Indian Ocean Region: Prospects and Challenges for Pakistan


The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has long transformed into a competitive zone for existing and emerging powers of the world. The IOR is the third-largest ocean in the world, where major states are seeing their futures unfold. The fact that no littoral state has ever been able to acquire a dominant role in the realpolitik of this ocean body. It can be seen that Pakistan, like many other coastal states, has ignored the enormous potential the Indian Ocean has for it. The need for Pakistan to have a foreign policy for the IOR is one of the primary ideas that analysts have been debating over the past few years. There have already been several publications in which Pakistan is urged to have a foreign strategy to cast its tentacles in this resource-rich region. It has been noted that currently, it is crucial to come up with one since India is rising with great force and momentum, and has grown into an unstoppable economic power in the region. Pakistan is the fourth-largest state in terms of ports and harbors in the Indian Ocean, behind Saudi Arabia, Australia, and India, which emphasizes the importance of the ocean even more for Pakistan. Pakistan is situated close to the Strait of Hormuz, on the edge of the Arabian Sea. Although Pakistan is a major IOR littoral state, it is not a part of the regional organizations and forums where India holds significant influence, like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and others. Because so many of these IOR platforms and manifestos are operating and flourishing without Islamabad’s involvement, it is urgently necessary to develop an IOR foreign policy for Pakistan. According to historical precedent, Pakistan is thought to be facilitating the growth of regional and international adversaries’ propellers in the IOR region by leaving this void or lacuna there.

With US-Indo military agreements, exercises, and the potential to launch a second attack, Indian troops and the Joint Indian Navy are already considered ten steps ahead of Pakistan, whereas, in our country, the sea power and navy could never become dominant. The state navy is treated as a stepdaughter or bereaved spawn force in contrast to and compared to other forces. If Pakistan does not consider an IOR policy, it is conceivable that unwelcome entities would soon take control of the area, and littoral developing governments will have to make concessions regarding the sovereignty and natural resources located in the rich water body. India and China are on the foremost list of contenders who are striving hard for control since the relative disengagement of the United States (US). The two have had strong historical and cultural ties to the Indian waters. The maritime region holds paramount significance for various countries found in the region as well as abroad.

Being strategically located at the head of the Arabian Sea, which connects to the Persian Gulf, Pakistan is a dominant force in the region. Due to a lack of maritime understanding and a continental orientation, the leadership role has only made limited progress. However, the nation has potential that, if properly utilized, may give the needed impetus. Additionally, it is expected that with CPEC, the situation would grow more complicated due to an increase in marine traffic, necessitating a higher level of regional maritime security. To protect the nation’s maritime interests and protect Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) from both conventional and atypical threats, the Pakistan Navy developed the Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP). The maritime force is still a part of the US-led coalition’s Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), namely CTF-150, which is tasked with patrolling against illegal smuggling, including the smuggling of drugs, and CTF-151, which only deals with piracy. Pakistan must build a “deterrent capacity” since the Indian navy is quickly modernizing at the regional level. The nation recently struck up acquisition agreements with Turkey, China, and Romania for this purpose.  Since a full maritime force has many different facets, naval might alone is insufficient to define it. In addition to a naval fleet, it is essential to focus on increasing the size and caliber of the commercial fleet. Furthermore, similar projects like Gwadar in the long run may also be made on the coast to increase internationally standardized ports and augment the sea-based economy.

Restructuring the maritime industry as a strategic priority is advised since it would support a strong geoeconomics position and should be given top attention. Pakistan is well-positioned to serve as a transit hub for Central Asia and Afghanistan, a landlocked nation. Conducive conditions must be created at the level of the government and policymakers to draw investment from corporations. Along with a diplomatic effort to contact the nations, advocacy in regional groups like the SAARC and ASEAN may be necessary. Out of 142 littoral states, Pakistan’s coastline ranks 74th. It is imperative to use this God-given talent wisely and sensibly to access this significant blessing. PN published the country’s first maritime doctrine in December 2018, and the President of Pakistan graced the occasion as the chief guest. It seems that strategic makers of the country are realizing the significance of the vitality of the maritime force with time.  Pakistan on the other side is more of a middle-power navy developing capacity to provide for the safety of the immediate region. With CPEC, a dedicated naval task force has been established at Gwadar for the safety and security of commerce and trade vessels. Once trade begins, it will amplify the patrolling of PN. With the drafting of the maritime doctrine, the role and the character of the Pakistan Navy to an extent get a clear vision.

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