Pakistan’s top diplomat Sartaj Aziz has accused India of having an “expansionist” maritime security strategy and said that Sir Creek in Gujarat, a tidal estuary on the border of India and Pakistan poses a “threat” to the security of the Indian Ocean. “The un-demarcated borders in Sir Creek have the potential to cast a shadow on maritime security. India’s evolving expansionist maritime security strategy is a cause for concern for peace in Indian Ocean,” alleged Mr Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs. He made these remarks at a conference on ‘Strategic outlook in Indian Ocean Region 2030 and Beyond – Evolving Challenges and Strategies’ which was organised by Pakistan’s Navy as part of a multi-nation five-day naval exercise in the Arabian Sea.
Mr Aziz went on to say that the “nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean has also led to further instability in the region.” He said that with 95 per cent of Pakistan’s trade taking place through sea, Pakistan was heavily dependent on a tension-free Indian Ocean. Mr Aziz said Pakistan is third largest Indian Ocean littoral country and as a matter of policy it continues to pursue the goals of realising the economic potential of the region.
“We are aware of our national interests and every effort would be made to strengthen our capacity to ensure that we remain ready to meet the emerging maritime security challenges. For us, to remain oblivious of the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean Region is not an option. These developments have a direct impact on our security and prosperity,” he said.
Continuing his speech, Mr Aziz said that the Indian Ocean Region contains several conflict zones and the region’s maritime security challenges have grown and are affected by key variables such as militarisation, the involvement of major and extra-regional powers, and non-traditional security threats. “On the other hand, the militarisation of the Indian Ocean region, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased missile capabilities and power projection by foreign militaries are a threat to peace in the Indian Ocean Region. And this trend is likely to intensify in the coming years,” he said.
“And to add to this complex scenario, today, the Indian Ocean faces many non-traditional security challenges and threats including piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking, drug smuggling, trafficking of weapons, maritime pollution and climate change,” he added.
Mr Aziz also spoke about Pakistan’s claim of being a strategic stakeholder in the security of the Indian Ocean region. “Our interests emanate from our coastline that is over 1000 kilometres long, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of around 300,000 square kilometres, the Karachi port and the newly built deep sea port of Gawadar,” he said, speaking about the coastline in Balochistan.
He claimed that due to presence of several powers in the Indian Ocean, the changing power balance and relentless pursuit of national interest, analysts believe that many global struggles will play out here in the 21st century.
Highlighting the significance of the Indian Ocean, Mr Aziz said that it provides connectivity to the Middle East, Africa and Australia with Europe. “An estimated 55 per cent of known oil reserves of the world and 40 per cent of gas reserves are located in this region. Today, some 40 per cent of the global trade passes through the Indian Ocean,” he said.
“Ports in the Indian Ocean handle about 30 per cent of global trade and half of the world’s container traffic traverses the Ocean,” he added.
Mr Aziz said that in order to ensure a secure, peaceful and prosperous Indian Ocean Region, “we need a strategy that is integrated, inter-sectoral and multidisciplinary, and aims at promoting a maritime economy that is innovative, competitive and environment-friendly.”
Institutional cooperation and synergies between the institutions in the Indian Ocean Region is important, he added.