An Exercise in Success


“From now onward Pakistan will only partner with another country in peace; we will not become part of any other conflict, we will not join any other country in its conflict”

 Prime Minister Imran Khan

World Economic Forum, 2020

With its tag line, “together for peace” resonating powerfully in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean region and beyond, the 42-country multinational mega biennial exercise AMAN (PEACE)-21 of the Pakistan Navy concluded this February 16. A grand international fleet review was held in the North Arabian Sea on the culminating day. With dozens of warships representing wide-ranging countries, stationed in a massive formation natively called, ‘AMAN formation,’ denoting “unity and collective resolve,” the imposing finale was witnessed by the President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi, the Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Minister for Defence Production, Chief Minister Sindh, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chief of the Army Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff. Emissaries of various countries in Pakistan were also present.

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Some of the proceedings on the final day were also reviewed by dignitaries while on-board the PNS MOAWIN. The name of the ship, PNS MOAWIN, itself signifies collaboration, or coming together. Commissioned in October 2018 and jointly constructed by the Pakistan navy and a Turkish firm at the local Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KS&EW), the ship is a pride of the nation, aptly symbolising the spirit that underpinned AMAN-21. 

“I often queried why my success should come as someone’s failure or why my success would mean that someone must lose. There has to be a way where we all can win. But because this goes against the established thinking and psychology, what is needed is a paradigm shift. Let’s come together, understand each other, and fight the common enemy,” was the clarion call given by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi on the occasion of the curtain-raiser for AMAN-21 on February 12. On this occasion, a record number of naval and marine officers, ships and air unit crews as well as observers from various countries witnessed the stirring flag-hoisting ceremony at the Pakistan Navy Dockyard, Karachi. These included representatives from, China, Russia, Indonesia, the United States, United Kingdom, Iran, Sri-Lanka, Turkey, Malaysia and other ASEAN states as well as those of the African Union, the EU, GCC and NATO.

The most striking feature of AMAN-21 was the presence of the Russian Navy. It was an ice-breaking moment as alongside was its arch-rival, the United States Navy. The last time the Russian Navy had conducted joint military drills with NATO members was in the “Bold Monarch” exercise in 2011. The spirit of the truly global AMAN-21 did not go unnoticed.  Tributes were aglow, even from across the border. “I must commend the Pakistan Navy for holding such a large-scale exercise in the post-Covid period. One of your (the Pakistan Navy’s) greatest achievements, that everyone must learn from, is having brought Russia and the United States together on a single platform; for that alone Pakistan and the Pakistan Navy deserve rich tributes … the two countries (Russia and the United States) that have been at odds since 2014 — and this is for you (the Pakistan Navy) another jewel in your crown,” said Lt. Gen. (R) KJ Singh of the Indian Army during a live video conversation on a private television network.

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AMAN-21 was split in two phases including harbour and sea. In the former, seminars, symposiums, discussion sessions, international get-togethers, and cultural festivities to showcase Pakistan’s rich culture with its great traditions were profitably held. In the next phase, tactical manoeuvres and exercises such as anti-piracy, counterterrorism and search and rescue missions etc. were conducted at sea. 

AMAN-21 aimed to strengthen and develop cooperation among the world’s navies in order to promote regional stability and to counter common maritime threats. It was a rare opportunity for participating countries to rub shoulders with global counterparts, putting aside their differences to work towards a common cause, develop synergy and doctrinal inter-operability to fight unconventional threats that may appear.

The acme on closing day was the international fleet review in which a formation of ships conducted manoeuvres while marine and Special Forces and air elements displayed their skills. There were para jumps, and a fly-past by Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force aviation teams. Aircraft from participating countries also flew over the AMAN-21 formation.

Earlier, during the opening ceremony of AMAN-21, the message of Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Niazi was read out. In his message, the Admiral warmly welcomed the participants of the exercise, the seventh edition in the AMAN series commandeered by the Pakistan Navy since 2007. “AMAN-21 will provide a medium to develop doctrinal synergy to tackle maritime security challenges and to enhance inter-operability amongst navies at different pedestals of technological prowess to come together and secure a sustainable maritime environment,” read the message.

On February 13, Admiral Niazi paid on-board visits to the crews of the participating Indonesian, Russian and Sri-Lankan naval ships. He was welcomed by the senior and commanding officers of each of the vessels in a befitting manner. They expressed deep appreciation for the enduring efforts of the Pakistan Navy in mustering global navies and working towards a shared commitment of maritime peace, stability and legitimate order at sea.

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The highlight of the first phase of exercises from February 13-15 was devoted to the International Maritime Conference (IMC-21). The conference brought together a wide array of distinguished international and national scholars as well as subject matter experts. The scholars addressed large multinational gatherings. Under the overarching theme, ‘Development of the Blue Economy under a Secure and Sustainable Environment: A shared future for the Western Indian Ocean,’ the erudite speakers proffered creative solutions to oceanic problems afflicting the region. Notable luminaries included Secretary General International Maritime Organisation, President Jammu & Kashmir, Dr. Gunter Pauli and Senator Sherry Rehman. Commander US Naval Forces, Central Admiral Samuel Paparo delivered his keynote address. His talk, ‘Enhancing Regional Maritime Security in the Western Indian Ocean Region through Effective Mechanisms,’ was instructive. Dr. David Brewster of the Australian National University talked about the challenges and opportunities in changing the maritime dynamics of the Indian Ocean region and its implications for regional states.

On the second day of the conference, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National security, Dr. Moeed Yusuf was chief guest during the pre-lunch session. Eminent speakers shed light on the ‘Need for Maritime Security and Sustainable Growth — A Shared Vision for the Western Indian Ocean region.’ In his keynote address on, ‘BRI and its implications on maritime security in the Indian Ocean region,’ Dr. Nong Hong, Executive Director of China America Studies, USA, underlined the need for stability in the region in the wake of non-traditional security threats where the interests of multiple stakeholders converged. In the second session, the Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi was the chief guest. Scholars presented their thoughts on the ‘Development of Pakistan’s Maritime Sector and Blue Economy.’

In the last session on February 14, the discussants alluded to the ‘contemporary strategic environment related to the Indian Ocean region and opportunities for regional cooperation.’ Renowned Senator Mushahid Hussain shared his views on, ‘Building strategic partnerships.’

With progressing geopolitical shifts in the Indian Ocean region and its peripheries, maritime security has assumed a distinctive significance for Pakistan. A stable order in the region has now become an indispensable need for the country. With the upcoming port of Gwadar projected as a regional hub and transhipment port in the wider Indian Ocean and given the external machinations against the CPEC, maritime security has never been as critically important to Pakistan as it is now. Gwadar is tipped to become the hub of trade, connecting South Asia, Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Perhaps the finest tribute to AMAN-21 came not from within Pakistan but from outside, from its eastern neighbour. “India’s Pakistan policy seems to have landed in a cul-de-sac. It lacks credibility and has no future. A course correction is overdue. AMAN-21 makes a mockery of India’s aspiration to be a ‘net security provider’ for littoral states in the Indian Ocean. The participation of Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka in AMAN-21 speaks for itself,” asserted Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar in his column on February 17, 2021.

M. Azam Khan | Defence Line from Narratives Magazine
Muhammad Azam Khan
The writer is a freelance journalist who contributes on maritime and security related issues.
Muhammad Azam Khan
Muhammad Azam Khan
The writer is a freelance journalist who contributes on maritime and security related issues.
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