By Arsalan Khokhar
“Indian Naval threat is growing at a rapid pace and presence of multinational naval presence in the region to defend their maritime interest and counter Chinese influence especially due CPEC, pose serious challenges for Pakistan Navy.
India has become a strategic partner of US in the region and US-Iran relations are always in bad news therefore work on Chahbahar Port slowed down because India was main investor in this project. Pakistan considers Chahbahar Port as a sister port to Gwadar and would like to work with them in harmony although our port has strategic advantage due to its geographic location.
Unfortunately, there is less knowledge and understanding of the maritime sector rather I would say that we are sea blind as a Nation. This can be gauged from the fact that even after 73 years of Independence, we don’t have a maritime policy. The policy that has been framed six years ago is yet to be approved and implemented. The maritime share in the economy is negligible rather in some sectors it has reduced instead of increasing e.g the number of ships carrying our commercial cargo has drastically reduced with time as we carry hardly 16 percent of our cargo and the rest is handled by foreign cargo shops resulting in loss of valuable foreign exchange in a country which is already starving of foreign exchange reserves”
These were observations of Rear Admiral (Retired) Saleem Akhtar HI(M) in an exclusive interview for Dispatch News Desk (DND) News Agency. Interview was conducted by Anchorperson and journalist Arsalan Khokhar.
Rear Admiral Saleem Akhtar HI(M) retired from Pakistan Navy after forty years of service. During his tenure he served at various important appointments including Managing Director Dockyard, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (project & material), DG submarine rebuilt complex and DG maritime technology complex. Upon retirement he was appointed as Pro Rector Bahria University. He is a defence analyst and appears on various TV channels. He holds master’s degree in joint war studies, defence and strategic studies from NDU and is also a graduate of US naval postgraduate school, USA and Royal naval engineering college, UK.
Hereunder is his Interview:
Question: How you define blue economy & do you think this will take a major role in world economy?
Answer: The world is facing major challenges to sustainable economic development. These challenges include beside others, access to food and energy, management of natural resources and effects of climate change. States are moving towards seas and oceans to sustain their economic development and national power. This phenomenon is known as blue economy. World Bank defines blue economy as ” sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”.
With the growing population, set to rise from seven billion today to over nine billion by 2050, these pressures and impacts are likely to intensify unless the countries manage their resources well. Nations that have access to open seas are the blessed one including Pakistan and they must exploit the benefits associated with it. Already 80 percent of world trade is through sea through shipping which is an important sector of blue economy. Sea constitutes three fourth of the world and countries must exploit this mega resource to improve their economy, may it be shipping, fishing, coastal tourism or oil and gas exploration beside others.
Question: What is the importance of maritime security and how do you relate to National security. Also indicate the maritime security threats and the role of Pakistan Navy?
Answer: The spectrum of threat emanating from Maritime Arena has transformed a great deal over the years. These threats can be categorized into two parts. One is the military threat and the other is the non-traditional threat comprising of piracy at sea, drug smuggling, human trafficking and threat from non-state actors i.e maritime terrorism. As 80 percent of the world trade is through sea so anything happening at sea has a direct bearing on national security and of course economy. In the case of Pakistan, the military threat comes from it’s eastern neighbor. Indian naval threat is growing at a rapid pace and presence of multinational naval presence in the region to defend their maritime interest and counter Chinese influence especially due CPEC, pose serious challenges for Pakistan Navy to defend the maritime interest of our country specially in the north Arabian sea. Pakistan has an EEZ and continental shelf of 290000 sq kms which has to be secured and exploited for its economic growth. With CPEC coming into play, the role of Pakistan Navy has multiplied many folds to provide safe and secure environment at sea specially in the north Arabian sea for the success of Gwadar port and CPEC.
Question: How do you see the future of Gwadar Port when compared to Chahbahar port in Iran which is being developed by the Indians?
Answer: Gwadar port has a bright future since it’s inception but the potential of this port could not be utilised earlier due to an agreement with Singapore Port authority who didn’t make the investment as promised. However, with CPEC coming into force and change of operation going to Chinese, we expect this to flourish. Here I must mention that both CPEC and Gwadar are not being viewed by US and the West positively due to their China’s containment policy. With respect to development of Chahbahar Port by Indians, firstly that project has hit a snag since investment by India has slowed down due geopolitical reasons because India has become a strategic partner of US in the region and US-Iran relations are always in news. Pakistan, however, takes Chahbahar as a sister port to Gwadar and would like to work with them in harmony although our port has strategic advantage due to its geographic location. Once the petrochemical complex being promised and shipyard to cater for super tankers is built, the port and city of Gwadar holds bright prospects for our country.
Question: How do you view the nuclearisation of Indian Ocean and how does it affect balance of power in the region?
Answer: The growing nuclearisation of the Indian ocean is going to be problematic for both littoral states as well as the region. In the words of great Naval Strategist Rear Admiral Alfred T Mahan, whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian ocean will control the destiny of the world in the 21 at century. In the present scenario, four nuclear states are having strategic interest in the region and this water body has become the theater of trilateral regional quest for influence between US-China, Indo-china and now India-Pakistan. Pakistan has always vouched for a nuclear free zone in the Indian ocean but the induction of Indian nuclear Arahant class submarine has added a nuclear dimension to the Indian ocean. They have plans to deploy sea launched ballistic missile submarines in near future. This has shifted the balance of power in India’s favour and Pakistan must continue to achieve second strike capabilities and sea based deterrence to balance the Indian threat.
Question: Why the successive governments have not been able to take advantage of the huge potential that maritime sector offers in terms of blue economy?
Answer: Unfortunately, there is less knowledge and understanding of the maritime sector rather I would say that we are sea blind as a Nation. This can be gauged from the fact that even after 73 years of Independence, we don’t have a maritime policy. The policy that has been framed six years ago is yet to be approved and implemented. The maritime share in the economy is negligible rather in some sectors it has reduced instead of increasing e.g the number of ships carrying our commercial cargo has drastically reduced with time as we carry hardly 16 percent of our cargo and the rest is handled by foreign cargo ships resulting in loss of valuable foreign exchange in a country which is already starving of foreign exchange reserves. Same is the fate of fisheries, ship building, ship breaking and even coastal tourism which has tremendous potential is totally neglected. Oil and gas exploration efforts also needs to be enhanced as one big discovery can bring about colossal change. The only positive change that has taken place is setting up of maritime affairs ministry which was one of the recommendations of the draft policy. Some of the issues arising because of the eighteenth amendment will have to be resolved to make use of the huge potential which can provide great boost to the economy.