The recent turn of events regarding Pakistan’s maritime ambitions and development programmes, can be seen as an attempt to maximize power. This power politics is quite obvious, as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project sets new horizons for regional connectivity and trade for Pakistan, which concerns India to the very core. The theory of Offensive Realism provides an in-depth theoretical framework to explain these state affairs. According to realism, the international political structure is anarchic, which is why no state can fully trust the intentions of another state, however, interest-based cooperation is possible (Pak-China economic cooperation), but survival of the state is the top priority of every state. The most efficient way to secure state survival is to maximize their relative power, which implies that there will be a constant security competition in the world, which divides the state’s power into two components; Latent (economy and population) and actual power (military). This determines Pakistan’s ambitions to acquire modern technology and increase its naval power in the Arabian Sea, however, the theory fails to explain the importance of economy and the power maximization in the economic sense. The reason being addressed is the transition of politics in the post-cold war era, which is heavily centred on economy, rather than the previous model, which suggested a central focus on building conventional military strength only. Therefore, economy holds the actual power in the contemporary era, which means Pakistan would not only ensure safe navigation of commerce that China would attract, but also enhance its naval capabilities and technologies to maximise power through a Blue Economy.
This paper provides a qualitative analytical research of the subject matter, based on data collected through mostly secondary sources and a primary source. The paper is descriptive and provides a thematic qualitative analysis to interpret the subject matter under discussion.
The recent years have marked a steady shift in national and international level, towards maritime development and security of Pakistan. On 23rd March, 2015, the president of Pakistan deliberately announced the extension of Pakistan’s continental shelf from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles, however, the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ remained 200 nautical miles. This announcement was made after the approval of United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) for extension, based on scientific data which was collected through a number of surveys, conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography in collaboration with Naval Hydrographic Department, under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. This meant that the Pakistani naval fleet can ensure maritime security from further deep into the sea. To do so, Pakistan has yet to acquire the required technologies and equipment, which it claims to be operational by the fiscal year of 2030. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the demand for maritime security has increased, as CPEC is a sub-project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, it holds tremendous significance in the entire mega-economic project. The reason being addressed, is the geo-strategic location of CPEC and future Gwadar Port city, which would attract a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, illicit trafficking and other potential proxy skirmishes. Furthermore, the exploration of natural resources in EEZ would require more stability in the region to proceed with and large-scale investments to build and renovate Pakistan’s Blue Economy. This paper provides an analytical overview of the maritime development plans, Pakistan’s naval strategy, potential maritime opportunities and addresses research questions, such as What does Pakistan need to acquire for a blue water navy? What are the challenges that stunt our potential opportunities? And most importantly, what does Pakistan need to ensure credible deterrence and stability in the region? The paper also provides possible immediate implications of all the factors on the region and ends with a brief conclusion.
Blue Water Navy
The term implies a navy having the capability to operate in the deep seas far from its base, however, it lacks a proper definition, as it is varied according to different countries. ‘Blue-water navy’ was first used by United Kingdom Royal Navy, to address their naval expeditionary fleets. An Indian analyst defines it as “A Blue Water Navy is one that has the capacity to project itself over a much bigger maritime area than its maritime borders. Simply put, it is a Navy that can go into the vast, deep oceans of the world. However, while most navies have the capacity to send ships into the deep oceans, a Blue Water Force is able to carry out operations far from its borders, without being required to return to its home port to refuel or re-stock”.
Presently, United States Navy, Royal Navy, French Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Russian Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy are the navies which are considered to have blue-water fleets. Pakistan would be the ninth country of the world to acquire a blue-water navy. To achieve this purpose, Pakistan requires a lot of equipment and advanced technology to take its first step in the high seas by the year 2030. The assets being acquired or developed are as follows;
Frigates are anti-submarine warships and Pakistan has made an agreement to acquire four of these frigates from China, to replace their outdated Amazon Class Frigates. These Frigates incorporate cutting-edge technology, with a 32x cell vertical launch system armed with HQ-16 surface to air missiles. It has a displacement of more than 4000 tons. It is also equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced radars and remarkable self-protection system, which is why it holds crucial significance for the Chinese naval fleet. Also, Pakistan’s frigate fleet of f-22P will undergo a mid-life upgrade program to extend its life and capabilities. These frigates are expected to join service by 2025.
Hangor Class Submarine
These are of Chinese origins and their specifications are known to be classified, however, they are considered to be a variant of Chinese Diesel-electric submarines of unspecified class. Pakistan was the first to operate a submarine in the South Asian region and its French made Agosta class 70’s submarines are highly outdated according to the modern-day technological advancements. Pakistan has not only ordered eight of these Hangor class submarines from China, but also aims to modernize its Agosta 90-B submarines to the fullest. These are expected to be delivered and operationalised by 2028.
Jinnah Class Corvette
Corvettes are relatively small warships than frigates, they displace approximately 2000-2500 tons and are used in Stealth missions. Pakistan aims to acquire four of these corvettes, two of them are being built in Pakistan, in collaboration with Turkey and two of these Ada Class corvettes are being built in Turkey itself. These Ada Class corvettes, once operationalised, will be named as Jinnah Class corvettes, in the honour of our nation’s founding father. Pakistan plans to arm these corvettes with a locally-built Harba anti-ship cruise missile system, as Pakistan is known for its ingenious missile deployment tactics on air and water crafts.
Maritime Air Wing
The maritime air wing is needed to support the surface vessels in a rapidly escalated situation and the wing can also serve as a quick reaction force. Advanced aircrafts are being employed in the wing such as JF-17, having anti-ship capabilities to take out enemy’s surface fleets and ensure coastal and territorial security. The naval air units are meaning to replace their outdated aircrafts with the modern alternatives and some of them are meant to be upgraded. Minhas air squadron is upgrading its equipment and technology and the wing has also planned for other squadrons with the same abilities along the coast line. Furthermore, other unmanned aircrafts with similar anti-ship capabilities are also being employed in service.
Offshore Patrol Vessel
An offshore patrol vessel is a highly multi-purpose watercraft used to perform managerial operations in the state’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It can carry out anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security operations, 24-hour helicopter operations, combat search and rescue, surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. In addition to mechanical and technological virtues, the vessel will also provide disaster relief and ensure coastal area security as well. Pakistan has ordered two of these patrol vessels from Netherland based Malaysian company Damen. One of them is under construction at Romania and both are expected to be delivered by the fiscal year of 2022.
Coastal Defence System
Including secondary support military support at hold, such as offshore multi-purpose patrol vessels and a marine air wing with anti-ship missile system, Pakistan has set up a Chinese C-602 anti-ship cruise missile system based, Zarb Defence System. Some analysts say that these up-gradations are being made in order to tackle the new aircraft carriers that India tends to acquire.
After employing a Naval Strategic Forces Command, which became a part of three major unified Pakistan Armed Forces commands, Pakistan Navy conducted the launch of Babur-III cruise missile from a submarine and ever since that launch, naval strategists are working on a second-strike capability through nuclear armed, nuclear propelled submarines to ensure the maximum ultimate security. Although there’s no news on this, but with a second-strike capability, Pakistan would again have the advantage of India’s self-deterrence and can most probably accomplish major national interests in that manner.
The current era holds a bad reputation of international politics, things have become extremely complex and alongside the psychological and Cyber Warfare, information warfare has also been contributing to military strategies for a long period now. Therefore, Pakistan is haggardly acquiring up-to-date modern technologies and other intelligence gathering assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and tactical air and water drones.
Pakistan Navy has recently commissioned a 17000-ton Fleet Tanker which was built in Karachi with help from Turkey, which consists of a state-of-the-art medical facility to provide disaster relief to combat and auxiliary units. Other than that, the navy requires more and advanced logistical assets to ensure better execution and a quick response to threats.
With growing advancements, replacements, up-gradations and employments, Pakistan navy is building Pakistan’s largest naval base, named after the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Jinnah Naval Base will incorporate all the capabilities at a safe location, way outside the reach of the Indian military.
Every naval strategy is broken down into two sub-strategies; (a) a developmental strategy and (b) an executional strategy. Before looking in to a country’s naval strategy, one must be aware of all the aspects of the sub-strategies to gather a complete perspective of the whole, grand strategy. Among the sub-strategies, an executional strategy, is highly covert and confidential, even the naval leaders irrelevant to the project are unaware of the executional strategy, which is necessary to avoid leaking or outsourcing the confidential information to the enemy state and eventually, an inevitable failure. Executional strategy on one hand, provides practical operation information, short manoeuvring strategies and the actual date and time for every move. Developmental strategy on the other hand, lists out most of the tools needed in the executional strategy, for example, induction of offshore patrol vessels like OPV-1800, is a part of the developmental strategy. However, the outlined developmental strategy can indicate the thematic interpretation and presentation of the executional strategy, for example the OPVs are sought to be inducted in response to the Indian acquisition of new aircraft carriers. Similarly, with such new developments and advancements, the overall naval strategy of Pakistan seems to be much more of a power-oriented strategy, developed to assure efficient credible deterrence against the rival state and sustain a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’.
Since China is investing heavily in Pakistan, on CPEC in particular, it affects the political profile of Pakistan as a ‘heresy’ to the American ‘inquisition’. In all fairness, Pakistan may have its own set of national interests, but that does not matter, because China follows its ancient ‘Tianxia’, an “all under heaven” doctrine that sees the world as a shared community, while the United States follows a more rigid “Hobbesian state of nature” doctrine, that sees the world as a battleground of anarchy. Therefore, Pakistan being an under-developed country, could be submissive to China on a minute level and that being said, implies that Pakistan may support China’s national interests as well (which are in total opposition to the US’ national interests) and that’s how Pakistan has become a ‘heresy’ to its hegemonic ‘inquisition’.
Now is the time for India to maximize its naval capabilities and the work has already begun. In particular, acquiring aircraft carriers and making advancements to their practical weaponry execution systems, the Indian naval transition from being a ‘buyer’s navy’ to a ‘builder’s navy’, since “all 41 of the new vessels are being constructed in India”, whereas Pakistan has only a few vessels under construction. This maps out the difference between Pakistan and India’s magnitude of the state economy and to put a cherry on top, India is most likely be submissive to US national interests, meaning that Pakistan definitely needs to worry. Still, Pakistan could be able to circumvent Indian naval strategies with the acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine.
India already has two nuclear submarines in service and with the Indian “plan to build six advanced attack submarines — to be nuclear powered but armed with conventional missiles and torpedoes — is being monitored closely and the first of the boats could roll out in a decade if things go as per plan”, there would be a constant threat to the maritime national security of Pakistan. Although Pakistan’s submarines have never been detected, during both; wartime and peace, even still these submarines are not capable of staying under the surface for longer periods of time, a few months top, in comparison to the thirty-year span of a nuclear-powered submarine. Therefore, if Pakistan is able to build a nuclear-powered submarine than it would acquire a second-strike capability and a reputably untouchable navy in the ‘Indian Ocean Region’ (IOR). A former naval expert, Ex-Director General Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral (Retired) Abdul Hameed Meer stressed on the significance of a nuclear-powered submarine that “Pakistan must acquire nuclear propelled submarines in order to outgrow India’s numbers and mark a flag of dominance in the Indian Ocean Region”. Henceforth, acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be considered as a milestone in all of the Pakistan Armed Forces achievements combined.
With projects under construction and developments being made, a lot of opportunities come to light, both tapped an untapped. The state’s heavy naval build-up is not the aftermath of power maximization entirely, but a necessary antecedent to assure a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’. This term has a proper background to it and reviewing so, it was analysed that the particular term was used decades ago, but none paid heed to the matter at all. Earlier than that, its descendant, ‘Green Economy’ was used to promote environment-friendly economic solutions to boost economies through a greener environment and less pollution. However, that failed, as exploitation of the finite land resources had devastating effects on the overall earth’s climatic behaviour, up to this day. Hence the gradual transition towards naval build-ups and expansion of EEZs, portrays a steady locomotive in the global community. Economists suggest “Blue Growth is usually determined on three main factors; first the value addition into global economy, second the potential of sector with respect to the future economic trends, and thirdly the categorisation of sector in terms of being sustainable”, implying that the state’s fisheries and aquaculture sector demands severe strategic up-gradations and expansions in order to contribute a lion’s share of revenue to the net GDP of the state, through ‘Blue Growth’.
Fisheries experts have stressed on the required developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, “Capacity-building programmes and improvement of infrastructure of landing fish and shrimp, as well as production facilities to enhance exports to new destinations for better returns”, implying that deep structural problems are one of the major internal issues stunting the growth of economy. Although, sea trade contributes about 95% of the world GDP, Pakistan’s fisheries and aquaculture sector only contributes a mere 0.41% in the state’s GDP, which is drastically low, as seen by economists. EEZ of Pakistan holds enough natural resources that, if they are tapped through proper domestic channels and techniques, through skilled human resources and attracting foreign investments (from countries like Turkey, Norway, Japan and other EU countries expand the area of expertise of the fisheries sector), then the state’s economy would no longer need to thrive on the hook of an internal collapse. The expert also said, “We have the renewable natural resources, technology and human resources which can be put to gainful employment with net benefits to exchequer in the shape of foreign exchange”, implying that the current rate of the Pakistani Rupee can finally regain its worth after a long time. Therefore, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Food Security and Research should take a proper notice on the cruciality of the matter at hand.
Keeping the ‘Blue Growth’ aside, there are a number of possible regional implications which are hard to enumerate. Matters of international stature, their internal politics and intangible threats such as the Covid-19 are some of the many fuelling components that make up the contemporary chaos around the globe. Anyhow, major regional implications include the following;
- Diplomatic ties among the nations of Central Asia, Middle East and Pakistan would strengthen, resulting in new markets for trade, favourable terms of imports and a decent amount of recovery to the value of Pakistani Rupee.
- Heavy naval build-up is expected in all of the countries that China has invested in, that is for the core reason of safeguarding the maritime security of their mega-economic Silk Road project.
- On the other side of the fence, American Naval fleets have also indicated a certain interest in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Indo-Pacific Ocean Region. Their plan to surround China from every possible corner is quite pessimistic and also away from the reality.
- India, would obviously enjoy a warm support from its hegemonic friend, implying that the Indian Navy being far ahead in numbers and advancements, would also then submit to the US’ national interests.
- Although, there are various ongoing ocean-friendly, sustainability programmes in the Indian Ocean, still there is a serious risk of increased water pollution in the region. With accidental oil spills, a massive quarter of marine life has suffered one of the most flaunting idiosyncrasies of mankind.
- Rising tensions in any part of the international waters, directly effects the possibility of a low-intensity conflict in the IOR.
- India would definitely seek to destabilize the region through chaotic aversions, a low-intensity conflict or perhaps another charade of brutality in Kashmir.
Conclusively, the emphasis on the importance of maritime security and coastal defence of the system, accentuates the well-being of a prosperous economy and a steady ‘Blue Growth’. Pakistan’s ambitious road to a blue-water navy may bring the state what it has longed for decades, ever since the independence; dominance. In the most uncertain of times, a highly complex nature of power politics limits the predictability of the distant future. Although there is much ambiguity in the matter, Pakistan has held on to the ‘slow and steady’ policy to build a sophisticated political profile, in order to progress as an influential power in the region. However, with such security advancements and complete surveillance, this security competition may lead to heightened tensions, not only in the Arabian Sea, but also far deep in the Indian Ocean Region. To avoid such skirmishes, cooperation and Confidence Building Measures should be taken in a proactive manner. By increasing cooperation, inter-dependence would most likely prevent countries from harsh political gestures and interpretations. Not to forget, the trade-war between the United States and China, and the rising tensions between the two states directly effects the very nature of the scenario. Therefore, if things go as per plan, the developments may take the state’s economy to new heights, alongside the improved political stature, Pakistan may be very close to becoming a ‘developed state’.
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