The Blue Economy of Pakistan: An Untapped Potential

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The term Blue Economy originated in 2012 from the Rio+20 Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development and Growth referring to leveraging the coastal and marine resources for economic benefits in line with sustainable economic growth and environmental conservation. The need for diversifying sources of sustainable economic growth and development is felt more than ever before across the globe as complex, interdepended, and pressing challenges like climate change, resource-conflicts, social unrest, and simmering discontent among people owing to prevailing injustices endanger the very structures and institutions developed for the security and protection of people and Pakistan is no exception to this.

Reassuringly, however, the newly adopted National Security Policy of Pakistan places economic security at the core of national security to ensure the well-being of its citizens. Indeed, it is a testament to the growing and shared realization among the policymakers and common populace that Pakistan as a state and nation may find it impossible to survive or thrive and gracefully sail through these challenging circumstances without a strong and sustainable economic base. Granted, the NSP prudently and wisely places economic security at the heart of national security as the panacea for a plethora of traditional and non-traditional challenges afflicting human well-being and security. Yet we still have to walk the talk if we wish to overcome our pressing socio-economic issues.

In this regard, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development underscores the symbiotic relationship between sustainable economic growth and Blue Economy via SDG 14. The World Bank defines Blue Economy as: “Sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” It refers to the wide recognition of seas and oceans as the main drivers for economic development with great potential for innovation and growth. Therefore, to honor its international obligations for SDGs, Pakistan is integrating SDGs into its domestic development agenda, reflecting its appreciation of the blue potential.

In this context, the need to understand and implement the idea of ‘Blue Economy’ acquires utmost importance. If history is any guide, those nations which turned to oceans and developed their maritime sectors and naval forces emerged militarily strong and economically prosperous. Thus it can be plausibly argued that ‘turning blue’ is no longer a question of choice but a strategic and economic compulsion for Pakistan in the face of global cutthroat competition for access to and control of major maritime trade routes. This is least surprising given that the maritime sector is the bedrock of our national economy as 95 percent of trade and 100 percent of our oil/coal imports are transported via the sea route.

Therefore, it is vital to consider how Pakistan can best benefit from its maritime sector and what are some of the challenges that prevent it from fully realizing the untapped potential of its maritime sector? In this regard, maritime historians have identified some pre-requisites for a country to emerge as a maritime power including but not limited to 1) Geography, 2) Resources, dedicated to maritime tasks and forces, 3) A strong maritime tradition and community, 4) A maritime mindset and governance borne out of dependence on the sea. A cursory look at the history of Pakistan’s approach to the maritime domain reveals that due to sea-blindness, the country has not adequately invested in the development of some of the aforementioned pre-requisites thus resulting in the underutilization of the maritime potential for economic growth and development. It is noteworthy that geography plays a crucial part in charting out a viable maritime strategy and Pakistan’s geo-strategic location at the confluence of civilizations and vital regions makes it one of the most naturally favored states in terms of the benefits that it can reap from the sheer volume of maritime trade taking place in its maritime domain. Being an important maritime state in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), Pakistan is gradually realizing the benefits of the Blue Economy.

In the nutshell, Pakistan is naturally favored and endowed with huge natural resources. To fully realize this potential, Pakistan needs to fill the gap between education and maritime research. In this regard, the School of Maritime Sciences is a positive development that can serve the purpose of enhanced maritime awareness and knowledge. The need for an integrated National Maritime Policy cannot be overemphasized as the country is gradually but steadily turning to the Oceans for sustainable economic growth and development.

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