Interview with Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of Naval Staff of the Pakistan Navy.

Mönch talks to Admiral Abbasi about AMAN 2019 multinational exercise

In preparation for AMAN 2019 multinational exercise, to be held in February 2019, NAVAL FORCES asked Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of Naval Staff of the Pakistan Navy, how the exercise has evolved, how it contributes to stability and how the Pakistan Navy is evolving to ensure security and stability in the region.

NAFO: Pakistan Navy has been regularly hosting Multinational Exercise since 2007. Could you tell us about the progress made so far and future plans?

Admiral Abbasi: Considering Pakistan’s reliance on sea trade, one of the most important tasks of Pakistan Navy (PN) is to ensure security of the regional sea routes. In addition to our active participation in the Maritime Security and Counter Piracy operations along with other partner navies, PN in 2007 took the initiative of organizing AMAN series of multinational exercises on a biennial basis. The purpose of the exercise is to promote cooperation and interoperability between the regional and extra regional navies operating in the Indian Ocean Region. In the first Exercise AMAN held in 2007, 28 countries participated which was a great success. So far five exercises of the series have been conducted which has seen increased participation from our friends and partners. In AMAN-17 held from 10 to 14 February 2017, 35 countries across the globe participated including UK, China, Russia and USA. In the upcoming AMAN-19, planned on February 2019, over 45 countries are likely to attend.

NAFO: Why is Exercise AMAN getting importance and relevance today for the region? Why Exercise AMAN is important for Pakistan in particular?

Admiral Abbasi: The contemporary global maritime environment is fraught with a number of challenges like terrorism, piracy, drugs/ arms trafficking and natural calamities. The vastness of oceans has made the maritime arena an attractive avenue for these illegal activities. Therefore, multifarious maritime security challenges of the present era require collaborative approaches at regional and international level. This can be achieved by enhancing cooperation and interoperability amongst the navies. Exercise AMAN is Pakistan’s humble but focussed effort in this direction.

Pakistan being a responsible state has always contributed towards Maritime Security in its area of responsibility and beyond. Exercise AMAN is a manifestation of Pakistan’s commitments towards peace and stability reflected in its motto ‘Together for Peace’ and bringing navies of East and West under a common platform for the good of global commons.

NAFO: Would you please tell us about Pakistan Navy’s core role and responsibility in national defence in overall regional defence architecture?

Admiral Abbasi: Ensuring seaward defence of Pakistan, protection of sea routes and maritime interests of Pakistan are the core tasks of PN. The security challenges to Pakistan include both traditional and non-traditional threats. PN is a well-balanced four-dimensional force fully capable to cope with the entire spectrum of all these challenges. To do this, PN maintains the highest level of combat preparedness to deal with the complete spectrum of threats stretching from non-traditional and sub-conventional challenges, and to win if a high end conventional war is imposed. In addition, PN has been participating in all regional/ international efforts and initiatives taken for maintaining good order at sea. PN’s support to Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), operating under the auspices of US NAVCENT, exemplifies our commitment to the common goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for uninterrupted flow of sea trade. In the same spirit, PN has been participating in various International Fora, Multinational Exercises, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief efforts and has undertaken Non-Combatant Evacuation of stranded Pakistani and foreign nationals from conflict zones.

NAFO: Pakistan Navy played an effective role as part of CMF and participated in multinational Combined Task Forces (CTF 150 & 151). Can you brief us regarding the tasks PN accomplished in augmenting support to CMF?

Admiral Abbasi: In the maritime domain, PN has contributed significantly in maritime security and counter piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). PN joined Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) which is mandated to ensure Maritime Security in the Western IOR, in 2004. PN ships with embarked helicopters have been contributing in the CTF. PN also responded promptly to the international demand to counter the increasing acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa by joining the Combined Task Force-151 (CTF-151) in 2009. Since last 14 years, we have been the largest contributor to CMF Operations second only to the US Navy. So far, over 100 PN ships with embarked helicopters have participated in CTF-150 and CTF-151. As part of these deployments, PN ships have seized over 7000 Kgs of Hashish, 2 tons of cannabis raisin and over 40,000 bottles of liquor.

During deployments with CTF-150 & CTF-151, PN ships in line with historical values of Pakistan Navy have also made their mark in providing humanitarian assistance to stranded fisherman and ships of maritime community irrespective of nationality.

NAFO: Can you please brief us on PN initiative of Regional Maritime Security Patrol and its objectives?

Admiral Abbasi: Commensurate with the changing geostrategic realities in the region, PN has instituted the Maritime Security initiative of Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP) to fulfil international obligations and protect national interests in the IOR. The initiative is in addition to our contributions in coalition efforts under CMF. RMSP is focussed on establishing maritime patrols along the vital choke points and important maritime areas in the IOR by PN ships with embarked helicopters. The broad objectives of RMSP initiative include contribution towards good order at sea and deter/ curb the menace of piracy, maritime terrorism, narco-arms and human smuggling and other illicit activities. These patrols have been established along three important axis namely Horn of Africa, North Arabian Sea and Central Indian Ocean. Another important objective of RMSP is to foster partnerships with regional countries and enhance interoperability.

NAFO: How is Pakistan’s Navy evolving to tackle current and future threats in IOR?

Admiral Abbasi: We believe that maritime terrorism, drugs and arms trafficking and piracy in the IOR threatens good order at sea and obstructs development and full exploitation of the economic potential of the region. Therefore, for the collective benefit of all, we need to cooperate, exchange expertise and connect to harness full benefits. In line with the Government of Pakistan policies, PN is playing a lead role in support of international efforts aimed at maintaining maritime order in the region. Prevention of maritime terrorism and curbing its linkages with trans-national crimes are high on PN’s agenda. In this regard, PN has established a Joint Maritime Information Coordination Centre (JMICC) in 2012. The centre aims to harness efforts of all relevant national agencies and international stakeholders to improve maritime security. The centre till now has been linked to 51 national and 6 international organizations for sharing of information related to maritime threats. Moreover, cognizant of the importance of maritime security along Pakistan’s coast for world trade which hosts 30% of world’s seaborne oil trade, PN has established robust and effective coastal security setup all along the Pakistani coast. As I have mentioned earlier countering threats in the maritime domain requires collaborative efforts, for which PN will continue its efforts for ensuring maritime security along with other partner regional and extra regional navies.

NAFO: Could you please describe the major procurement and modernization programmes of PN? Can you brief us on some of the future requirement?

Admiral Abbasi: Capability Development is one of the important pillars of my vision for PN and in this regard we have contracted building of eight Destroyers/ Corvettes with the support of friendly countries. In addition we are also building eight ‘Hangor’ Class Submarines with the Chinese support. We are now focussing on enhancing our long range ASW and ASuW capability through induction of modern air platforms and modernising our existing Fleet of surface ships. We are also looking at acquisition of more Corvettes for effective contribution in the Regional Maritime Security.

NAFO: Could you brief us on the activities of PN in defence diplomacy with the neighbouring countries and some of the exercises carried out with the major forces recently?

Admiral Abbasi: Pakistan is a peace loving country and always endeavours to maintain good relations with neighbouring and other regional countries. In line with the national policy, PN has been playing its role by actively engaging with the IOR navies and beyond. In order to strengthen relations and enhance interoperability, PN regularly conducts bilateral and multilateral exercises with friendly navies across the globe. The significant exercises recently conducted include Exercise Arabian Monsoon with the Russian Navy, Thamar Al Tayyib with the Royal Omani Navy, Naseem Al Bahr with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, TURGUTRIES with the Turkish Naval Forces, MALPAK with the Malaysian Navy, Asad Al Bahr with the Qatari Navy, SAR exercise with the Iranian Navy and participation in Exercise Gulf Shield hosted by the Royal Saudi Navy.

NAFO: Could you brief us on the growing naval ships building industry in Pakistan and the inland industrial support provided to PN?

Admiral Abbasi: The PN has always remained supportive of the indigenization philosophy, especially in the critical naval shipbuilding industry. In this regard, the PN has provided requisite support to Karachi Shipyard for in-country construction of vessels ranging from utility craft, Fast Attack Craft (Missile), modern Frigates and a 17,000 tons Fleet Tanker. Gaining experience from these ventures, over the last two decades, Karachi Shipyard has also transformed into a modern shipyard capable of undertaking state of the art ship construction and repair/ maintenance activities as per international standards.

With regards to the commercial shipbuilding industry, it is important to understand that Pakistan is ideally located at the northern shores of the Indian Ocean. On average, 3,000 ships visit Pakistani Ports and 45,000 ships pass close to our coast each year. By offering competitive prices on modern ship building and repair facilities for these vessels, huge economic dividends can be accrued. The Government has embarked on the plan for the revival of the shipbuilding and repair industry. Renowned shipyards and private investors have shown keen interest for establishing shipyards on the Pakistani Coast.

NAFO: What are the major realistic maritime ambitions of Pakistan, which PN considers as its top priority in the region?

Admiral Abbasi: The maritime region of Pakistan carries strategic significance for world as 30% of all seaborne oil trade emanating from Strait of Hormuz transit close to Pakistan’s shores. Pakistan’s 95% trade and 100% of oil imports are through the sea which makes our maritime sector as bedrock of our national economy. Pakistan’s prosperity and progress is intrinsically linked to safety and security of our maritime domain. Therefore ensuring maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean Region is one of the top priority of PN. With this as core objective, PN has been contributing in all international and regional efforts for maintaining regional maritime security.

NAFO: What message PN would like to convey to the regional navies through the AMAN series of exercises?

Admiral Abbasi: My message for AMAN is that prosperity of our region is linked to safe conduct of sea borne trade and maritime security at sea. The prevailing challenges in maritime domain have global impact and require collaborative response, as the maritime security of global commons is collective responsibility of all nations. Navies by virtue of their ability to use high seas are the most suited for this purpose. Therefore with an aim to bring together navies on a single platform and operate together to counter maritime threats, Exercise AMAN is being conducted biennially. We thank our partners who have been participating in Exercise AMAN to make it a success and we will continue our efforts in future also.

NAFO: Thank you. 

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