Enhancing Pakistan’s Maritime Domain Awareness through the BRI

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) refers to the effective awareness of any maritime activity that has repercussions for the safety, security, economy, and environment as per the International Maritime Organisation. MDA is of substantial importance for Pakistan as it is an important Indian Ocean (IO) littoral state. Pakistan having 1001 km long coastline depicts that sea as a frontier needs to be protected from any traditional and non-traditional threats. Pakistan carries out more than 95% of its trade via sea which shows that the economy of Pakistan is wedded to the sea-based commerce. The security and economic dependence on sea makes it necessary for Pakistan to amplify its MDA. A landmark effort towards MDA was the inauguration of the Joint Maritime Information Coordination Centre (JMICC) in 2013 in Karachi under the operationalization of Pakistan Navy. The JMICC domains include Organised Maritime Crime, Maritime Terrorism and Piracy, Search and Rescue, Maritime Pollution and Illegal exploitation of EEZ-Exclusive Economic Zones. JMICC as an initial step towards MDA is appreciated but the colossal dependence on sea requires Pakistan to enhance its MDA. For this cause, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a viable option.

The security and economic dependence on sea makes it necessary for Pakistan to amplify its MDA.

There are 138 countries that have joined the BRI and Pakistan is one of them. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of the BRI. The cordial relationship between both countries provides Pakistan an opportunity to explore the option of cooperation with the BRI states in order to make its MDA effective. Additionally, the deliberate exclusion of Pakistan from other regional platforms’ membership such as that of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and refusal of India to invite Pakistan at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) 2018, makes it necessary for Pakistan to cement ties with the BRI states to further its MDA. In this regard, the role of China particularly as an ally is important, as it can help Pakistan to develop relations with the BRI states. Both Pakistan and China can take the lead in building up the architecture for the MDA as both states have common interests and threat i.e. India. Moreover the burgeoning cooperation between the Quad states – India, United States (US), Japan, and Australia – is directed against China’s endeavours in the IO which is linked to Pakistan in the form of the CPEC and Gwadar port.

Pakistan’s primary focus should be regarding those BRI states which can collaborate with it, with respect to MDA. This can be decided by taking into account the maritime interest of Pakistan. Pakistan’s primary area of interest is the Arabian Sea and its extended area of interest is the Western IO. Hence the BRI states which can be involved for MDA are some of the Western IO states: Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Other BRI states such as, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Malaysia can play a vital role in MDA along with Pakistan. There is a dire need to forge relationships with the BRI states for MDA in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) because of the naval expansionism of India. India is building naval and commercial ports, coastal radar system and composite training facilities in various IO littoral states such as Seychelles, Diego Garcia, Oman, Mauritius, Maldives and Bangladesh.

The deliberate exclusion of Pakistan from other regional platforms’ membership such as that of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and refusal of India to invite Pakistan at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) 2018, makes it necessary for Pakistan to cement ties with the BRI states to further its MDA.

Pakistan should take a lead in cultivating relations with various BRI states through naval diplomacy. Identification of areas of collaboration is pertinent in this regard, and this can lead to joint maritime ventures and endeavours especially with inclusion of China. Attaining maritime domain capabilities through the development of shared structures is critical for the MDA. Development of coastal radars, surveillance of sea and air space, and harbour patrols constitute the maritime monitoring, which contributes effectively to MDA. The organisational structure for the coordination of information shall be present in the monitoring system. Another important means for effective MDA is the development of the Regional MDA Training Centre which is essential for reliability and trust. Intelligence analysts’ cadre can be developed from the regional training centre. Another area of cooperation is information gathering which can be carried out through a regional structure. But for such an information gathering structure, low technology options such as human intelligence and publicly available information should be prioritized as most of the BRI states are middle powers or developing states. Such type of regional centres and systems would enable the conduct of research and development in the maritime domain and sharing of information.  These systems would lead towards joint-operation and threat response. Pakistan’s JMICC can be taken as a role model in this regard which is based on engagement, inclusivity and responsiveness and is a feasible option under the resource constraints.

Pakistan must harness various means for defeating threats, deterring adversary and detecting illicit activities in the maritime domain.

To conclude, the complex and dynamic strategic environment in the IO creates challenges for the economic and security interests of Pakistan. It necessitates the need for a more active and layered defence-in-depth. Placing multiple layers of defence in order to address security vulnerabilities in technology, personnel and operations is the crux of defence-in-depth. Use of multiple methods and layers for defending a system against any attack is the underlying assumption of defence-in-depth which makes it an effective strategy for the IO strategic environment. Pakistan must harness various means for defeating threats, deterring adversary and detecting illicit activities in the maritime domain. This is only possible by improving MDA which is the critical enabler. Improving the MDA can be made possible by building sustainable and efficient regional MDA capacities and structures. Hence, Pakistan along with various BRI states should gear up for enhancing their MDA. Their regional cooperation mechanism would serve as a win-win situation for all the states.

Safia Mansoor

Safia Mansoor

Safia Masoor is currently pursuing International Relations from Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore. She can be reached at gilani.safia123@gmail.com.

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