Pakistan has voiced serious concerns over growing strategic partnership between India and the United States saying the 'logistic exchange pact' between the two countries has put the vision of 'Asia's century' in serious jeopardy .
"Inter-state tensions in the region and significant investments in blue water navies by countries like India have brought oceans into focus as sensitive security space," said Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, the adviser to the prime minister on national security, on Monday while speaking at a national maritime conference. Janjua underscored the importance of maritime security and said the vision of 'Asia's century' was under stress as "security architecture and strategic stability of the region has come under stress".
In this regard, he pointed towards the Indo-US logistics exchange agreement, through which "India and the US have carved out space to pre-position themselves on this ocean. "India is being propped up as a counter-weight to China through geo-political, geo-economic and geo-military moves," he said.
Federal Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain, who was the chief guest at the event, said it was not surprising that Pakistan's competitors were opposed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and were already seeking to sabotage the multibillion-dollar project.
"It is of utmost importance, therefore, that we be fully-prepared to deal with any and all challenges that may arise as these opportunities unfold, not the least in the maritime arena," he said.Other speakers called for a broad-based national maritime policy, modernisation of navy, and expansion of diplomatic engagement with the 'littoral states' of the Indian Ocean for peace and security and capitalising on the opportunities created by CPEC.
A set of 25 wide-ranging policy recommendations was issued at the conclusion of the conference on 'Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean: Challenges and Prospects for Pakistan', which had been jointly organised by the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), and the National Centre for Maritime Policy Research (NCMPR).
The conference, which was attended by policymakers, legislators, maritime experts, and academics, further supported the idea of identifying the Indian Ocean as 'Afro-Asian Ocean' to give a sense of ownership to the littoral states since the ocean is bound by two continents. The conference was held to analyse the challenges in the realm of maritime security emanating from militarisation and nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean and power projection by states maintaining presence in the area.
The daylong conference also discussed emerging alliances in the region and threats to CPEC, in addition to non-traditional challenges like terrorism, piracy, food security and environmental concerns.
It also underscored importance of overcoming national 'sea-blindness', because of which maritime issues have remained neglected in the national priorities, and developing a culture of 'sea-positivity'.
Unveiling the recommendations of the conference, the CPGS President Sehar Kamran said: "Maritime security is a pivotal aspect of Pakistan's national security, and must be acknowledged as such.
"A comprehensive and long-term maritime security policy with a futuristic approach based on projected requirements for the coming decades in both civilian and military maritime sectors is the need of time."
Sehar said fulfillment of the vision of 'Asian Century' needs a focus on 3Cs - connectivity, cooperation, and communication. She specially thanked the PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for helping in 'initiation of the CPEC' and said it underscored how the PPP protected national interest in a non-partisan manner.
It was suggested that the existing national maritime policy should be reviewed to make it more inclusive and forward looking so that it could address trade, economic, environmental and security elements for the protection and projection of Pakistan's maritime interests.
It proposed to establish the National Maritime Authority and allocation of necessary resources for expansion, development and establishment of new ports particularly along the Makran coast.The conference put special emphasis on development and modernisation of the Pakistan Navy as the guardians of the maritime boundaries.
"Pakistan should increase and modernise its naval fleet, and pursue technological advancements in sea-based deterrents to ensure an assured second strike capability, especially in the context of the growing threats in the Anti-Aircraft Operations Rooms (AAOR) by our belligerent neighbour."
Former naval chief Admiral Muhammad Sandila raised the issues confronting development of the Gwadar deep seaport. "Until those challenges are addressed, Gwadar is not going to take off.
CPEC minus Gwadar would be just an extension of the Karakoram Highway."Ministry of Defence's former additional secretary Rear Admiral Mukhtar Jadoon cautioned that the available resources were inadequate to meet the maritime security dictates. The conference recommended greater diplomatic engagement with littoral states in Afro-Asian Ocean Region to promote mutual trust and cooperation in development of the region, besides enhancing Pakistan's access to African markets.
It called for a review of the UN Resolution 2832 that declares the ocean as Zone of Peace to address the concerns of littoral states particularly about its nuclearisation. "Pakistan must take the initiative in strongly opposing the increased instability produced by the introduction of nuclear weapons by India."
It was proposed that India may also be roped in to the connectivity net as it was identified as the only way forward towards promoting peace and stability in the region and ensuring the security of investments like the CPEC.
Other recommendations related to promoting investments, skills development, equitable distribution of opportunities created by the CPEC, and improved governance and security within Pakistan.
Former deputy chief of naval staff vice admiral (retd) Iftikhar Ahmed said: "If we have the requisite infrastructure and enabling environment at Gwadar and the region, Gwadar will surely emerge as the economic hub of the region."
He said the Iranian port of Chahbahar poses no challenge to Gwadar and the two can complement each other.
Rear Admiral (retd) Pervaiz Asghar pointed to threat of India's naval expansion, but also drew attention to non-traditional threats. He asked for "a coordinated and unified response to an array of common non-traditional threats that are increasingly becoming the norm."