There was a time in the distant past when men tentatively set sail into the forbidding seas on light wooden and papyrus- bound boats for the purpose of trade and exploration. Relatively unprotected ships laden with spoils rich for the taking posed an invitation to piracy, which wasn’t long in coming. When the time was ripe, nation states like England cashed in on this piracy trend by encouraging its intrepid seafarers to plunder the loaded Spanish galleons returning from the Americas. It was a matter of time again before countries like England, America and Turkey started commissioning the services of notorious buccaneers to target their political rivals and further their own national cause.
All this changed however when the seafaring nations of the world finally realised that harmony on the high seas was in their combined interest and after embracing the concept of the freedom of the seas , pirates were declared ‘hostis humani generis’, enemies of all mankind, to be hunted down and killed on sight. This is not to say that states didn’t clash with one another; they did and with great ferocity whenever their interests were threatened, particularly during the colonisation phase.
Realising the futility of banning all forms of warfare, the Geneva Convention sought to introduce some semblance of humanity and dignity into its brutalised nature. The advent of the air and sub-surface elements in a big way during the First and Second World Wars added fuel to the debate about legal and illegal norms during naval encounters. Following on from the widespread devastation of the latter war and the subsequent emergence of newly liberated countries , naval build-up trends displayed a preference towards countering the threats emanating from those they perceived as their political rivals. Another trend witnessed was the formation of regional and international alliances for a supposedly common purpose.
In order to deliver however a Navy has to remain in prime form at all times. It’s operational skills are honed through regular work-ups at unit, squadron and fleet level and consolidated by means of bilateral and multi-lateral exercises. During the sixties and seventies, Pakistan, by virtue of being a CENTO member country, used to host an Annual Naval Tactical Exercise in its waters every alternate year, which provided tremendous training value. After CENTOs disbandment, the Pakistan Navy resorted to planning, organising and executing its own series of Annual Exercises code named Seaspark. PN also subsequently capitalised on the trend of bilateral exercises by holding a regular series of Exercise Naseem ul Bahr with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and Exercise Thimmer al Tayyeb with the Sultanate of Oman Navy, which proved to be fruitful at various levels: strengthening bilateral ties, improving interoperability and boosting camaraderie. Carrying out Passage Exercises with visiting naval ships of various countries also mets similar objectives.
When the spectre of Somalian piracy reared its ugly head and once its tentacles started spreading much beyond the Somali Coast and the Gulf of Aden into the heart of the Indian Ocean, many navies of the world converged on this vital stretch of the sea to make their presence felt and protect their vital interests. Realisation gradually dawned that the newly-emerging threats confronting all countries like climate change, search and rescue at sea, gun running, drug smuggling, human trafficking, piracy, pollution and even poaching needed a unified and cooperative response.
It was amidst this backdrop that the Pakistan Navy decided to organise and host a biennial series of exercises with the apt motto’Together for Peace’. The fifth of the Aman series of exercises had been planned in February this year with a wide variety of ships and aircraft from as many as 15 countries having confirmed their participation. What makes this exercise series strikingly unique is that it is not directed against any specific naval threat but is solely devoted to clasping hands in the pursuit of the twin themes of togetherness and peace. The sight of so many ships and aircraft from a large number of regional and extra-regional navies exercising together in poetic cadence is one that warms the heart and augurs well for the future of the region. The glorious vision of Pacem in Maribus can only be realised if, in the same spirit, navies of the world joined hands to preserve the established concept of the freedom of the seas and jointly combat the common threats confronting mankind.
Note: This article was published in the May 2015 edition of the ‘Navy News’.