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In an era marked by the challenges of the global pandemic COVID-19, worldwide economic meltdowns, unemployment and food shortages, political rivalry between various nations continues unabated with different powers vying for supremacy. In this bleak milieu, Pakistan provided a welcome respite by hosting a multi-dimensional naval exercise AMAN-2021. Pakistan’s Foreign Office claimed that the participation of 42 countries in the Multinational Maritime Exercise AMAN-21 reflected the country’s global engagement.
Prima facie, it would appear to be a nigh impossible task to bring the US and Iran to participate in a naval exercise. After the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the elimination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist and the purported mastermind of an alleged atomic-weapons effort, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by Israel, allegedly with the tacit approval of Washington, DC, has caused the two capitals to be at loggerheads. Tempers have also been running high with aspersions on Tehran’s nuclear weapons’ ambitions. With the change of guard at the White House, there is still hope of softening of the hard stances adopted; but time will tell.
If the above were not enough to stoke the fires under the cauldron of a return of the Cold War tensions, diplomatic ties between the NATO countries and Russia are taut as the string of a bow over the alleged charges of maltreatment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Anatolievich Navalny by the Putin administration and allegations of Russian cyber-attacks on US sensitive websites. US and Turkey have been having their own bones of contention. Saudi and Iranian rivalry is no secret. On the other corner of the globe, the US and some members of the EU and Britain have been firing broadsides at the People’s Republic of China with unproven accusations of maltreatment of ethnic Muslim majority of China’s Uighur Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Britain, the US and some members of the EU have been highly critical of the adoption of constitutional reforms in Hong Kong Region, which is an internal issue of China. Simultaneously, tensions between Beijing and Washington are mounting over the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The new US President Joe Biden’s outreach to Taiwan, which is an integral part of China, has also let the mercury soar in the Sino-US ties. It was expected that the near war like hysteria created by the previous incumbent at the White House, Donald Trump, would subside with his successor assuming the mantle of power. Perhaps Joe Biden, surrounded by some hawkish advisers, most of whom are veterans of the Obama years, may take some time in reaching a thaw with Beijing. Having called a virtual conference of Quad, only a few days earlier, which is primarily to contain China, did not help matters.
In this environment fraught with perils, Pakistan’s commitment and efforts to achieve regional and global peace brought fruit when the old rivals, the US, Russia, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and numerous other members of NATO got together for peace under the banner of AMAN-2021. It raised Pakistan’s esteem. The week-long maritime exercise was conducted in the Arabian Sea off Karachi. Forty two countries sent their navies to the event, while a few nations also contributed their ships. Since 2007, when the first AMAN exercise had been organized, the multi-nation drill has grown in dimension, prestige and importance. It is remarkable that six out of seven continents were represented in AMAN-2021. Pakistan’s Foreign Office as well as the military planners must take solace from the factor that this exercise comes in the backdrop of social distancing and operating remotely. Even the US European Command had to modify the size and scope of its military exercise, “Defender-Europe 20”. Pakistan Navy (PN) deserves kudos for planning, executing and conducting the exercise efficiently and adroitly.
The participation of various navies with diverse aims but rich experience coming together under one umbrella belied Alfred Thayer Mahan “Whoever rules the oceans, rules the world”; Keshav Vaidya “Even if we do not rule the waves of all the five oceans of the world, we must at least rule the waves of the Indian Ocean”; KM Panikkar’s prediction of “The Indian Ocean must therefore remain truly Indian.”
What has been restored is UN General Assembly Resolution 2832 of December 16, 1971, which called for the Indian Ocean to be a “zone of peace” and called on the great powers to halt any further escalation of military presence, including bases, installations logistic or supply facilities.
One important littoral state, which was not part of AMAN 2021 was India. A fact rued by Indian strategist MK Bhadrakumar, who in his Op-Ed ‘US-India plot wrong course in Indian Ocean’ says: “AMAN-21 makes a mockery of India’s aspiration to be a ‘net security provider’ for littoral states in the Indian Ocean. The participation of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the naval exercise speaks for itself.”
Oceans are called highways of global economy, which is why this exercise was aimed at displaying a united resolve against terrorism, piracy, drugs, arms smuggling, human smuggling and other maritime crimes.
In this era of global warming and depleting resources, it is the maritime domain that holds the key to the survival of humankind, which will be ensured through cooperation and coordination, not hegemonistic designs. In this backdrop, Aman-2021 sent the correct message of hope.
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