Pakistan Navy: Protecting Pakistan’s Maritime Interests

Diplomacy has been an effective tool to prevent the conflicts and peacefully interact with the states in International political system. Maritime diplomacy is like other forms of diplomacy with the same core objective of managing the international relations but through the maritime domain. And in maritime diplomacy, navies have been playing significant role as Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Sergei Gorshkov stated that navy has always been an instrument of the policy of states and an important aid to diplomacy in peacetime. In this context, Pakistan Navy is playing an instrumental role as cooperative maritime diplomatic force in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond.  

The range of operations that fall under the aegis of ‘co-operative maritime diplomacy’ is testament to the flexibility of naval forces. Indeed, given the hardware and technology to hand, the military of a country is often seen as the actor most suited to those missions in remote and difficult-to-reach areas. Within a military, the navy is the service that can operate most freely overseas, without requiring basing or overflight rights while being able to operate from politically neutral international waters. The growing popularity of multirole vessels, with a combination of helicopters, weapons, and small boats on board, allows vessels to not only engage in warfighting but also land forces to areas with little infrastructure and lift aid to inaccessible areas.

Navies have therefore increasingly found themselves being called upon in missions that would, during and prior to the Cold War, have seemed anathema to the highly trained killing machines they were deemed to be. This is particularly true for the use of naval or maritime paramilitary vessels for philanthropic purposes, particularly humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief roles, which has become a more important mission for various forces worldwide. In fact, the use of naval vessels designed to fight wars in humanitarian roles could pithily be described as a form of ‘gunboat philanthropy’ – a phrase that demonstrates the kinds of assets being used and the effects sought, but also recalls gunboat diplomacy and reflects the influence that can be fostered through such activity. It is perhaps best exemplified by the multinational response to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, when countries such as the US, Singapore and Australia all sent forces to aid in relief efforts.

While in recent years, the presence of an American carrier strike group and expeditionary strike group, and the awesome firepower they possess, has often been a deeply unwelcome occurrence for a majority Muslim country, during Operation Unified Assistance implemented after the tsunami the 24 US Navy ships off the coast of Indonesia were seen as saviours. Speaking at Australia’s Parliament House in 2010, Indonesian President Yudhoyono noted that during Indonesia’s ‘darkest tragedy ever’, he was ‘so proud to see Australian and TNI [Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or Indonesian National Armed Forces] troops working together to save lives and bring relief to the suffering’. The fact that Australian forces were welcomed onto Indonesian soil just five years after the Australian-led international intervention force in East Timor attempted to end Indonesian rule over the former Portuguese colony was a stark reminder of the positive diplomatic effects that can be gleaned from such operations.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions can have diplomatic effects as they demonstrate the willingness of a navy to support a friend while also emphasising the roles other than war that militaries can be used for: think, for instance, Pakistan Navy’s ship ALAMGIR has recently visited Lagos, Nigeria and established free Medical Camp as goodwill gesture from people of Pakistan. During the port visit, Mission Commander along with Commanding Officer of PNS ALAMGIR called-on Western Naval Commander of Nigerian Navy.  While interacting with Nigerian counterparts, matters of mutual interests were discussed and enhancement of bilateral ties in all spheres was re-affirmed. Such goodwill gestures not only strengthen ties between the governments but also develops bond between the nations. With these activities, Pakistan Navy is promoting a positive image of Pakistan and it is also highlighting the Indian atrocities and genocide in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Such operations are essentially an attempt to win hearts and minds. In this fashion, they bear a great similarity to the theory of soft power expounded by Joseph Nye. Nye explained that soft power was ‘getting others to want the outcome that you want’, and ‘rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others’. It uses co-option rather than coercion as its primary tool, attracting others to a point of view, way of life or singular policy. If soft power is ‘the ability to shape the preferences of others’, it relies on ‘intangible assets such as an attractive personality, culture, political values and institutions, and policies that are seen as legitimate or having moral authority’. It is fair to say that involvement in disaster response is perceived internationally as far more legitimate than, say, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Co-operative maritime diplomacy can therefore be an attempt to support soft power through the use of hard power assets. In fact, co-operative maritime diplomacy could arguably be well described as ‘soft maritime diplomacy’, contrasted with the ‘hard maritime diplomacy’ that involves gunboats launching limited punitive operations against recalcitrant fleets. This is but one of the goals of a co-operative maritime diplomatic mission, however. The regular port visits by naval forces to small and great nations are often intended to build diplomatic influence and strengthen alliances. In this regard, Pakistan Navy’s ships pay regular visits to different ports as part of Regional Maritime Security Patrols. For instance, recently, Pakistan Navy Ship Tabuk, visited port of Duqm, Oman during deployment on Regional Maritime Security Patrols. According to Pakistan Navy, upon arrival at port the ship was welcomed by Omani Naval and Pakistan embassy’s officials. On the occasion, Commanding Officer of the ship called on Omani officials and discussed matters pertaining to bilateral naval cooperation.

Training exercises aim to build capacity within less capable or knowledgeable navies, but also have the ancillary benefit of reinforcing a friendship and making the naval forces more compatible. Joint exercises or maritime security operations may also strengthen bonds between allies or reassure potential rivals as to the nonthreatening nature of one’s navy. Co-operative maritime diplomacy can therefore also be designed to build coalitions, support allies through capacity building, training and harmonisation of techniques and build confidence among nations wary of one’s naval power. In this domain, Pakistan Navy is hosting several exercises mainly the AMAN Exercise which is biennial Multinational exercise. In the recent exercise, held in 2021, the navies from 45 countries have participated and this is interesting to note that this was the first time the Russian Navy has joined NATO members in an exercise in a decade. Extra-regional navies such as the US Navy, Chinese Navy, and Russian Navy and regional navies such as Bangladesh Navy, Sri Lankan Navy, and Indonesian Navy have participated in the exercise. This is a huge victory of the Pakistan Navy that the naval exercise which started with three (3) participants in 2007 now the number of participants has grown to forty-five (45). The Call of Peace by the Pakistan Navy has brought the eastern and western navies closer despite the differences. Therefore, Pakistan Navy deserves salutation to act as a bridge for NATO and non-NATO navies and provide them a platform to come together for peace.

In short, Pakistan Navy has been effectively pursuing cooperative maritime diplomacy to enhance Pakistan’s ties with the littoral states of Indian Ocean and beyond. It is right to say that despite many challenges and constraints, Pakistan Navy has risen above all and has not only emerged as strong and formidable regional power for peace in the region but has also thwarted the Indian objectives to isolate Pakistan, through cooperative maritime diplomacy.

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About Zeeshan Shoukat 14 Articles
The author is a Geopolitical and Strategic Analyst. He writes on Indo-Pak Ties, Geopolitics of Indian Ocean, Evolving Dynamics in the Middle East, and Global Power Politics. He tweets at @_IamZeeshan