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Major Powers’ Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan

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International Conference

“Major Powers’ Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan”

Organized by: Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

In collaboration with: Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF)

At: Serena Hotel, Islamabad

November 18-19, 2014


A two-day international conference on “Major Powers’ Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan” was organized by Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) on November 18-19, 2014 at Serena Hotel, Islamabad. The conference comprised of four working sessions in addition to inaugural and concluding sessions. Eleven presentations were made by eminent scholars that covered various themes ranging from “Indian Ocean: Center Stage for the 21st Century” to “Major Powers’ Interests: Competition and Cooperation in Indian Ocean” and from “Regional Power Play in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan” to “Working for Peaceful Indian Ocean Rim: A Win-Win Situation for All.” Besides, Pakistan, scholars from US, China, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Iran participated in the conference. The main objectives of the conference were: a) to understand geo-political and geo-economics importance of the Indian Ocean in contemporary times; b) to identify interests of major powers in the region; c) to analyze the ongoing competition and cooperation among international and regional actors; d) to discuss policy options for Pakistan and e) to explore possible mechanism for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

Concept Note

A US naval strategist, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, once remarked, “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.” The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) having 36 states around its littoral belt with additional eleven hinterland states, which though landlocked, make it important as they are all involved in one way or the other in its politics and trade. The highest tonnage of the world’s goods, i.e., 65% of world oil, and 35% of gas, located in the littoral states, also passes through it. The region today stands at an arena of contemporary geopolitics and geo-economics as this major sea route connects the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and the Americas. Travel across the IOR and passage from its waters into neighbouring seas is both facilitated and potentially constrained by several choke points–the Mozambique Channel, the Bab el Mandeb, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, the Malacca Straits, the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait.

At present, there are many challenges as well as opportunities facing the IOR and the South China Sea (SCS) as these areas, with the passage of time, have emerged as central theaters of 21st century geopolitics. The Indian Ocean once regarded as a “neglected ocean” has, today, become the hub of political, strategic and economic activities due to the presence of conventional and nuclear vessels of the major powers and nuclear weapon states like Pakistan, China and India. Key regional powers are placing great reliance on the deployment of fleet missile submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) for second strike capability as well as for maintaining balance of power in the region. The US had established its naval base in the IOR at Diego Garcia to protect the US vital interests in the region. There are significant implications attached to the US new “Asia Pivot” strategy. The Indo-US collusion in the IOR has naturally made Pakistan and China wary about the strategic balance in the IOR.

Regional and extra regional powers are now paying increasing attention on the IOR issues within a complex geopolitical framework where their interests and objectives are inextricably meshed. The post-Cold War scenario has somehow relegated the Atlantic Ocean to a less important position compared to the IOR as a conduit for Western military supplies and the Persian Gulf hydrocarbon resources. Add to this, the turbulent regional socio-political environment (including America’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the rise of China as a global power has made IOR an area of crucial geo-strategic importance. As a result, traditional maritime security concerns have become more important due to the conflict in the Persian Gulf and piracy near Bab-el-Mandeb, due to unrest in Somalia. Stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, the IOR has the potential to be the centre of global conflicts because most international commerce will flow through this route.

Pakistan is aware of its immediate and extended neighbourhood in IOR. Pakistan has to evaluate its options and come up prepared to face any challenges that IOR might offer in the near future as the Gwadar Port located at the end of the proposed “Pakistan-China Economic Corridor” is not only a shortcut to Africa and the Mediterranean sea but also the shortest route for China to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Moreover, Pakistan has to strive for a win-win situation in the IOR where most of the states should peacefully benefit from the dividends available in the region.

Conference Proceedings

Inaugural Session

Welcome Address

In his welcome address, Ambassador Sohail Amin, President IPRI, greeted the chief guest, chairs of the sessions, speakers and audience of the conference. He said the purpose of the conference was to understand the role of the emerging political, military, commercial, environmental and technological trends in shaping relationships between major regional and extra-regional powers. He added that the conference would also examine the impact of criss-crossing forces of economic growth, natural resource development and political change on the coastal countries of the IOR in the coming years. He credited the Indian Ocean for its geo-strategic position which had 36 states around its littoral space belt and an additional 11 hinterland states. Likewise, half of the world’s containerized freight and two third of oil shipments travelled through the Indian Ocean. Since, it connected the Middle East, Africa and East Asia with Europe and the Americas, it was fast becoming an arena of contemporary geo-politics and geo-economics. He added that Pakistan’s strategic location of connecting East Asia with West Asia and beyond provided it a central position in the politico-economic competition or cooperation.

He further noted that the importance of Indian Ocean was increasing with every passing day due to rising prosperity in Asia and its growing dependence on natural resource flows to and from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the US. In this regard, the rise of China as a global power and also a major stakeholder in the Indian Ocean and the interests of the US in Asia had made the region – an area of crucial geo-strategic importance. He cautioned that problems ranging from piracy and territorial disputes in the regional seas to global environmental pressure on coastal and marine resources were multiplying. These challenges posed significant governance challenges for maritime policymakers around the Indian Ocean region. He asserted that no nation had the resources to address the challenges in the Indian Ocean single-handedly. Moreover, he pointed out that interests of littoral states in the maritime domain were interlinked and interdependent. Therefore, they would have to fulfill their collective responsibility to deal with these challenges.

He summed up that Pakistan was aware of its immediate and extended neighbourhood in IOR. It kept on evaluating its options to remain prepared to face any challenges or benefits from opportunities that IOR offered. Furthermore, Gwadar Port was being linked up with China through the Pakistan-China economic corridor. This port was not only a shortcut to Africa and Mediterranean Sea but also the shortest route for China to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Opening Remarks

In his opening remarks, Kristof Duwaets, Resident Representative, Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad office highlighted the importance of Naval power. He said navies had been pivotal throughout human history. Even today, the US continued to be emphasizing its claim as a sole world power through the comprehensive availability of naval formations in all oceans. Likewise, China had recently started building up its so-called blue-water navy, thereby facilitating long distance power projects and the maintenance of Chinese interests in the world oceans. Pakistan itself had two major harbours in Karachi and Gwadar and China had pledged to develop the later for enhanced trade and viable and better economic opportunities. He further stated that already, the Indian Ocean was becoming the most dangerous ocean in the world. Despite the large scale presence of foreign navies, piracy had rather spread than declined in the past years and was no longer only confined to Somalia. He said that there had been reported attacks emanating from Pakistani, Indian as well as Bangladeshi soil, reaching considerable numbers. Therefore, he suggested that regional cooperation in countering piracy and other sea-bound crimes had become the need of the hour. All this needed to be built up, protected and sustained, not through large-scale naval deployments but rather surgical and custom-made solutions.

Inaugural Address

In his inaugural address, the Chief Guest, Admiral (R) Noman Bashir, former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Pakistan Navy, said that continental mind-set in Pakistan had distracted it from paying due attention to the developments in Indian Ocean. Pakistan could not remain oblivious to developments taking place in the Indian Ocean as it directly impacted on its security and prosperity. He highlighted that Pakistan was heavily dependent on Indian Ocean with 95 percent of its trade through sea, and 100 per cent of its Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants (POL) supplies were also through the Arabian Sea. Also, it had a reservoir of marine economic resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Despite the domestic security challenges, Pakistan was cognizant of the responsibilities bestowed upon it owing to geography. Therefore, Pakistan had actively played its role in meeting the challenges in Indian Ocean. Besides, the Indian strategists had propounded dominance of Indian Ocean and they argued that colonization of the subcontinent through East India Company was due to its weakness at sea. India considered Indian Ocean as an Indian Lake; it wanted to dominate the area and as a consequence had embarked on extensive modernization and developmental plans for its navy. Moreover, geopolitics in Indian Ocean was characterized by emerging competition for influence and resources. Therefore, rising Asian economies, security of trade routes, access to energy resources and regional issues like terrorism were some of the factors shaping the geopolitics.

He noted that the emerging competition for influence and resources between the two principal actors, i.e., the US and China was manifested in the concepts like US New Silk Route Initiative and Asia Pacific Pivot and China’s growing economic footprint in Africa and littorals of the IOR. These emerging narratives of enlarging security parameter in tandem with widening regional economic and strategic links and the resultant surge in tensions would constitute a challenge to the stability and order in the lOR. Furthermore, he stated that the US interests in terms of containing communism in the past and currently fighting against terrorism was well known. Therefore, the US and western countries maintained constant presence in the region. They had military bases based on the concept of forward defence as evident in the Indian Ocean. He further stated that China had, for the first time in its history after Zheng He, ventured into the Indian Ocean in anti-piracy deployments. China’s dependence on Gulf oil and trade with the West necessitated protection of its vital interests. China had also assisted a number of countries to develop ports and commercial facilities. This was seen by competing countries as China’s aspiration of dominance in future. China was also wary of Indian ambitions and both saw each other as a competitor.

He also highlighted the challenges like terrorism, piracy and armed robbery, drug and narco-trade, human trafficking and transportation of illegal migrants, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution in Indian Ocean. He was of the opinion that the only way to ensure the ‘freedom of navigation’ on its highways, equitable use of resources and to counter future challenges was through a ‘cooperative and regional approach’.


Indian Ocean: Center Stage for the 21st Century

Mr. Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury,Head of Operations at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh spoke on “Piracy and Trafficking: Maritime and Security Policy Challenges.” In his presentation, he examined the extent of piracy and trafficking in Indian Ocean and how that affected South Asian nations in terms of the conundrum they faced with respect to maritime and security policies. Explaining the implications of piracy, he stated that these were economic, geo-strategic and security related. Moreover, the piracy created insecurity in the both regional and global vital trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Trade and supplies were hampered and delayed. Longer detours took the shipping cost high. Escorting involved additional security resources. Elaborating the illegal trafficking, he said that it was more of a modern phenomenon. It involved human, arms, narcotics trafficking and logistic supply to armed people. He added that the maritime milieu now represented the new ground zero of asymmetric threats such as terrorism, piracy and organized crime. These non-conventional threats, involving various types of low-intensity conflicts related to sea, posed significant challenge to the good order at sea.

He further identified that religio-political radicalization and ethnocentric clamour for political power were the two prime reasons for hostility in Indian Ocean rim. Militant religious/sectarian radicalization was the biggest cause of concern to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. These sub-region countries had turned into a playground for competing influence. Few other nations were the domains of strategic competition of major powers, e.g., Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and Thailand. He summed up that a wider regional consensus in the affected regions was necessary that should be based on honest actions against trafficking and piracy by one nation and reciprocity from others. In this regard, holistic approach of cooperation, well supported by national and regional stakeholders was imperative to address trafficking and piracy issues trans-IOR.

Rear Admiral (R) Pervaiz Asghar, former Director General of the National Centre for Maritime Policy Research at the Bahria University Karachi Campus, presented his paper on “Maritime and Naval Power Play: Competing Roles and Missions.” He covered his topic with historical perspective and linked it with current scenario. He noted that the IOR since ancient times had been an area of peace and prosperity, propelled largely by an overt and mutual dependence on trade. Colonial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British, which made their presence felt serve the dawn of the 16th century, and focussed on trade domination and exploitation. Furthermore, in the wake of the Second World War, when large scale territorial occupation became unsustainable for Britain, it sought to pass the baton on to a reliable partner. Resultantly, the US proceeded to transform it into a huge naval and air base.

Explaining the Indian strategy towards the Indian Ocean, he said that India, for geographical, historical and socio-economic reasons, had always eyed for a dominant role for itself, though its ambition had been thwarted by the competing interests of the outside naval powers as well as its own naval inadequacy. Besides, in pursuance of its regional aspirations, the Indian Navy, despite its dwindling numerical strength, had been assiduously endeavouring to maintain a qualitative edge through the acquisition of a number of Soviet-built and indigenously constructed stealth warships. Such blatant flexing of Indian military muscle might boost its power credentials, but it would lead to regional instability. Pakistan’s primary interest lied in ensuring order along its coastal belt. It had been cooperating with the international community through its participation in maritime Combined Task Forces (CDF) 150 and 151 and other regional initiatives. While elaborating the Chinese maritime strategy, he noted that China had long been conscious of its economic interests and vulnerabilities in the region, though its possible attempts at a sustained naval presence had been forestalled by the US and India. While worried about the security of its oil trade through the Indian Ocean, the Chinese had been focusing on helping countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to develop new ports and trade routes.

Session II

 Major Powers’ Interests: Competition and Cooperation in Indian Ocean

Dr. David R. Jones, Visiting Faculty, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad spoke on “America’s Asia Pivot and Indian Ocean Transnational Security Concerns”.He said: “the term ‘Pivot’ refers to the US tilt towards the region”. It was used by President Obama, while Hillary Clinton put it as re-balance. The US military/naval power expansion in Southeast Asia/Asia-Pacific was highlighted. In this regard, US military/naval cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the US defence facility at Darwin, Australia were referred. On the US naval cooperation with the littoral states, it was opined that a strong naval posture portrayed a state’s power, and through naval cooperation with the littoral as well as the regional states, US could exercise its control over important choke points. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was also discussed in the context of naval power expansion and it was reiterated that the invasion was to get access to warm waters.

China’s naval power expansion was discussed and the speaker remarked: “How far China can go in this struggle? Will the Chinese navy be able to build aircrafts, blue water navy and sustain the minimum naval deterrence?” He also referred to Chinese ‘Strings of Pearl Strategy’ and said Chinese ports in South Asia were aimed to expand its area of influence. Indian regional role vis-à-vis China’s emergence was discussed. The speaker opined: “India is trying to exploit the Sino-US competition to its advantage”. It was underscored that India was being viewed as a potential counter weight to China. Indo-US strategic partnership and, in particular, their naval cooperation was a testament to this.

Dr. Nasser Hadian, Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran delivered a talk on “Blue Waters Dynamics in Indian Ocean: Possible Scenarios”.He said every state viewed the region with its own perspective and the security complex/compulsions of a state determined its interest in a particular region. The Indian Ocean apt to its location, and the presence of Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) had become a source of attraction for the regional as well as global players. Another factor which had raised the region’s stature internationally was the China’s rapid growth. It was being viewed that China’s progress if continued (unabated) had the potential to challenge the global world order. The speaker further elaborated that to counter such a scenario, US had reinforced its alliances with the regional states, in particular with Australia and Japan. He also referred to Indo-US strategic partnership and remarked that the alliance was to counter balance Chinese preponderance. The US policy in the Middle Eastern region was also highlighted. The US through the economic sanctions had tried to pressurize Iran. Besides, the US had also supported the GCC states to balance out the Iranian influence.

Dr. Wang Hanling, Director, Center for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China gave a talk on “International Law and Order: The Indian Ocean and South China Sea”. The speaker discussed the challenges of maritime security in the Indian Ocean. Likely challenges pointed out were the blockade and military threats to the safety and security of the straits used for international navigation, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden and the Malacca Strait. The US excessive military build-up across the Hormuz was viewed as a threat to the maritime environment.

The speaker further deliberated upon the major powers vested interests and the tendency to overpower the littoral/regional players. He remarked: “It seems that the US is not only making use of the Indian Ocean but also the South China Sea to serve the strategy of its pivot to Asia”. He further stated that the conflicting claims in the South China Sea (over the Spartly and Paracel islands) were no more confined to the regional states. The outside actors, particularly the US involvement had aggravated the dispute.

Existing maritime mechanisms like UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Djibouti Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) were discussed. The speaker said: “the inadequate participation of the states in the region has made these groupings ineffective”. In this regard, he mentioned, “Malaysia and Indonesia are the littoral states, but have hardly contributed towards anti-piracy”. He suggested “a regional management, in which the regional states should lead, while the outside actors’ role should be limited”. Another major hurdle pointed out in anti-piracy operations was the lack of finances. It was reiterated that the UN and some European countries piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden could not be materialized due to the shortage of funding.

The speaker concluded that for a conducive navigational environment and maintenance of legal order in the oceans/seas, peaceful settlement of maritime disputes was essential. Therefore, cooperative maritime mechanisms would not only strengthen the capacity building of regional states but would also deter the threats of piracy, drug and human trafficking, smuggling, terrorism and shipping of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) across the Indian Ocean. Besides, regional and global players’ collaboration could also enhance the capacity to counter natural disasters. The incidents like the crash of Malaysian Flight 370 could also be dealt in a befitting manner.


Regional Power Play in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan

Mr. Muhammad Azam Khan, Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore gave a talk on “Emerging Challenges in Indian Ocean Region: Role of Pakistan Navy”. The talk discussed the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean on the world map. It was stated: “100,000 ships traverse the Ocean on yearly basis. Almost half of the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of total traffic of petroleum trade also passes through the ocean. Besides, the Indian Ocean is home to 65 percent of strategic raw material reserves, 31 percent of gas and more than half of the world’s oil exports”. Ocean’s vulnerability to conventional/non-conventional threats was also highlighted. It was reiterated that the Indian Ocean had many focal points – Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The littoral, regional as well as global players through these points could exercise their control. In this regard, any overt attempt by a hostile power (regional or foreign) to control or interdict the sea-lanes,threat of piracy (especially near Somalia and in the vicinity of the straits of Malacca)or a terrorist attack by a non-state actor could not be ruled out. Further, it was stated that any disruption (whether accidental or deliberate) apart from economic damage would result in a political fallout.

The Indian Ocean’s vulnerability in terms of power competition was visualized. For the US, the Indian Ocean’s significance was evident from the former’s bases over there; “US is fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through its bases in Persian Gulf and Diego Garcia”. Meanwhile, for China smooth flow of trade through the Malacca was important and any disruption could be detrimental. Similarly, the closure of Hormuz strait could be catastrophic for the Indian economy.

On Pakistan’s role/interest in international navigation, it was stated that Pakistan’s 990 kilometer long coastline, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 240,000 square kilometers and Gwadar port were vital for the country’s economic development. It was emphasized that if Pakistan was desirous to safeguard its maritime interests, the country had to focus towards naval empowerment. The vision of Pak Navy was shared. It stated: “A modern potent Navy manned by motivated professionals that contribute effectively to deterrence and national security across the full conflict spectrum and capable of radiating influence region-wide with a global outlook”. Pak Navy’s participation in maritime exercises and contribution towards peace were also highlighted. It was underscored that Pak Navy participated in a multilateral counter terrorism exercise named ‘Amman’, across the Indian Ocean. Pak Navy had also participated alongside the international coalitions (CTF 150, CTF 151) in maritime security operations conducted in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea.

Lieutenant Commander (R) Adil Rashid, Visiting Faculty National Centre for Maritime Policy Research Bahria University, Karachi delivered a presentation on “Maritime Security Dynamics in Indian Ocean: Pak-China-India”. The presentation discussed the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean, highlighted the major powers growing interest and Pakistan’s policy towards the Ocean. It was stated: “Indian Ocean stretches from the Eastern shores of Africa and Middle East to the Western shores of Australia and the Malay Peninsula, thus, serving as a highway between the world continents”. The current value of trade passing through the Ocean was US $ one trillion.

While discussing the major powers interest in the IOR, it was underscored that the powers, both established and emerging, were in the quest to strengthen their foothold in the IOR. It was pointed out that the militarization and naval power expansion of the IOR reflected the growing competition within the regional/global players. The speaker remarked: “these players not only want to safeguard their commercial interests, but through the naval power they are trying to deter the enemy as well”. Further China’s economic interdependence on SLOCs passing through the ocean were referred. It was pointed out that nearly 80 % of China’s fuel was imported from Middle East and North Africa. The Strait of Malacca and Hormuz were of prime significance to China, any blockade or disruption across these choke points could impact the Chinese economy. To deter such a scenario, it was in the strategic interest of China to develop a Blue Water Navy. Chinese ‘Strings of Pearls’ strategy was also a move to ensure an outlet for Chinese goods/trade in a time of crisis.

Indian growing ingress in the IOR was seen. India had the Western and Southern Naval Commands deployed across the region, in addition, to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Besides, India had reinforced its naval cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. India had also funded ‘the Tripartite Technical Expert Group (TTEG)’; the group administers the Malacca strait. Militarily too India had expanded its presence in the IOR; it had set up posts in Seychelles, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. Recently, India had also gained berthing rights in Oman and Vietnam.

On the US strategic interest in the region, US military cooperation with the littoral states and naval presence across the Malacca was discussed. It was argued that the IOR had always surfaced importance in the US calculus, the SLOCs were critical to the movement of US forces from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. The US trade was also navigated through these waterways. In this backdrop, the US strategic interest apart from ensuring the smooth flow of trade across the sea-lanes was also to reinforce its influence in the area to the extent that no other power could challenge the US supremacy.

At the end of the presentation, Pakistan’s Naval Policy was highlighted. It was remarked: “Pakistan’s maritime strategy is defence-driven. It aims to protect the territorial waters, secure sea resources and to ensure smooth trade”. He opined that the policy lacked the vision to compete with other regional navies. It was not offensive nor was it designed to counter balance the other navies, rather the endeavour was to strengthen peace and security across the Arabian Sea. To support this argument, the speaker referred to Pakistan Navy’s cooperative ventures alongside the international community. In this regard, it was reiterated that Pakistan Navy in collaboration with NATO had participated in anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden.

Professor Dr. A.Z. Hilali, Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar gave a talk on “Free Passage and Trade in Indian Ocean: Gwadar’s Place”. The talk referred to the contemporary power struggle among the regional/international players over trade and commerce. These days, economic prosperity was a deciding factor for a country/region’s political say/weight in international politics. In this context, Indian Ocean, its choke points were vital for the connectivity of world trade. The extensive naval expansion across the Indian Ocean by littoral, regional and international players was primarily to safeguard their trade routes.

It was pointed out that Pakistan’s Gwadar port apt to its strategic location was a pivotal trade point. The port had attracted the regional/global actors. The port was not only the shortcut to Africa and Mediterranean Sea but was also the shortest route for China to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. China had heavily invested in the port and the port was likely to serve Chinese economic interests in the long term. However, the perception that China’s unprecedented economic growth and investment in Gwadar would control the market economy of the world was seen with skepticism by the US. Consequently, the US was monitoring the developmental work of Gwadar and Balochistan province. Nonetheless, the US concern had security implications; it had created the ground for confrontation, and if continued it could be detrimental to the future of Gwadar, and the Balochistan province. To counter such a scenario, the speaker viewed a strong and well-equipped navy was crucial for the security of Pakistan.

Session IV

Working for Peaceful Indian Ocean Rim: A Win-Win Situation for All 

Dr. Muhammad Khan, Head, Department of International Relations, National Defence University, Islamabad, presented his paper on “Strengthening Cooperation: Collective Security of Sea Lanes.” His main argument was that over 80 percent of global trade was taking place through seas. Sea Lanes (SLs) were trade routes in the seas and each SL was typically designed to take advantage of a current or a prevailing wind to decrease travel time. In the Indian Ocean, there were three critical SLs extensively used for trade, commerce and transportation of global energy. These were Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca and Strait of Bab el-Mandab.  The Strait of Hormuz was most significant and busiest choke point in the Indian Ocean. As an estimate, over 17 million barrels of crude oil passed through it daily and overall 40 percent of world’s seaborne trade. Approximately 15 million barrels of crude oil passed through Strait of Malacca while an average 3.3 million barrels of oil per day flowed through Strait of Bab el-Mandab to US, Europe and Asia. So any disruption even temporarily would cause international energy and trade crisis.

Identifying the security challenges to Indian Ocean SLs, he said that they were ranging from the traditional, state-closure of the Straits of Hormuz, to the non-traditional, like piracy and maritime terrorism in the Gulf of Aden and the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Some SLs like Straits of Malacca of Indonesia and Malaysia along the Somalian water had been frequently attacked by pirates since ages. Furthermore, the political instability in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had raised security risks for the global shipping industry. So, there was dire need that regional states should develop a strong collective security mechanism for the collective security of the Indian Ocean SLs. This was only possible through enhanced cooperation among the regional states. Furthermore, maritime security efforts could be strengthened through a reorientation of foreign assistance to regional states. There was a need for the institutionalized use of the Best Management Practices (BMP) recommended by the shipping industry, as well as the use of armed security contractors aboard vessels transiting the High Risk Area (HRA). He suggested that India had to come out from its mindset that Indian Ocean was India’s ocean only. An enhanced Indo-China cooperation and due share of littoral and Rim land states was necessary.

Captain (R) Martin A. Sebastian, Head/Fellow of the Centre for Maritime Security and Diplomacy, Maritime Institute of Malaysia, presented his paper on “Integration of Indian Ocean Community: Challenges and Dividends.” He said that maritime crimes were a business and a shadow economy alongside legitimate economy. The economic impact of these crimes on business was rise in insurance premium due to threats, loss of business due to increased security, loss of property and life due to criminal acts, and loss of revenue due to overfishing, poaching and pollution. The impact on government was loss of investment opportunities due to risks, loss of income from taxation revenue due to smuggling/trafficking, loss of income from fines and genuine dues due to unreported crimes, loss of valuable human capital due to the attraction towards crime, increased expenditure on security, increased time and effort to cater for threat response, and loss of endemic and protected wildlife due to illegal deforestation and poaching. Other maritime related crimes were maritime fraud, insurance fraud and bunkering fraud. These crimes could be deterred and suppressed through regional cooperation and integration with existing communities in building security complexes to break the logistics chain of crime. Holistic approach towards joint inter agency cell was using capabilities provided by military, industry, media, NGOs and community policing. Multi-Agency Task Force could be used to arrest those who fuel crime and derive proceeds from crime. The use of anti-money laundering andterrorist financing act (AMLATFA) including unlawful activities to freeze assets of crime lords and masterminds was needed.

He suggested regional cooperation in combating maritime crimes by saying that Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) could work to promote the sustained growth and balanced development of the region and of the member states, and to create common ground for regional economic co-operation. Priority areas should be maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk management, technology, tourism and cultural exchanges. Holistic approach was to include all parties and reducing trust gap between government and people. Lost funds could be better used for governance and socio-economic infrastructure.

Dr. Shahid Amjad, former Director General, National Institute of Oceanography, Pakistan, spoke on “Maritime Economic Cooperation: Hydrocarbons, Fisheries and Minerals.” He said that unlike the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans that were open from North to South Pole, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea in particular was semi-closed with very little water exchange taking place from the north. This coupled with monsoon reversal made the North Arabian Sea a unique region, making it one of the world’s highest productive areas. A third of the world’s population lived around the rim of the Indian Ocean that were dependent on the living and non-living resources. It offered products and services essential for development of coastal states. Coastal and offshore zones were capable of producing rich fisheries, mineral, oil and gas resources. The economic wealth of Pakistan’s coastal zone too was derived from living and non-living resources and products of direct market value, e.g., fish and fishery products, coastal dependent activities, maritime trade, port and shipping activities, beach recreation and tourism etc., which earned millions of US dollars in foreign exchange. Minerals from marine sources provided raw materials for manufacturing and construction sectors, energy for industrial and domestic use, and fertilizer for agriculture sector. Economically important minerals such as Poly-metallic sulphide deposits were known to contain high concentrations of zinc, lead, copper, barium, silver and gold, while the cobalt-rich crust, commonly founded on the flanks of seamounts, contain nickel, copper, zinc, iron and manganese as well as cobalt.  Other resources such as oil and gas, phosphorites and precious metals had also aroused the interest of research institutions and mining companies worldwide. Pakistan was fortunate to have a coastline of 990 kilometers, with an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 240,000 square kilometers.

Highlighting the significance of marine mineral resources to the global economy, he said that more recent scientific discoveries suggested that the potential contribution of these resources to the global economy could be even greater. It was recommended that an “Ocean Business Forum” should be established with members drawn from Indian Ocean coastal states and beyond to take advantage and share the technology for sustainable development of living and non- living marine resources, and contribute towards national economic development and progress.

Concluding Session

Concluding Address

Admiral (R) Muhammad Asif Sandila, former Chief of Naval Staff, Pakistan Navy, was the Chief Guest in the concluding session. He said that sea blindness was when not enough people knew what the sea and shipping did for them. Marines, sailors, people and water were far away from human eye. Those good things were not often seen, so people forgot about that. Alfred Thayer Mahan, a US Naval Strategist, whose concept of “sea power” had an enormous influence in shaping the strategic thought of navies across the world, was recognized best in the US. Admiral Sir Jonathon Band also accused British government of sea blindness in 2007. While talking about importance of Gwadar, he said that the world saw Gwadar as part of China’s strategy of building a “string of pearls” presence on the Indian Ocean and US strategy of “Asia Pivot.” It was a commercial port. He said that in 2014, China was the largest net oil importer. It fulfilled 50% of its oil demand from the Middle East, from where the supply line to China involving 14,500 kilometers through the Dubai-Shanghai-Urumqi route. On the contrary, the crude oil processed and refined at the Gwadar oil refinery could be exported to China through the shortest possible route – Dubai-Gwadar-Urumqi – spanning about 3,500 km. China’s trade through Gwadar would save 22 days and considerable amount of freight charges. So, it was a win-win situation for Pakistan and China.

He stated that Indian Ocean was a home to regional navies. IOR navies included navies from South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Iran, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia. The naval bases of US and France were also there. Pakistan Navy cooperated with the navies of Saudi Arabia and Oman as part of “Aman Exercises” to counter the threat of terrorism both at regional and international level. He said that another major challenge was piracy. Skeptics of piracy situation rightly asked who benefited from piracy, insurance companies, financiers, pirates, middlemen or security agencies. Some out of US $ 238 million ransom was paid to Somali pirates in 2010, approximately 40 percent i.e. US $ 95 million went to beneficiaries outside Somalia. The elimination of piracy was possible through regional cooperation.

Vote of Thanks

Ambassador Sohail Amin, President, IPRI, thanked all participants, who attended the conference, for their valuable contribution and kind presence. He appreciated the scholars who presented their papers and the audience who participated in lively discussion. He informed the audience that conference recommendations would be shared with the policy makers.

Conference Recommendations

  • Pakistan cannot remain oblivious to the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean as these have an impact on our progress and prosperity. Pakistan should remain vigilant about the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean.
  • Pakistan is more focused on continental issues hence sea escapes its attention. There is a need to highlight the issues of maritime importance. Development of Navy is of vital importance for Pakistan.
  •  Frequent conferences should be organized by Pakistani think tanks to discuss safeguarding Pakistan’s security and economic interests linked with the Indian Ocean.
  • Although developments of Gwadar port with the assistance of China was being termed by some major and regional powers as part of China’s strategy of building a “strings of pearls”, it is a commercial port which gives lot of economic advantage to China. For example rather than routing out its oil and other trade to Western parts of China all the way through Malacca strait on Dubai-Shanghai-Urumqi route involving 14,500 kilometres travelling, China would save 22 days of sea travelling and considerable amount of freight charges if it uses Dubai-Gwadar-Urumqi route, which is about 3500 kilometres.
  • Safety and stability of Indian Ocean is a collective responsibility of regional states. The regional states through resource sharing and as equal partners must cooperate in this regard.
  • Pakistan is interested in maintaining stability and security in its adjacent area of interest that is the North Arabian Sea. Pakistan is cognisant of trans-boundary threats and has played a significant role in this regard as part of Combined Task Force-150 and Counter Piracy Task Force-151. Such international engagements should continue.
  • In order to effectively move forward in the right direction, and counter the threat of maritime terrorism, it is imperative to simultaneously clamp down on all illegal activities including drug-smuggling, human trafficking and gun running.
  • The Indian Ocean littoral states are cognisant that all such global and trans-boundary challenges necessitate a unified response through greater cooperation and collaboration. Hence, peaceful settlement of maritime disputes is essential for maintaining international legal order.
  • Effective regional legal mechanisms have so far proved vital in maintaining the peaceful order of regional seas, such as the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The littoral states should cooperate in building such legal structures.
  • Full participation of all the states concerned in existing international and regional treaties and arrangements is important for the effective implementation of the UN Convention on Law of Seas.
  • International and regional cooperation in maritime law enforcement as well as combating transnational maritime crimes is necessary in maintaining order on regional seas.
  • Socio-economic developments and simultaneous economic progress in all states is essential for peace and stability of the world as well as the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The building of the Maritime Silk Road will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean regions.
  • Efforts should be made to resolve major bilateral disputes between littoral and hinterland states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as it would end much of the arms trafficking in the affected areas.
  • International, regional as well as bilateral laws formulated with the aim to curb arms trafficking should be comprehensive and should address all sensitive aspects of the issue.
  • Drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing and pollution at sea, are some of the challenges which require attention of international community as well as of Pakistan. A comprehensive international approach should be adopted to deal with these issues.
  • Maritime disputes in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea can create difficulties in maritime cooperation and even adversely affect international peace. Therefore, effective regional legal mechanisms are vital for maintaining order on regional seas for which the littoral states should cooperate in building such mechanisms.
  • To deter piracy, human trafficking and drug trafficking through sea, regional and major powers should adopt cooperative approach.
  • Illegal trafficking and piracy cannot be ignored in regional context. An anti-piracy multinational task force should be established on the pattern of UN Peacekeeping force. It should also be authorised to apply force when needed.
  • Against the abuse of narcotics, an extensive and smart social campaign should be launched with the help of local coastal communities. Creating such awareness would lead to less consumption of narcotics and eventually reduce market demand of drugs in the Indian Ocean rim.
  • Cooperative regional efforts should be made to prevent collapse of states like Somalia, and to undertake operations to explore and eliminate all possible pirates hub present on the high seas.
  • Better training should be provided and capacity of the law enforcing agencies of the countries facing the menace of drug trafficking need to be enhanced. Friendly states and stakeholders may help develop such capacity in terms of manpower, resources and advanced training.
  • To stop human trafficking, effective policies should be made to share the benefit of growth and development of the developed countries with the populous underdeveloped countries of Indian Ocean rim.
  • In the Malacca Strait, international and littoral states’ interests traverse. On the one hand, the littoral states want to be responsible for security within their own jurisdictions and on the other hand, other states, especially the major powers, do not want to leave their vital interests to the littoral states’ discretion.  It is, therefore, mandatory to alter this negative sum game into “a positive-sum game”, which is only possible once there is cooperation among all stakeholders.
  • The Strait of Malacca is a global maritime strategic route and needs a cooperative solution. The littoral states should be considered decisive stakeholders in achieving cooperation for the sake of security of the strait.
  • Maritime security efforts can be strengthened through a reorientation of foreign assistance to regional states. There is a need that greater emphasis should be laid on developing naval assistance programmes in collaboration with the Gulf Arab states.
  • There is a need for the institutionalized use of the Best Management Practices recommended by the shipping industry, as well as the use of armed security contractors aboard vessels transiting the High Risk Area.
  • Maritime forces are the first line of defence; they can be deployed quickly and can reach difficult locations. Maritime forces could be employed to build confidence and trust among nations through collective security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests in the international water.
  • Indian Ocean has emerged as a major centre of geostrategic interest. The US and China’s strategic and military presence in the Indian Ocean is vital and inevitable. It is in the interest of concerned players of Indian Ocean to maintain a favourable and stable strategic equilibrium in the region.
  • The Indian Ocean provides Beijing with some asymmetrical advantages, e.g., keeping Delhi off guard and avoiding direct strategic confrontation with the United States. Thus, the rise of Gwadar seaport is in itself an inherently stabilizing development for the security order of Asia.
  • Gwadar initiative will help discourage alignment of external powers in the region, will secure sea highways, strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan, prevent counter-alignment strategies, create capacity and norms for security cooperation and stabilize development in the security order of Asia.
  • Friends of Indian Ocean Business Forum, comprising members drawn from Indian Ocean coastal states and beyond should share technology for sustainable development of marine resources and contribute towards national economic development and progress.
  • Efforts should be made to bring ocean industries together, for exploration and sustainable development of oil, gas and mineral resources, fisheries development, aquaculture, underwater tourism, offshore renewables, etc.
  • For productive and sustainable use of ocean resources, an ocean business community should be established as an advisory body of the Indian Ocean Business Forum.
  • Pakistan is placed as the sixth most populous country in the world. To ensure food security for an expanding population and advance the cause of economic prosperity, Pakistan will have to turn towards the oceans for the needful.
  • What is now needed is a national awakening to what may be conveniently called the ‘Century of Oceans’. There is a need to understand the problem, establish normative framework, build technical capacity and expand regional partnerships.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers in the conference and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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