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Cdr (Retd) Azam Khan |

On December 20 2018, President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi was the chief guest at a ceremony held at the end of a nine-day long “maritime security workshop” (MARSEW) in which the first “Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan, Preserving Freedom of Seas” was formally launched. Under the auspices of Pakistan Navy (PN), MARSEW is conducted annually at the Pakistan Navy War College (PNWC); bringing together participants from public, the private sector, legislature and media for discussions on the maritime economy and maritime security matters.

Like many other coastal states in the world, Pakistan has perennially suffered from “sea blindness” which is also known as “maritime blindness”. This is despite the fact that Pakistan’s economic security is profoundly tied to the sea. Historically, with major invasions coming to India via land from Central Asia and Afghanistan, there has been a disinterest by the political elite over and above a fixation with land-centric security issues post-independence. The “Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan, Preserving Freedom of Seas”, (MDP) is an effort to disseminate broad knowledge on the national maritime sector and maritime economy.

The “Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan, Preserving Freedom of Seas”, (MDP) is an effort to disseminate broad knowledge on the national maritime sector and maritime economy.

It highlights the complexity of maritime security issues and illustrates the threats and role of Pakistan navy as sentinel of national maritime frontiers. The document which took close to seven years in the making comes at a time of tumultuous changes. To better understand MDP, a look at some of the ongoing geopolitical and larger security developments in the region and beyond may be in order.

Read more: How to make Pakistan a Maritime Nation: Minister Ali Zaidi

Strategic Dimensions of Indo-Pacific for the Region

The Indo-Pacific extends from the west coast of the US to the western Indian Ocean along the east coast of Africa and has different meanings and nuances for various maritime powers. Indian and Pacific oceans have morphed into a single strategic component. Developments in one will affect the other and vice versa. This maritime construct is the focus of principal global economic and military contest today. Energy and trade shipments of Asia and Pacific countries endlessly traverse and fan out from Straits of Hormuz, Straits of Malacca, and other choke points of the Indian Ocean.

It is a region where the ‘core interests’ of the United States, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others intersect, making the Indian Ocean strategically integral to the economic and military power balance in the western Pacific. In a major move last year, the US renamed its oldest Pacific Command (seventh fleet) the PACOM, as INDOPACOM. The US has fully aligned itself with India. The most glaring example of this is the signing of a landmark agreement called LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement).

The mutual agreement opens Indian ports to the United States Navy and alternatively Gulf ports for use by the Indian navy. Such a facility is of a significant advantage since it provides operational flexibility for conducting extended operations at sea. India also signed a similar agreement with France in 2018. Under Modi, India’s proactive Indian Ocean policy is evolving. New Delhi has vastly expanded its footprint in the Indian Ocean. It now has a strong military presence in several islands in the western Indian Ocean including Mauritius and Seychelles. It has acquired full operational control at Chahbahar (Iran), a naval base in Duqm (Oman), and another at Sabang (Indonesia).

The Indo-Pacific extends from the west coast of the US to the western Indian Ocean along the east coast of Africa and has different meanings and nuances for various maritime powers.

The country has a signal intelligence facility near Ras-al-Hadd, Oman. These diverse arrangements are ideal for monitoring, influencing and even choking important sea lines of an adversary. Needless to say, it casts deep shadows on the maritime security of Pakistan. The most ominous development in the Indian Ocean has been the recent completion of “deterrent patrol” by the Indian navy’s first indigenous nuclear propelled, ballistic missile armed submarine SSBN, INS Arihant. Modi made this announcement in November 2018. The completion of patrol by Arihant validates India’s triad.

A nuclear submarine constitutes the most reliable arm in nuclear deterrence. In the case of land-based missiles and fighter aircraft, hardly anything stays hidden from sensors, satellites or other surveillance devices. Such assets are susceptible to pre-emptive strikes as well. It is only a nuclear submarine that remains poised and secure against such devices. With its inherent stealth features and extended endurance, a nuclear submarine provides guaranteed second-strike capability. It can conduct undersea patrol for months without a break and armed with nuclear-tipped or conventional missiles is ready for launch at short notice; SSBN is assured deterrence against any adversary.

Read more: Pakistan’s Vision for Maritime Security

India now joins the exclusive club of five other countries which operate nuclear submarines. Following the publication of its first Maritime doctrine in 2004 and a companion document in 2007, the Indian navy revised its Maritime doctrine in 2009. In the vision expressed for 2025, the Indian navy contemplates placing all the choke points, significant Islands and trade routes in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal under its control. In October 2015, the Indian navy published a reworked apex document, “Indian Maritime Security Strategy: Ensuring Secure Seas”. The necessity for the revised document, as stated was ‘the shift in worldview from Euro-Atlantic to Indo-Pacific and resultant political, economic and social changes in the Indian Ocean’.

The modified document describes Indian Navy’s “primary” and “secondary” areas of interest” in Indian and Pacific Oceans, its “maritime security objectives” as well as “strategy for deterrence” and “strategy for conflict”. MDP needs to be read in the backdrop of the aforementioned developments. Military doctrine is a general guide for action that provides conceptual underpinning for the application of military power. Military doctrine is futuristic but grounded in lessons of history, practical experiences, conflicts and wars and factors in available technology as well as anticipated advances thereof.

New Delhi has vastly expanded its footprint in the Indian Ocean. It now has a strong military presence in several islands in the western Indian Ocean including Mauritius and Seychelles.

It is influenced by a host of factors like geopolitics, threat perceptions, national aims, etc. A military doctrine exists at various levels, strategic, operational or tactical and ensures institutional consistency in thinking and actions. Above all, a military doctrine allows natives of a state and adversaries to know how a military intends prosecuting a war and countering other challenges. A doctrine, however, differs from strategy. The latter is a ‘plan of action’ to achieve ‘ends’ of a policy. A doctrine serves as a landmark and acts as a foundation for strategy.

How does a Maritime Doctrine Differ from a Military Doctrine?

A military doctrine provides guidance on the principles and practices of hard military power. Maritime doctrine, on the other hand, differs and deals with a much larger domain. It alludes to sea or maritime power of a state and is the sum total of two different dimensions, the maritime economic and maritime military components. The former rests in sea-based mineral and marine resources within maritime zones of a country, its ports, harbours, mercantile marine shipping, maritime industry, seaborne commerce, geography and demographic features, etc. The maritime military component is embodied in navy, maritime security agency; coast guards and (or) other policing arms which serve to protect, preserve and advance maritime interests of a state whilst conducting constabulary and benign tasks.

Read more: Pakistan yet to become a Maritime Nation

Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine

Pakistan’s MDP is spread over ten chapters and its purpose has eloquently been stated in the ‘foreword’ by Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi: ‘MDP aims to act as a catalyst for synergizing efforts and resources of various stakeholders in the development of the country’s maritime sector which has lacked vitality despite vast potential’. It further adds, ‘MDP outlines the broad contours of employment of naval and maritime power in support of national objectives and calls for collaborative efforts in preserving order at sea for the greater good of human race’. The narrative in MDP is both “informational” and “doctrinal”.

It underscores the significant role Pakistan navy played in “preserving freedom of seas” through collaborative and independent actions in the post 9/11 period. It overviews various military instruments of sea power and places itself in the overall national security framework. It sets out the historical context of the Indian Ocean from Pakistan’s perspective. From early trading activities to Portuguese, Dutch Mughals and British East India Company, it navigates to post-independence problems encountered by a fledgeling Pakistan navy.

Military doctrine is futuristic but grounded in lessons of history, practical experiences, conflicts and wars and factors in available technology as well as anticipated advances thereof.

The developments during the cold war, the role of Pakistan Navy in two wars, various US-led operations, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and assembly of navies from various countries under coalitions to fight Somali piracy from 2008 onwards is illustrated. The politico-strategic dimension, sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and global interests in these critical intercontinental energy highways is reviewed. The doctrine covers the changing geostrategic developments in the region, including the recently instituted “Regional Maritime Security Patrol” (RMSP) by the Pakistan Navy.

The initiative calls for establishing maritime order, combatting maritime terrorism, piracy, gun running, drug and human trafficking and other illicit activities along three axes: the Horn of Africa, North Arabian Sea and Central Indian Ocean. Pakistan’s geographical areas of interest are covered; the North Arabian Sea (Primary area), the broader Western Indian Ocean (extended area of interest) and strategic area of interest as one dictated by the evolving strategic needs. After expanding its “footprint” and swiftly securing strategic space in North Arabian Sea and Western Indian Ocean in 2003, following the launch of maritime component of operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, Pakistan navy continued to hone its skill in ‘collaborative operations’.

Read more: Pakistan’s maritime security

This came by way of enduring participation and conduct of operations in various coalitions, combating challenges like maritime terrorism, drug and human trafficking, Somali piracy and providing humanitarian assistance where and when required. This ensured maritime security and order in the area of interest whilst preserving sanctity of international sea lines traversing close to Makran coast of Pakistan. To expand the reach and operational endurance, Pakistan Navy is now paying almost regular port calls and conducting exercises with friendly navies in Pacific, Mediterranean and elsewhere.

Pakistan’s maritime capacity arises from a coastline running 1001 km, maritime zone resources that extend some 350 nautical miles seaward, along with a shipping sector and various national ports that provide a glimpse of its overall capacity. Furthermore, CPEC and a fully functional Gwadar port are projected to ‘expand maritime commercial activities in the region’. Pakistan recently began offshore drilling to find oil and gas deposits in the country’s maritime zones. The US firm, ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas firm, in collaboration with Italian firm ENI Pakistan Limited, is currently drilling in ultra-deep waters (around 5,800 meters deep) some 280 km away from the Karachi coast.

The country currently meets around 15-20 percent of its energy needs through domestic oil and gas exploration and production while the rest is met through expensive imports all shipped via sea, which adds to Pakistan’s economic vulnerability. These imports cost Pakistan around one-fourth of total import bills and the country is now one of the largest importers of LNG in the world. The MDP lists eleven “principles of warfighting”. However, it cautions practitioners on the discreet application of these principles during operations.

The politico-strategic dimension, sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and global interests in these critical intercontinental energy highways is reviewed.

MDP describes the role of maritime forces in the conduct of military operations and the manner in which the Pakistan navy performs its mandated functions through various command structures under Chief of the Naval Staff. According to MDP, despite a universal worldview of war as ‘counterproductive’ for security and prosperity of the wider global community, it still serves the ‘interest of some actors’. Hence, war, it says, ‘remains a distinct possibility’. In a chapter on the ‘threat and role of maritime forces’, the strategic landscape in the Indian Ocean is described as one in which Pakistan may find itself subjected to a broad spectrum of challenges.

It discusses ‘induction of strategic platforms and weapon systems in the Indian Ocean with other advanced weapons system’ as perpetually undermining regional stability. It is worth noting that the security of Gwadar port and seaward approaches to the port is mandated to Pakistan Navy. In this context, a suitably equipped special task force has been raised to protect port infrastructure and extend security to personnel working within the limits of the port. It is no secret that both, India and the US are averse to CPEC. The former has instituted a special desk inside elite spy agency, RAW, with hefty funds placed at its disposal to subvert CPEC.

Read more: What are the cornerstones of Pakistan’s maritime security strategy?

The ‘threat spectrum’ in MDP sets out a range of situations between war and peace, tension, crisis, hostilities and conflict. It warns readers on the rising extent, scope and intensity of threats in Pakistan’s area of interest. It moreover, cautions on the sizeable presence of regional and extra-regional naval forces in the North Arabian Sea which, it says, offers both, ‘opportunities as well as challenges. The ‘guiding creed’ of the doctrine is stated to be ‘preserving the Nation’s freedom at and from the sea during peace, uneasy peace, crisis and war’. This is to be achieved through ‘deterrence’ and should this fail, ‘Pakistan navy remains poised to fight the war’, it adds.

The stress is on ‘provision of a strong and lean maritime military muscle to protect maritime interests’ and ensure battle readiness at all times to wrest any ‘initiative’ from the enemy. Having expressed its vision as a ‘combat ready multi-dimensional force’, the military strategic environment in MDP is articulated as one wherein military nuclearization, new provocative doctrines (read proactive operations or cold start doctrine) and role of NSAs are significant developments. In the context of strategic correlation between PN and national security, the document warns, ‘any hostile attempt to hinder the sea lines of communication by an adversary can have a serious impact on the country’s economy’.

The MDP lists eleven “principles of warfighting”. However, it cautions practitioners on the discreet application of these principles during operations.

Faith, character, courage and commitment are defined as ‘core values’ to guide actions of PN. MDP is a trendsetter. It seeks to harmonize and revitalize the maritime sector of Pakistan. As a flagship document of Pakistan Navy in public domain, it draws the attention of policymakers to the hitherto untapped vast oceanic potential in Pakistan’s maritime zones. With the suitable investment, this potential can return enormous economic dividends for the national economy. MDP is also a benchmark in common understanding of maritime security issues at PN and tri-services level. Above all, it provides practitioners and interested parties, an insight into the Navy’s vision, its all-important role in war and peace; the precepts and navy’s warfighting philosophy in a nuclearized Indian Ocean.

Read more: Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Zafar M Abbasi explains his…

The rise and decline of powers are closely linked to the use of the maritime domain for one’s own economic advantage and depriving others of such opportunities. The control of seas has always played a pivotal role in deciding the fate of any nation. The nations which are rising are the ones with significant maritime muscle in terms of the merchant marine, harbours, shipyards, ship repair facilities, marine scientific research and other supporting industry, all shielded by a robust muscular navy. A strong navy promises protection, preservation and enables advancing maritime interests of a state via maritime diplomacy, an inalienable part of foreign policy. MDP brings all this together to portray a comprehensive picture, the national maritime challenges and way forward to overcome those hurdles.

Cdr Azam Khan (Retd) is a Senior Research Fellow at Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore, Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine is factually based on the principle of defence and maintains peace agreed with the author. But, on the other hand India’s policies in domain of maritime are exclusively aggressive and dangerous for the peace of the whole region. International community should take serious steps to halt India for adopting aggressive posture as it would bring the whole region at verge of instability.

  2. Having a strong naval force is vital for a country’s geo-economic and geo-strategic interests. According to the International Maritime Organization, 90% of all trade occurs through the seas. A strong navy is necessary to ensure maritime security. With respect to the growing symmetry and insecurities in the South Asia, India seems to be developing its naval fleet. It has its eyes on submarines, warships, tankers, frigates and even air-craft carriers.Pakistan with regards to growing asymmetries in the region and also with growing concerns in the global and regional security context must seek for developing both as a credible conventional and strategic force is important for protection of growing economic maritime interests against predation and coercion and also necessary to safeguard the strategic interests of the country.

  3. Pakistan’s ambitions, however, will only be fulfilled if maritime awareness is promoted with a greater degree of seriousness to a wider spectrum of strategic community, political class and public at large. To emphasize this point, the speeches made by representatives from political parties during a recent APC in Islamabad, where they advocated for Gwadar port to be placed under provincial government of Balochistan, were disappointing as they betrayed an utter lack of understanding of complex maritime issues.

  4. Pakistan is hosting the event in order to prove her maritime capability and strength and contribution in maintaining peace worldwide. Pakistan is a peace desirous country and does not have belligerent designs against any other nation-state or country. Just like land borders, there are issues at sea which relate to territorial waters, contagious zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelf and Pakistan is desirous to resolve them all with its neighbours in accordance with international law and expects others to reciprocate in the same spirit.

  5. 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. The coastal line defense and guarding of maritime interests necessitate the maintenance of a strong Navy. 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.

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