Appraisal of the Military Strategies of Major Powers in the Indian Ocean

Though one amongst the three large bodies of water that link countries and continents together, the Indian Ocean stands apart by virtue of its unique topography and its monsoonal wind patterns. Despite being enclosed on three sides by a contiguous land mass, with the fourth side constrained by the forces of nature, this ocean has always been receptive to coastal and transoceanic trade. Its periphery is ringed by straits, gulfs and channels, which have not only facilitated trade but have also served as chokepoints for those inclined to control the free movement of goods.
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Suez and Panama Canals – Feats of Human Ingenuity

During the heydays of the British Empire, when it was entrenching itself ever so firmly in the heart of the Indian Ocean, it could not have failed to appreciate the strategic and economic advantages that a direct trade route through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean would confer. The two seas had after all been historically linked for millennia, till an eighth century Abbasid Caliph had it closed for supposedly tactical reasons. In more modern times, the idea of building a canal through the Isthmus of Suez has been credited to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who during an expedition to Egypt in 1798, was quick to grasp its utility in pressuring his country’s  traditional foe. The plan had to be aborted soon after, when a miscalculation in the sea level measurement between the two seas scuttled its feasibility.
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Emerging Opportunities in the Indian Ocean Sea Trade Regime

Sea trade has been universally recognized as the principal driver of the global economy. It was however in the Indian Ocean that coastal trade as well as transoceanic passages are believed to have originated. This ocean is also unique in the sense that its wide expanse is enclosed on three sides by land, while the southern perimeter is hemmed in by the forces of nature, and indeed during most of its history, ships rarely ventured beyond the Tropic of Capricorn. On closer inspection, one can discern a number of seas and channels on its periphery, which enabled early traders like the Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Indians and even the Chinese to move freely around, and even beyond the ocean, spreading and assimilating cultural and religious influences.
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CPEC – Maritime Opportunities for Pakistan


CPEC has been variously referred to as an earth-shattering development and as a game changer. It is that of course, though it may be worth noting that far more important than conceiving and executing a project is the ability to make it work. CPEC after all is all about connectivity, a connection that is as strong as the weakest link in the chain. So not only is it vital for all the connecting links to be equally vibrant so as to afford mutual support, but that the unified whole should be able to better the lives of all those who come in contact with it in one way or another.

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Tapping Pakistan’s Maritime Potential(Abridged Version)

It is not uncommon for analysts to bemoan our alleged sea blindness, a term reportedly coined and popularized by Professor  Eric Grove. The hype surrounding Gwadar has ensured that one maritime entity at least has been catapulted into the forefront of the public consciousness. But seen in the broader context of a blue water economy, is that all there is to it? Strategically located along the northern shores of the Arabian Sea and blessed with a 1000km long shoreline, Pakistan possesses all the credentials of evolving into a significant maritime power. The first step towards realizing our aspirations is to identify rather than ignore the artificial barriers standing in its way.

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Tapping Pakistan’s Maritime Potential

It is heartening to see the vital subject of the maritime economy gain some recognition in our national planning discourse as my presence here shows. After all, it was barely an year ago that a member of the Planning Comission had confided in a meeting that none of the 13 indicators that the Commission had identified for zooming in incorporated anything even remotely connected with any maritime activity.  I still won’t start off my talk, as is generally the norm when discussing maritime matters, by decrying our so-called sea blindness, a term reportedly coined by Professor Eric Grove. The hype surrounding Gwadar has ensured that one maritime entity at least has been catapulted into the forefront of the public consciousness. But seen in the broader context of a blue water economy, is that all there is to it? Strategically located along the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea and blessed with a 1000 km long shoreline, Pakistan possesses all the credentials of evolving into a significant maritime power. My presentation today revolves around circumventing the artificial barriers standing in the way of realising our aspirations.

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Primed for Disaster – Gadani’s Ship-Breaking Industry

On completion of their operational lives, all ships need to be disposed off, and the most beneficial way of doing so, in theory at least, is to send them for recycling where it’s machinery, equipment and hull can all be reutilised in one way or another, without adversely impacting the environment. In practice though the process is environmentally unsound and labour exploitative, as the industry has by now gravitated towards countries with low labour costs, weak regulatory mechanisms and lax standards of enforcement.

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The Indus Delta’s Perrenial Perils

The most significant feature of Pakistan’s coastline is not the hammerhead of Gwadar jutting out majestically into the sea but the Indus Delta region covering the entire south western swathe of the coast.  This topographical landmark is prominent from an ecological angle also as around 25 creeks drain into its 150 km wide mouth, with the port city of Karachi continuously intruding into its western extremity.

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A Floating Testament to Pak-Turkey Naval Collaboration

The expected launch of an indigenously-constructed Fleet Tanker at the Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works Ltd on 19 August 2016 marks a significant milestone in the history of Pak-Turkey defence collaboration. These two countries have always enjoyed the most fraternal of ties and under its overarching warmth, cooperation at the military, and more particularly the naval, level has continued to blossom. The first time this relationship got formalised was under the Turco-Pak treaty of 1954, which inter alia also dealt with the vital subject of defence collaboration. The Pakistan-Turkey Military Consultative Group(MCG) was subsequently set up in 1988 to give a physical boost to the process.
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An Uneasy Alliance

Since Pakistan’s emergence on the world map, Pak-US ties have been characterised more by mutual dependence than shared interests as is the norm. America to its credit has always made its concerns clear: Soviet Union being its favourite bugbear till the end of the Cold War and the deceptively ambiguous war on terror thereafter. Though Pakistan officially tows the same line, its commitment is diffused by the singular prism, that of India, through which it views all its assessments.
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About Me

I am a retired Rear Admiral of the Pakistan Navy who has done a three-year post retirement stint as the Director General of the National Centre for Maritime Policy Resarch housed at the Bahria University Karachi Campus.

During my eventful 38-year long naval career, I had the good fortune to command two destroyers as well as the 25th Destroyer Squadron. I also served as the Flag Officer Sea Training. I did my Principal Warfare Officer’s course from SMOPS, HMS Dryad, UK in 1979, my staff course from the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich,UK, in 1983-84 and my war course from the National Defence College, Islamabad, in 1998-99.