With a coastline of around 990 kilometers, it has a lethal enemy to lookout on its east.
Pakistan’s decision to be part of the International Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMX 22) is a bold and indispensable step in furthering maritime cooperation. It is an extension of its stated policy to contribute to regional security by collaborating with neighbouring navies, especially those in the Middle East. Pakistan Navy has been a fervent contributor in such multilateral exercises such as CTF-150 and 151 since 2005, in addition to hosting the AMAN series. Thus, joining the US-led IMX 22, which includes approximately 60 countries along with 50 vessels, 9,000 personnel and more than 80 drones, the world’s largest sea drills are tantamount to rewriting history.
Pakistan Navy, as the world’s 9th powerful and versatile sea-force, has an outstanding career record. It enjoys harmony with regional navies, and has been extending support to major powers in fostering maritime cooperation. Participating in this exercise is an earnest attempt to protect and project national interests in an evolving geopolitical environment. Pakistan by ignoring the presence of the Zionist state in the drills has navigated the extra few nautical miles to register its role as a peace-maker, and a responsible maritime power. It may be mentioned that while Pakistan Navy has been part of US-led Combined Maritime Forces at Bahrain for the last two decades, Israel has been invited for the first time.
While IMX-22 aims to maintain freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce throughout the region’s diverse maritime canvas, Pakistan of course cannot sit idle at its shores. Such broad-based amalgamations mean a lot in security connotation, especially as many of the Arab states are reorienting themselves by making new friends and redrawing a new security calculus. These multi-national maritime exercises will be a shot in the arm in promoting confidence building measures.
Being part of the gigantic exercises from the focal base of Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy 5th Fleet’s headquarters as well as operations for CENTCOM, IMX-22 is another opportunity for the Pakistan Navy to enhance interoperability with regional navies. Pakistan is duly acknowledged as it has been bestowed with the duties of Deputy Commander marshalling the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. It will certainly be a leap forward in exploring the high-tech Artificial Intelligence-related inventions. The exercise covers a vast geopolitical sea-scape spanning the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Somali Basin, the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
There is a reinforcing strategic conundrum too in these exercises. Saudi Arabia and Oman have publicly participated along with Israel in the naval exercises for the first time. This at a time when Iran is flexing its muscles in the region, and the Houthi rebels had operated deep inside Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. It has a special meaning in the Machiavellian theme, as the Arabian-Persian discord is unfortunately at its height.
In this circumference, Pakistan did a wise thing by not allowing India and Israel to have a field day to maneuver their designs in the region. Pakistan’s participation in IMX-22 definitely is an outcome of its farsightedness — an aspect which stands acknowledged by Washington and Arab friends.
Pakistan has to deeply push itself in buoying its sea prowess. With a coastline of around 990 kilometers, it has a lethal enemy to lookout on its east. Moreover, Pakistan Navy is gaining an increasingly important role in the Horn of Africa, Hormuz and Suez, as well as Persian straits, as it corresponds to new challenges of trade and commerce and anti-pirate activity.
While the IMX-22 primarily addresses unmanned air, surface and undersea systems, as stated by Cmdr. Tom McAndrew, it will go a long way in refurbishing Pakistan’s expertise and its quest for ingenuity. At a time when the US flexes its CENTCOM presence and CPEC is in its second strategic phase, Pakistan Navy has a vital role to play in the region. Being at IMX-22, Pakistani nautical yeomen have rightly rubbed soldiers with the bold and tactful.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 14 February 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.