Despite its proven significance in pursuit of foreign-policy objectives through the application of hard power, the efficacy of sea-power in operations ‘other than war’ has been little recognized and articulated. Even in peacetime, seapower has been contemplated through the prism of hard power impacts, such as deterrence and coercion, by the naval theorists. The soft power component of the seapower based upon peaceful international cooperative engagement through interoperability and humanitarian assistance remains predominantly absent from the traditional naval theoretical discourse.
In the contemporary era of globalization, cooperative engagement in the maritime domain, besides coercion, has emerged as an important tool of modern naval diplomacy to achieve broader diplomatic and strategic goals of a nation. A modern naval power theorist Christian Le Meire has denominated this idea as “cooperative maritime diplomacy”. The participation of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in diplomatic maritime engagements, both at sea and ashore around the globe, is the manifestation of the same concept, which has considerably contributed to China’s soft power at political as well as strategic levels.
Realizing the growing relevance of “cooperative maritime diplomacy” in contemporary geopolitical environmrnt, Pakistan Navy has also been making tremendous efforts not only in securing Pakistan’s maritime frontiers but also in futhering Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives through cooperative engagements with the friendly states. The conduct of non-block multinational naval exercises like “Aman-2021” and the good will visits of Pakistan Navy Ships to various ports around the globe are the notable examples in this regard. These cooperative engagements are aimed at strengthening defense cooperation with the navies of the other states by conducting joint exercises, sharing experiences regarding maritime security operations, conducting joint search and rescue operations, and providing humanitarian relief. The visits of Pakistan Navy Ships to the various ports around the world for joint exercises and humanitarian assistance, also called Overseas Deployements (OSD), have remained very instrumental in enhancing brotherly relations with the host nations and expand bilateral cooperation in various domains of maritime affairs.
Owing to the continent’s tremendous economic potential, enormous natural resources, attractive investment prospects, and the available human resource, Africa is being termed as the “Continent of the Future”. Although, Pakistan shares cordial relations with African states, however, the bilateral trade with these remained significantly meager. After the adoption of Government of Pakistan’s “Engage Africa” policy of 2019, Pakistan Navy has taken considerable diplomatic and joint security initiatives, in collaboration with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) Pakistan, to enhance cooperative engagements with African nations. In this regard, Pakistan Navy HADR Missions to Africa since 2019 are being undertaken under the aforementioned policy. Since November 2019, Pakistan Navy Ships have visited more than sixteen ports of various African countries including Morrocco, Mauritania, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Seychelles, Benin, Djibouti, Tunisia and Sudan, for joint Maritime Exercises and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations (HADR).
The most recently, Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) ALAMGIR visited the ports of Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. As a goodwill gesture and to extend humanitarian assistance, free Medical Camp was established by Pakistan Navy at Lagos, Nigeria. Over 2500 people were treated and given medicines by a specialist team of Pakistan Navy doctors and paramedics. During the overseas deployment to Nigeria, PNS ALAMGIR also participated in a bilateral passage exercise with a Nigerian Navy to improve interoperability between the two navies. The objective of the recent deployment was to strengthen friendly ties with African countries, improve naval coordination, provide humanitarian aid, and promote interoperability with the host navy.
Such cooperative naval deployments have significantly more potential than the narrow tradtional concept of gunboat diplomacy, and may be developed and performed with the goal of improving Pakistan’s reputation in a multitude of strategic affairs. As the geopolitics at both the global and regional levels is witnessing a shift and Indo-Pacific has become its new epicenter, the role of Pakistan Navy has become crucial not only in security but also in diplomatic domain. Likewise, along with its perceived role of securing maritime frontiers of Pakistan, Pakistan Navy will keep furthering Pakistans national interests through cooperative engagements in maritime domain.