KARACHI -- Pakistan is preparing to host a multi-national naval exercise from February 11 to 16 in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Karachi.
Participating countries in the AMAN-21 drills will co-operate under the theme "Together for Peace", a Pakistan Navy spokesperson told Pakistan Forward.
"The main objective of organising the maritime exercise is to maintain peace and sustainability in the region and improve retaliation capabilities," he said. "These exercises help the participating countries come together and further their relations."
The exercise contributes to regional peace and stability, resolve against terrorism in the maritime domain, and collaboration to maintain a safe and sustainable maritime realm, Pakistan Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Naveed Ashraf said at a press conference Monday (February 8).
Above all, it enhances interoperability between regional and extra-regional navies, he said.
Longtime tradition of co-operation
Hosting the AMAN-21 drills continues Pakistan's many years of work helping navies police the seas.
The Pakistan Navy participated in International Maritime Exercise 2019 in November that year in the Gulf of Oman.
That exercise was meant "to demonstrate the global resolve in maintaining regional security and stability, freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce from the Suez Canal south to the Bab al-Mandeb through the Strait of Hormuz to the Northern Arabian Gulf", the US Defence Department said in a statement at the time.
In 2004, Pakistan joined the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 33-nation coalition that "exists to uphold the International Rules-Based Order ... by countering illicit non-state actors on the high seas", according to the CMF's website.
The CMF protects "approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters" and is headquartered at the US naval base in Bahrain.
Pakistan participates in two of the CMF's three task forces: CTF 150, which protects maritime security outside the Gulf, and CTF 151, which fights piracy.
Command of the task forces rotates every four to six months. The Pakistan Navy has commanded each task force several times.
Growth of AMAN exercises
Pakistan has been hosting the AMAN exercises in alternate years since 2007.
The 2017 drills included 37 countries. It involved exercises by warships, helicopters and other aircraft, while special operations forces engaged in various sea-based activities such as firing gunnery and depth charges (anti-submarine warfare weapons).
During AMAN-17, naval and security personnel learned new techniques from each other in fighting piracy and terrorism and in improving maritime security.
Forty-six navies took part in AMAN-19 in February 2019. The forces trained together to "ensure security in the Indian Ocean", Defense News reported.
This year, around 45 countries will be participating in the exercise with surface and air assets, special operation forces, and marine teams and observers, Ashraf said.
AMAN-21 has two phases: at harbour and at sea.
"Harbour activities would include seminars, discussions, demonstrations and international get-togethers, while the sea phase would demonstrate tactical manoeuvres on anti-piracy, counterterrorism, gunnery firing, and search and rescue missions," he said.
Collaborative maritime security
The steady increase in the number of participating countries in the AMAN drills since their inception shows the international community's appreciation of Pakistan's commitment to regional peace and security, according to observers.
Twenty-eight countries participated in the 2007 exercises, while 45 countries are participating this year.
"The rise in participants in the AMAN exercises shows the eagerness and enthusiasm of regional countries ... to support Pakistan's ongoing regional and international initiatives for strengthening maritime security in the Indian Ocean region," said Saleem Siddiqui of Karachi, an international relations professor.
"The exchange of experiences and expertise among naval sailors of the participating countries is helping repel the threat of piracy in areas of intensive shipping," he said.
Pirate attacks on ships worldwide rose 17% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a global maritime body linked with the International Chamber of Commerce.
The IMB reported 195 cases of piracy and armed robbery targeting ships worldwide in 2020, compared to 162 in 2019.
"Pakistan has remained steadfast in fighting the forces of terror and tyranny with countless sacrifices and losses," Rear Admiral Ashraf said.
"No country can single-handedly tackle the diverse threats that exist or the new ones that emanate on a daily basis," he said. "Thus collaborative maritime security has become the Scarlet Thread to ensure peace and stability in the region."