KARACHI: Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said on Saturday that Pakistan would go all out to counter growing threats to peace in the Indian Ocean, chiefly from its ‘nuclearisation’ started by India.
Speaking at a conference, he listed the challenges to peace in the ocean as its militarisation, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased missile capabilities and power projection by foreign militaries, in addition to piracy, illegal fishing, human, drugs and arms smuggling, maritime pollution and climate change.
“This trend is likely to intensify in the coming years,” he warned at the ‘International maritime conference on strategic outlook in Indian Ocean region, 2030 and beyond — evolving challenges and strategies’.
“We are aware of our national interests and every effort will be made to strengthen our capacity to ensure that we remain ready to meet the emerging maritime security challenges. For us, to remain oblivious of the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean region is not an option.”
Pakistan last month successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile, Babur-III. The move towards a sea-based deterrent, military strategists say, was necessitated by India’s ‘unrestrained behaviour’. India had last year tested the nuclear-capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile from its nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant.
Mr Aziz said nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean had further destabilised the region.
He said it was in Pakistan’s vested interest that the region remained peaceful because 95 per cent of its trade took place through sea and it had a coastline over 1,000km long, an Exclusive Economic Zone of around 300,000 square kilometres, the Karachi port and the newly built deep sea port of Gwadar.
“The un-demarcated borders in the Sir Creek have the potential to cast a shadow on maritime security,” he said.
“We have to maintain significant naval presence to keep our sea lanes open and defend our interests whether on land or on the sea.”
He said the Indian navy’s substantial expansion was a cause for concern for Pakistan. “Pakistan has a strategic stake in the peaceful navigation and security of the Indian Ocean region.”
He said: “We realise the economic potential of the region. As the third-largest ocean providing coastline to more than 30 countries, the Indian Ocean provides connectivity not only to important regions in Asia, particularly South Asia and the Middle East, and Africa, it also connects Australia with Europe. Regular dialogue between stakeholders on security and safety has never been so important.”
He recalled that an estimated 55pc of oil reserves of the world and 40pc of gas were located in the region. “Today some 40pc of the global trade passes through the Indian Ocean. With the rise of Asia as the global powerhouse, the region indeed offers the unique platform for today’s globalised world as an attractive trade route. At present ports in the Indian Ocean handle about 30pc global trade and half the world’s container traffic. But the establishment of a new system of routes and ports will further increase the economic importance of this ocean,” he said.
Earlier, in his keynote address at the three-day seventh international maritime conference at the Bahria University, AJK President Sardar Masood Khan said the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would cast its shadow in the strategic and commercial balance in the region. “If the dispute is not settled peacefully according to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, it would remain a trigger for volatility in the region along with being a potent driver of conflict. The bilateral talks despite the sincere and persistent efforts of Pakistan have proved to be unproductive because of India’s intransigence,” he said.
He said the Indian Ocean region was not all about war. “It is a catalyst for peace and prosperity, cooperation, collaboration, connectivity and stability and security.”
He suggested that Pakistan, taking advantage of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), should begin working on two supplementary corridors. “There should be a corridor connecting Pakistan to West Asia and Africa. The West Asian corridor could go by Iran to Central Asia and Moscow and via Iran and Turkey to Europe. And a second corridor would pass through or around the Gulf region and penetrate into Africa,” he said, pointing out that Africa in particular was an upcoming continent with lots of potential.
Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah highlighted the significant role being played by the Pakistan Navy in sustenance of peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region. He said operationalisation of the CPEC and the Gwadar Port would lead to an exponential increase in maritime activities off the country’s coast. “Consequently, responsibilities of Pakistan Navy for maintaining a secure maritime environment will also increase manifold. Recent establishment of the Task Force-88 is also a step forward in this regard,” he said.