of the economic potential of the region.

Therefore, for the collective benefit of all, we need to cooperate, exchange expertise and connect to harness full benefits. Therefore, in line with the Government of Pakistan policies, PN is playing a lead role in support of international efforts aimed at maintaining good order in the regional seas.

Admiral's vision for Pakistan Navy

PN has also established a Joint Maritime Information Coordination Centre (JMICC) in 2012. The center aims to harness efforts of all relevant national agencies and international stakeholders to improve maritime security. This center is growing and developing its linkages; till now has linked itself to 51 national and 6 international organizations for sharing of information related to maritime threats.

Moreover, cognizant of the importance of maritime security along Pakistan’s coast for world trade, PN has established robust and effective coastal security setup all along the Pakistani coast. As I have mentioned earlier countering threats in the maritime domain requires collaborative efforts, for which PN will continue its efforts for ensuring maritime security along with other partners regional and extra-regional navies.

GVS: All of this requires capacity building, what are your initiatives in terms of major procurement and modernization programs for Pakistan Navy?

Admiral Zafar: Progressive “Capability Development” is one of the important pillars of my vision for the Pakistan Navy and in this regard, we have contracted construction of 8 Destroyers/Corvettes with the support of friendly countries. As warships are the mainstay of any Navy for extending its reach to conduct Maritime Security Operations, therefore induction of more ships is in the offing.

In addition, we are also constructing 8 Hangor Class Submarines with Chinese support. We are now focussing on enhancing our long-range Air Anti-Submarine ASW and Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability through induction of modern air platforms. In addition, we are modernizing our existing Fleet of warships.

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GVS: What initiatives Pakistan Navy is taking in terms of defence diplomacy with the neighbouring countries and what other exercises, in addition to AMAN, it has carried out with the major naval forces?

Admiral Zafar: We are a peace-loving nation and always strive to maintain good relations with all neighboring and other regional countries. In line with this national policy, PN has been playing its role by actively engaging with the navies of all littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond.

In order to strengthen relations, increase mutual trust and enhance interoperability, PN regularly conducts bilateral and multilateral exercises with friendly navies across the globe.

The significant exercises recently conducted include Exercise Thamar-AlTayyib with Royal Omani Navy, Naseem Al-Bahr and Gulf Shield with Royal Saudi Naval Forces, Turgutreis with Turkish Naval Forces, Malpak with Malaysian Navy, Asad-Al-Bahr with Qatari Navy, SAR exercise with Iranian Navy, and Arabian Monsoon with Russian Navy.

GVS: What is the potential of the naval shipbuilding industry in Pakistan and what is the progress in this regard?

Admiral Zafar: Given its geostrategic location astride world energy highway. However naval needs are different from those of commercial shipping. PN has always remained supportive of indigenization philosophy especially, in the critical naval shipbuilding industry.

Karachi Shipyard is in operation since 1957, and PN has provided requisite support to Karachi Shipyard for in-country construction of vessels ranging from utility craft, Fast Attack Craft (Missile), modern Frigate and Fleet Tanker.

Admiral's vision for Pakistan Navy

Gaining experience from these ventures; over the last two decades, Karachi Shipyard has also transformed into a modern shipbuilding yard capable of undertaking state of the art ship construction, repair, and maintenance activities as per international standards. With regard to the commercial shipbuilding industry, it is important to understand that Pakistan is ideally located at the northern shores of the Indian Ocean.

On average, 3000 ships visit Pakistani Ports and 45000 ships pass close to our coast every year – and almost 30% of global oil supplies pass through this region. By offering modern shipbuilding and repair facilities on the competitive price to these vessels, huge economic dividends can be accrued.

The government has embarked on the plan for the revival of the shipbuilding and repair industry. Renowned shipbuilding yards and private investors have shown a keen interest for establishing shipyards on the Pakistani Coast.

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Admiral Zafar: GVS: What are the major realistic maritime ambitions of Pakistan, which PN considers as its top priority in the region?

The maritime region of Pakistan carries strategic significance for the whole world. As I have mentioned earlier, almost 30% of all seaborne oil trade emanating from Strait of Hormuz transits closely to Pakistan’s shores.

Pakistan’s 95% trade and 100% of its oil imports are transported through the sea which makes our maritime sector as the bedrock of our national economy. With the progress of CPEC that connects Port of Gwadar with markets in Western China, the importance of this corridor further multiplies.

Pakistan’s prosperity and progress is thus intrinsically linked to the safety and security of our maritime domain. Therefore, ensuring maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean Region is one of the top priorities of PN. With this as a core objective, PN has been contributing in all international and regional efforts for maintaining regional maritime security.

Admiral Zafar: GVS: What message Pakistan Navy conveys to the regional navies through the AMAN series of exercises?

My message, for AMAN-19, to all participating navies, is that prosperity of our region is linked to the safe conduct of seaborne trade and maritime security at sea. The importance of this region is growing due to evolving geostrategic developments.

The prevailing challenges in the maritime domain have a global impact and require shared understanding and collaborative response, as the maritime security of global commons is the collective responsibility of all. Navies by virtue of their ability to use high seas are most suited for this common goal.

Therefore, with an aim to bring together navies on a single platform and operate together to counter maritime threats, Exercise AMAN is being conducted biennially since 2007. This year more than 40 navies are participating. We profoundly thank all our partners who have been participating in Exercise AMAN to make it a success and we will continue our efforts in the future also.

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