AMAN represents a ‘bridge’ that allows several countries to meet and operate, through their naval forces with each other, even though there may not be open relationships between a few nations due to various politico-strategic differences. This exactly was the role that Pakistan had played back in the 1960s-70s, by acting as a link between the East and the West, when Sino-American barrier was broken and a new bond established. In the retrospect, this historic step remains one of the contributing factors for relocation of labour-intensive industry from America to China. Aman is reflective of the Pakistan’s bridge-spirit. Aman, as Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi calls it is a manifestation of “securitization through cooperation”, a thesis that predicates on collectivism rather than states vying for maximization of own security irrespective of others.
Beginning its journey from 2007, Pakistan Navy consistently held biennial multi-national, multi-force maritime exercise, AMAN, with one clear objective: operate together to defeat the common threats. This exercise draws its inspiration from the word Aman, which means security, in Arabic, while in Urdu it is taken as the state of peace. With such a wider meaning, the word Aman suitably represents Pakistan navy’s intentions of finding a platform seeking ‘peace and security’ in the maritime domain. Number of participants steadily grew from the inaugural session, i.e., from 28 in 2007 to 46 in 2019; and the figure is expected to increase further. Rising trajectory of participation signals an acceptance of Pakistan’s message of peace and security.
Steering clear of realists’ paradigm, Pakistan substantially inclines towards cooperation as a strategic choice when it comes to negotiating with situations perilous to shared human interests. Doctrinally, Pakistan Navy believes in existence of a ‘cooperative continuum’, which allows navies to operate together, through regional and extra-regional coalitions, with an ability to respond to traditional and non-traditional maritime threats. As I noted in “Maritime Cooperative Continuum: Pakistan Navy’s Evolving Maritime Security Concept”, (Daily Times, 27 June 2019), that Pakistan Navy appears eager working through its own initiated and sustained and multilateral arrangements seeking maritime security.
Anchored on the guiding principle of ‘proactive engagement’, Pakistan Navy sees maritime outreach as an opportunity of making and solidifying partnerships that transcend the traditional interest-based approach. AMAN is not a reaction to any regional maritime construct but a reflection of Pakistan’s preference of engagement over estrangement, bonds over barriers and cooperation over competition. AMAN can, therefore, rightly be called as an operational manifestation of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
AMAN provides two forums: one for the academics, to exhaustively debate current and emerging threats that concern us collectively; whereas the other forum provides, the naval professionals, several mechanics to operationally deal with those threats. As the academics focus on exchange of views on the understanding of the threats, their patterns and trends; while military professionals improve interoperability, refine tactical procedures and deepen comprehension of each other’s operating environment. Cumulatively, this enables sustainment of enduing bonds among various navies who participate in AMAN and equip them with the skillsets of operating together in a cooperative continuum.
Exercises like AMAN are a sign that Pakistan is a pragmatic opponent of revisionism and isolation policy, i.e., it is an open society willing to work with others on the basis of trust, mutual benefit and collective learning. AMAN signifies an activity that lessens regional hostility, because of enduring Indo-Pak contention, and consequently catalyzes regional stability as the gathering of several nations at Karachi radiates a message emphasizing aversion to armed conflict. AMAN like gatherings disincentivize military strikes while encouraging formulization of ways to constructively engage and understand shared concerns, which are far more ominous than typical inter-state rivalries.
There could be a question of why is there a need for AMAN? Statistically, more than 80% of global merchandize trade by volume and over 70% of its value is carried by international shipping industry. Drugs and weapons, primarily transported through sea leveraging the advantage of unsupervised large swaths of the oceans, are used to keep the conflicts conflagrating in different areas of the world. Several vast expanses of the sea that remain without naval presence, afford many opportunities to elements that choose unlawful activities to propel their political and economic agendas. These unlawful activities include: piracy, human smuggling, gun-running, terrorism and poaching, to name a few.
It’s a globally acknowledged postulate that no nation alone, irrespective of its economic or military capacity, can handle contemporary maritime challenges. This explicitly means that partnerships are the only workable constructs against the present and evolving maritime threats. Apart from the unlawful activities, the looming danger of climate change becomes clearer by the day. Indian Ocean states have already been witnessing the effect of Indian Ocean Dipole causing floods on one side and drought on the other. These circumstances demand a cooperative response to support the states embattling the consequences of natural disasters.
AMAN reasserts the navies’ roles that Ken Booth argued in his opus Navies and Foreign Policy, where sea enables navies to perform functions that other military services cannot undertake. Navies’ ability to operate with an almost unhindered freedom, under the globally accepted Law of the Sea, makes them the ideal force to functionally represent a nation’s intentions of partnership and cooperation. Land and the air forces cannot come as close as the navies do, even without a prior notice, and interact together. This feature significantly distinguishes navies to be instruments of ‘breaking barriers’ and ‘making bonds’, just as AMAN sets to achieve.