The Indian Ocean has emerged as a critical maritime space in view of the transformed security, economic and strategic significance of the region. The region has a large concentration of population, resources, developing economies, congested sea lanes, and contested territorial spaces. It is thus significant in a geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic sense. Safety & Security Today sat down with Ambassador Vice Admiral (R) Khan Hasham Bin Saddique who is the President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) to better understand the changing dynamics of the Indian Ocean and the threats and opportunities it presents.
Ambassador Vice Admiral (R) Khan Hasham bin Saddique, HI (M) and SI (M), joined the Pakistan Navy in 1978; and after initial training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK, he received his commission in 1980 with the Sword of Honour. During his career spanning nearly four decades, he has held important Command and Staff appointments. At sea, apart from commanding a Fast Patrol Boat, he has been the Principal Warfare Officer on board a Guided Missile Destroyer, and later served as Squadron Operations officer of the Destroyer Squadron. He commanded a Type-21 DDG, PNS Shahjahan; and has the distinct honour of commanding the Multi-National Maritime Task Force (CTF-150) at HQ Navcent, Bahrain. Ashore, he has commanded Pakistan Naval Academy, Maritime operations complex and Naval War College. He has also been commandant National Defence College at National Defence University, Islamabad. At Naval Headquarters, he was Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Administration, Projects, Operations, and had a two and a half years stint as Vice Chief of Naval Staff till retirement in March 2017. Before joining IPRI as President in March 2019, he was appointed as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Permanent Representative at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Vice Admiral Saddique specialises in naval communications, maritime warfare, operations research, public policy and strategic security management.
SST: What is the significance of maritime affairs for Pakistan considering the changing geo-political situation in the region?
Pakistan is a bona fide Maritime state with a vital strategic location close to the mouth of all-important Gulf Region to which is tied the economic development and prosperity of not only the western but the entire world. So, by virtue of our position and number of maritime compulsions e.g. ports, shipping, mineral resources at sea and most importantly the maritime defense of the country, I think the future of Pakistan’s wellbeing both economically and strategically and from the security lens is going to be tied to what happens in the Indian Ocean.
SST: What are some of the threats facing maritime security at the moment (both globally and for Pakistan)?
I think the spectrum of threat not only on land and air but also in the maritime arena has transformed a great deal over the years. Threats can be categorized into two parts. One is the traditional conventional military threat that we face from our enemy on the Eastern border i.e. the Indian Armed Forces. For the maritime arena, the Indian Naval threat is growing at a rapid pace. The second part is that of nontraditional threats and these threats comprise piracy at sea, narcotics and human smuggling and the threat from non-state actors. Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf has raised the specter of terrorists acting at sea. Since the sea is an international arena, therefore anything which happens at sea affects not only the immediate connecting state but the entire community because 80% of global trade is carried through the sea route which has been established since historical times and continues to grow.
SST: What is the relationship between maritime security and the economy of Pakistan?
As the resources and land become scarce with increase in population, the world will increasingly look towards the portion that covers three-fourths of the earth’s surface for exploitation in terms of minerals, fish and other resources. When we talk about Pakistan, nearly 95% of our trade by volume and over 80% by value is carried through the sea. Thus, Pakistan’s economy is dependent on unimpeded and continuous flow of sea trade which not only includes vital petroleum supplies but other supplies such as machinery, equipment, chemicals and edible oil. Moreover, our exclusive economic zone stretches around 240,000 square km and with the extension continental shelf another 50,000 square km. So we have an area of close to 300,000 square km which is endowed to Pakistan to exploit not only the sea bed resources but also fish and other species found in the depth of the sea. Thus the economic development of Pakistan depends on the shipping industry and several other downstream industries that are attached to the maritime sector. The revenue generated from shipbuilding, ports and harbors, maritime tourism and trade, all point towards a huge potential that Pakistan can develop further.
SST: How has the nuclearization of Indian Ocean affected stability in the region?
As Robert Kaplan once said that the global center of gravity has shifted from the European landmark to Eurasian landmark where the arena is inherently maritime and within that Indian Ocean holds the key to the future of the world. One who controls the Indian Ocean will control the destiny of the world in the 21st century.
With Pakistan being one of the most important literals of the Indian Ocean, we have our geopolitical and geo-economics stakes tied to the Indian Ocean so anything that happens in the Indian Ocean holds immense importance to Pakistan. Pakistan has always stood and vowed for a nuclear-free zone in the Indian Ocean, but unfortunately our archenemy India has added a nuclear dimension to the Indian Ocean with acquisition of initially the Chakra class submarine from Russia and then the indigenously built Arihant-class submarines. They also have plans to deploy sea launch ballistic missiles capable submarines in times ahead. So this has radically shifted the balance of power in favor of India vis-a-vis Pakistan. Therefore, I think Pakistan should continue to achieve the second strike
capabilities and sea-based deterrence to balance the Indian threat caused due to over nuclearization of India Ocean. Having said the superpowers to be always had presence of ballistic missile capable submarines in the Indian Ocean, whether it is U.S. or USSR and perhaps now China.
SST: China and India are considered to be rivals to maintain dominance in Indian Ocean. How does it impact Pakistan?
The Indian Ocean because of its proximity to the Gulf, the importance of oil supply and sea trade routes has always had the presence of extra-regional forces. So, therefore, in 1968 when the Royal Navy fared goodbye to the Indian Ocean, the void was filled by the U.S. Navy. Currently, the U.S. Navy has two commands, the Indo-Pacific Command and the Central Command with their expeditionary forces permanently stationed inside the Gulf. There are at least two or three carrier groups operating within the Indian Ocean. Other than that France, Russia and Great Britain all have a presence there. There are also ships and submarines from other EU Nations. People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has also found permanent presence, initially benign, but now to safeguard their legitimate interest in the Indian Ocean. Recently they have also acquired a base in Djibouti. To sum it up a plethora of extra-regional forces are currently operating in the Indian Ocean.
SST: How do you see the role of Gwadar in the growth of Pakistan’s maritime sector?
Gwadar’s growth hit a snag because we were stuck in an agreement with Port of Singapore Authority where the necessary investment was not made. But with the change of port operator from Singapore to China, things will improve. But we need to understand that developing a port city from scratch takes at least 30-50 years. For Gwadar to succeed, it has to be a transit port, not only for dry cargo, but also for vital petroleum supplies through pipelines to China, Afghanistan and within Pakistan. Once the petrochemical complex and shipyard at Gwadar are built, the city will flourish.
SST: Is Pakistan fully utilizing its maritime potential?
Just like in case of some other sectors where there is immense potential, the exploitation of sea-related factors is minimal. We have fish exports of around $250 million on average, but we have a potential of at least $2 billion. Similarly in the maritime sector, we pay close to $4 billion every year in terms of freight charges. We only carry about 10% of the national trade through ships owned by Pakistan. By developing our shipping sector we can greatly reduce our dependence on foreign carriers and save vital foreign exchange. Similarly, there was a time when we were the leaders in the ship-breaking industry, but because of a number of international regimes regulating the ship breaking mechanism, Bangladesh has overtaken Pakistan. Similarly, till now we have one port complex that of Karachi and Port Qasim, but with Gwadar coming up more and more transit trade and activities will be undertaken. Last, but not least the shipbuilding industry is very important as it links multiple downstream industries. We have one shipyard at the moment. We need to have at least one more shipyard on the Western seaboard close to Gwadar which can offer maintenance and logistics facility to the ships plying in the Indian Ocean and close to the Gulf.
SST: Are there any initiatives in the maritime sector that you are really hopeful about?
I am an optimist, but I am not very hopeful because the current government is grappling with many other issues and still finding its feet on the ground in terms of delivery. Recently one ship was bought by Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) which had been waiting for approval for last so many years. There are also a number of projects in the pipeline, for instance, the Petrochemical complex and the special economic zone in Gwadar. There are other projects in the pipeline as well like the construction of shipyard and improvement of maritime structure in Gwadar and development of maritime tourism and coastal stations. What we need now is the implementation of these projects. Maritime activity will increase manifold if these initiatives coupled with China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are successfully completed.
SST: As an expert of Maritime affairs, how do you suggest the government to solve these issue?
What is the way forward according to you? The National Maritime policy was framed around six years ago and is yet to be approved. One of the recommendations was to institute or enact Maritime affairs Ministry which was done by the previous government.
There are also some issues related to the 18th amendment under which a number of sectors have been devolved in the provinces. The role of the Pakistan Navy with Chief of the Naval Staff being the Chief Nautical Advisor also needs to be enhanced further. There is also a need to encourage the private sector to invest in this sector.
SST: Are there any competitors to Gwadar? Also comment on the perception that certain international powers do not want Gwadar to flourish?
Gwadar and CPEC are both under the cloud of China’s containment policy of the US and the West, (with India being the strategic partner with the U.S.) As nations always pursue their national interests, therefore there will be competition as well as conflicts. With respect to rival ports, there is enough of a pie for everyone to take its due share. There will be competitors like Salalah port, Jebel Ali port and Chahbahar port, but we have strategic advantage with respect to our geographical location vis-a-vis China and other Central Asian states to whom we can offer transit trade facilities. As far as Chahbahar is concerned, India had set an investment target of $500 million, but that has not yet materialized. This year only $5 million were invested due to the overall geopolitical situation in the region where India has decided to partner with the U.S.
SST: What are some of the hurdles hampering Pakistan’s progress in the maritime sector?
One of the major hurdles hampering growth in the maritime sector is our ‘sea blindness’ which means that there is very little knowledge and understanding of maritime affairs because of our continental mindset. Relevant quarters have also not been sensitized enough by the Navy and other stakeholders to see to it that the maritime sector which offers huge potential is developed. Another hurdle is the ‘policy framework’, its implementation on the ground has severely impeded the growth of not only fisheries but also shipbuilding and shipping industry. The result being that from a high of 50 ships in the early 70s, we are down to only 11 ships. So essentially the policy framework, lack of awareness and the attention required to the maritime sector have been missing for many years. But with the increasing realization of the importance of sea especially with Gwadar being the focal point of CPEC, hopefully, things will get better.
SST: Any message to the readers?
Pakistan has a vital role to play in not only the future of Asia but the whole world. As our great Quaid said that Pakistan will be a pivot to whatever happens in the world. Therefore, there is no reason to despair, we have great potential and I have great hopes with the future generations to see that Pakistan becomes a progressive and prosperous nation in the comity of Nations.