Navies all over the world, by their very nature, are outgoing and interactive. With the high seas traditionally deemed to be a common heritage of mankind, it is not unusual for warships of different nationalities to come across each other during deployments or transit, and exchange salutations. This breeds a sort of comradeship spanning oceans and continents. Naval warships, through periodic flag-showing deployments, are ideal platforms for furthering the cause of diplomacy and bilateral relations.
The tragic events of 9/11 catapulted Pakistan into centre stage, as the major global players deliberated upon their anti-terrorism response, both strategic and tactical. The choice before Pakistan was clear: either to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution and it wasn’t a difficult one to make. With Pakistan joining the coalition of the willing, demarcation of responsibilities on land was somewhat clear: NATO forces operating solely in Afghanistan and Pakistani Forces looking after it’s own borders.
The sea was a different ball game altogether. To the existing problems of piracy, narco and human trafficking, a few more gained added importance: gun-running, weapon proliferation and the threat of terrorism itself. Effectively countering such diverse threats across the wide expanse of the open sea was no easy matter. A Combined Task Force (CTF 150) had been set up at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom to conduct Maritime Security Operations in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The complexity of the task can be gauged from the fact that CTF 150s Area of Responsibility (AoR) alone stretched beyond two million sq miles, no mean task for a handful of ships to monitor.
Pakistan Navy was the first amongst the regional navies to join the force and it’s ships have been actively participating in all it’s operations. PN ships transiting the area for exercise or flag-showing elsewhere are also engaged at times in Associated Support Ops. Despite it’s rather limited operational involvement, comparatively speaking, the Pakistan Navy has been entrusted with Command and Control responsibilities of CTF 150 a number of times since 2006, with durations stretching from 4 to 7 months. All in all, the experience gained, both from command and ship perspective, is invaluable. Pakistan Navy’s presence in the region at sea and on shore has brought it closer to it’s regional comrades and enabled it to gain an unique insight into the diverse societies and cultural mores of the respective countries.
With the spectre of piracy assuming menacing proportions, the Coalition Maritime Forces Headquarters in Bahrain created a dedicated Task Force (CTF 151), comprising ships and aircraft of over 20 countries, on 8 January 2009, to aid the international drive against this menace. The Government of Pakistan showed no hesitation in agreeing to the periodical participation of a PN warship in anti-piracy operations, with the first of the PN Ships, PNS BADR, commencing it’s anti-piracy deployment on 29 June 2009 in the Horn of Africa. The Pakistan Navy has undertaken five deployments so far, as part of CTF 151, with the sixth one currently underway. Command of CTF 151 has recently devolved to the PN for a four-month period.
Pakistan Navy’s operational association with anti-terrorism and counter piracy task forces serve a dual purpose: in addition to gaining invaluable experience during the process, it furthers Pakistan’s credentials as a responsible state, willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the international community in combating the twin scourges of terrorism and piracy.
During the sixties and seventies, Pakistan’s membership of CENTO, despite it being an uneasy alliance, enabled it to develop international linkages. One of the primary benefits derived by the Pakistan Navy was it’s participation in the annual series of MIDLINK exercises conducted alternately in Iranian and Pakistani waters. Apart from these two regional navies, the US Navy as well as the Royal Navy also enthusiastically participated, with Turkey generally being represented by an observer / diving team. These exercises were planned for execution on a large scale, engendering the vital concept of inter-operability.
The decade of the eighties and the nineties saw the Pakistan Navy engrossed in it’s own specific and rather constrictive series of sea exercises and war games. This was the time when the PN remained focused on traditional rather than non-traditional threats. Pakistan’s decision to participate actively in the Coalition Maritime Campaign Plan spurred the Navy to initiate the suitably-named AMAN series of exercises, the first of which was conducted in March 2007 and the second two years later. It incorporated a much wider canvas in which a total participation of 14 ships each from Navies as diverse as Bangladesh, China, France, Italy, Malaysia, UN and USA was witnessed. In addition, the exercise also featured SOF / EOD teams from Bangladesh, China, Nigeria, Turkey and USA.
Exercise AMAN’s basic concept revolves around interoperability, information sharing and developing regional and global linkages. Apart from enhancing PNs operational and tactical skills, such exercises serve as a bridge between the participating nations, promoting accessibility and understanding. This year’s AMAN exercise had to be scaled down a bit in deference to the massive floods that ravaged the country some six months back. Nevertheless, some twelve countries have confirmed their participation, with around 20 warships, 4 MPAs, and 6 SOF / EOD teams likely to join in.
Taking its cue from the previous two exercises, AMAN 2011 is likely to be equally successful in building bridges, sharpening professional skills and improving inter-operability. The prevailing international climate dictates that all regional and extra-regional navies should be prepared at all times to work together in unison and harmony for furthering the cause of a peaceful environment. The AMAN exercise actively promotes such ideals and deserves to be welcomed.
Note: This article was published in the April 2011 issue of HILAL Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine. It was also published in the November 2012 issue of the ‘Navy News’