Pakistan: A Regional Maritime Power in Making


The dawn of 21st century began with the discourse that this century will be an Asian century and beyond the phenomenon of globalization, its maturity and spillover effect on the Asian region, which is becoming the key driver and engine of the contemporary globalization, the thesis is embedded on the seafaring and expansive role of maritime security, trade and diplomacy. The regional power politics and involvement of dominant powers in the regional the Asian maritime zones also hint towards the great game going on in the blue water of the region. Few relate it with the sea dominance theory of Mahan’s String of Pearls and contest between China and India, while others call it an attempt towards the regional dominance through high-handedness over Eurasian landmass backed by the Brzezinski’s hypothesis. Either way, Pakistan, owing to its geostrategic location, acts as the most strategic and a zipper state in the contest.

Pakistan, being a developing economy of Asia having extensive diplomatic ties with regional and extra-regional powers plays a pivotal role in the Asian led globalization and regionalism, due to its geostrategic location and contiguity to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Port Qasim and deep-sea port of Gwadar along with Chinese-led mega developmental schemes of regional connectivity renders the country as one of its kind transit corridor for the neighbouring economies like the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Central Asian Republics and Russia etc. Pakistan was unable to exploit the potential of its maritime borders and resources in past due to numerous domestic and foreign pressures, which hampered the maritime development in the country. However, as the prevalent regional power politics dynamics demand, now the country and its armed forces are developing new warfare assets and maritime doctrines to operate in the international waters and securing its national interests.

With the expansive activities in the seafaring, defining “Maritime,” its strategy, security and diplomacy are becoming an arduous task. However, the term maritime denotes elements like a system of ports and coasts, blue economy and oceanic resources, naval forces and coastal guards etc. and its strategy encompasses the organization and management of all the assets and resources related to the domain. With the advent of 21st century, the oceanic terrain has achieved paramount importance in terms of national and international security due to increase in transcontinental trade, the rise of non-state actor’s involvement in seafaring, and global ICT connectivity through internet cables across oceanic beds. Hence, the terrain is becoming bee in the bonnet of the national and international actors due to its far-fetching role in the security and its interlinkage with peace and conflict across the globe.

Today, our world is an interconnected global village and it is due to the globalization process and huge growth in trade and cultural exchanges. The rise of trade globalization and increased maritime trade activities commensurate to the increase of maritime interests and stress, such as piracy, maritime terrorism, complex nature and international scope of maritime security issues. To ensure the safety of ports and costal area for an uninterrupted trade and commercial activities at seas, nation-states have revisited their maritime security strategies and Pakistan is one of them.

Pakistan’s coastline is approx. 990km long bifurcated into Sindh Coast (270km) and Makran Coast (720km). According to the recent claims under the UN Conference on Law of Seas, the country possesses the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 50,000 sq. km., and continental shelf extending to 350 nautical miles.

Recently, in lieu of maritime development of Pakistan, the country’s navy has laid forth its maritime doctrine titled, “Preserving the Freedom of Seas” in 2019. The emergence of the naval doctrine of Pakistan coincides with the mega-developmental scheme of Gwadar Port and the development of China-led transit corridor in Pakistan which will connect the country to neighbouring economies beyond South Asia region, like Middle East, Africa and Central Asian Republics. The development of naval doctrine is also in line with the expansive naval diplomacy and multinational naval drills initiated by Pakistan in 2007, calling it AMAN (Peace) to promote regional cooperation and stability, greater interoperability and to display united resolve against terrorism and crimes in the maritime domain. The recent naval exercise, AMAN-19 is the seventh exercise involved 46 countries as well as international warships and observers. This shows the country’s resolve for maritime security and diplomacy and indeed its naval modernization campaign is in line with the development of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its security. As said by Pakistan’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Amjad Khan Niazi “its dependence on seaborne trade, its need to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, and its straddling sea lanes from the Arabian Gulf.”

Pakistan’s emergence as the regional maritime power is evident from the success of AMAN naval drills and involvement of regional and extra-regional naval powers in the collation. According to the announcements of Russian Ministry of Defence, the Russian fleet will be joined by the navies of 30 other countries, including NATO members, in the Aman-2021 anti-piracy naval drills led by Pakistan.

In order to understand the regional security dynamic with the lens of maritime security, the Indian factor is also crucial. Pakistan and India are longstanding nuclear-armed rivals and with the inclination of the US towards India (as a counterweight against China) have significant concerns for Pakistan. According to the maritime strategists, Pakistan’s move to leave the US-led Combined Maritime Force, developing it’s Naval Doctrine ‘MDP’ and initiation of a multinational naval collation for the protection of seas and promotion of regional peace and stability, is in line with the previously mentioned US tilt towards India. From the last decade, Indian naval forces are modernizing their capabilities and acquiring advance technologies from their newfound partners for their increased presence in the Indian Ocean. It is also said to be the move by the US to render India as the custodian of IOR and recent alignments like the QUAD (Japan, Australia, India and the US) is in line with this strategy. The geopolitical alignment of India with global naval powers, development of Arihant class submarine, and the groundbreaking agreement of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US are clearly shifting the balance of power in favour of India by increasing its foothold in the Indian Ocean and specifically on the strategic choke points of the Asia-Pacific.

At this juncture, China – the all-weather partner of Pakistan – is assisting Pakistan to be combat-ready force by modernizing its navy for the security of transit corridors and stabilizing the region imbalance of power stimulated by India. According to Pakistan Navy’s Directorate General of public relations, “the induction of Chinese high-tech frigate (Type-54 A/P), fitted with the latest surface, subsurface, anti-air weapons, combat management system and sensors is a new chapter in defence relations of both countries which will significantly contribute in maintaining peace and security”. Both countries, Pakistan and China, are also working on the up-gradation of Pakistan’s submarine force where the Pakistan Navy will induct eight Hangor Class submarines in coming years adding significantly to Pakistan’s naval power. Similarly, Pakistan Navy’s is collaborating with Turkey for the upgradation of AGOSTA-70s and AGOSTA-90B class submarines. The realization of Pakistan’s naval modernization campaign will distinguish the country as a balancer against ferocious Indian plans of sea dominance and an instrument of regional stability and guardian of seas.

In this ongoing regional realpolitik and global economic power play, Pakistan must play its cards shrewdly and it is evident from the maritime developments, naval modernization campaigns, and maritime diplomacy of the country that we are synergizing and manoeuvring subtly. However, to be a winner in the most politicized maritime zone of the world, and exploit the economic potential of our coastal regions, each institution will have to play their role to make the country a leading maritime power.

The Ivory Tower of Maritime Security

The globalization phenomenon, especially the transcontinental trade and security played a decisive role in getting the attention of the world towards the subject of maritime security. International security studies have categorized the maritime security and diplomacy as a new subdivision, where the level of analysis is its global and national importance. The subject analyses the offshore-based threats and their impact on the on-shore environment. Maritime security is the naval strategy regarding the protection of national maritime borders and sensitive maritime trade points. In the contemporary debate of the subject, emergence of various issues related to the maritime domain such as national border security, naval buildup, trade and commerce, oceanic choke points, and blue economy etc. are researched. The study and researches of maritime security are multi-disciplinary, comprising of political science, international relations, law, sociology, industry, and military affairs. The study has taken a leap in the realm of international affairs by the meticulous work of Christian Bueger and Timothy Edmunds in 2017 titled, “Beyond Seablindness: A new agenda for maritime security studies”. The scholars of the field emphasized that there is a need to study the maritime environment as part of the interlinked security complex. The realist envisions the subject of seas as the struggle of power, whereas for liberal scholars ponder on the subject as the domain of cooperation and security at sea as the basis for the international regimes governing activities at sea. There are three converging frameworks for the research in maritime security namely; Matrix Framework encompassing the maritime safety, sea power and blue economy, Securitization Framework examining the interrelationship between maritime threats and divergent political interests, and Security Practice Theory examines the true intentions and actions of actors involved in the maritime security arena. Range of military and non-military threats to international order at sea was studied in the 1998 report of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans (IWCO). The subject has been taken in consideration by the national and international alliances for the containment of military and non-military threats, such as NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy 2011, UK and EU National Maritime Security 2014, and G7 Declaration on Maritime Security 2015. The underlying factors for the organization and management of maritime security in the domain are joint knowledge production and adequate coordination to tackle the sea.


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About Hadi Bandial 15 Articles
Writer is the CEO of Mélange IT Solutions & The Asian Telegraph, an expert on Political Economy, & Director of Bandial Group.