The Pakistan Navy hosted ‘Aman-2021’ from February 11-16. The exercise was the seventh edition of ‘AMAN series’ of exercises, which started in 2007, and is held by Pakistan Navy biennially. This year’s edition was conducted off Karachi and the participants included Chinese, Turkish and Russian warships, among others.
This exercise was touted by some Pak media as Pakistan’s “opportunity to project a positive image as a key player in regional peace and stability”. Further, the six-day long exercise was said to “affirm Pakistan’s resolve of cooperation against terrorism” — a rather rich statement coming from a country which is in itself a major contributor to terrorism, violence, illegal activities and instability in the region.
While it is heartening to see Pakistan take requisite measures to position itself as a harbinger of peace and stability in the region, given Pakistan’s long-standing struggle with its own internal demons, some of which have spilt over to its neighbourhood over the years, it is doubtful such an Exercise will accrue any tangible results in the long run.
For instance, the exercise was hosted in Karachi which has been rife with sectarian violence. The Pak National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had issued a terror alert in January this year, warning of terror incidents in Karachi. This was followed by another news report dated 3rd February from Samaa TV, a Pakistani Urdu language news television network, which has quoted NACTA and warned that terrorists are planning a VBIED attack on an ‘unspecified important government department’ in the near future. Adding on to the security woes, numerous reports highlighting Karachi’s notoriety as a hub for narcotics trade in Pakistan wouldn’t provide much comfort to the participating nations either!
Further, two recent developments cogently foreground Pakistan’s hypocritical, and somewhat questionable commitment to peace and stability. Recently, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the abductor and murderer of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl to international opprobrium. Secondly, according to reports, on January 8, 2021, the Anti-Terrorism Court at Gujranwala ordered the arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar on charges of terror financing. Experts indicate that the Pakistani court’s actions are clearly linked to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) beginning the process to review Islamabad’s efforts to counter terror financing and money laundering in the recent weeks. In light of these developments, Pakistan hosting an exercise called, ‘Aman’, meaning ‘peace’ seems morally fraught at the least.
One should recall that the terrorists who used the sea route to orchestrate the 26/11 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai came from Pakistan. It would be interesting to also note that in November 2020, Pakistan’s top investigating body, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had admitted that 11 terrorists involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were Pakistanis. In addition, it still figures in the FATF Grey List for terror financing. Internally, the media has been rife with reports of Pakistan’s castigation of places of worship belonging to non-Islamic denominations. Recently, on December 30, 2020, more than 1,000 Pakistani citizens led by a local cleric belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) attacked, looted valuables and demolished the Krishna Dwara temple, despite the Pakistan Hindu Council having alerted local authorities. Given these on-ground facts, one wonders whether Aman-21 is nothing more than an exercise in self-deception.
Apples and Oranges
The relentless ‘India- obsession’ that most Pakistani thinkers and journalists suffer from include even the Pakistani PM Imran Khan. Given the Pakistan PM’s recent outburst at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, it can safely be surmised that reason and logic become the first casualties of such obsession. Comparisons between Aman-21 and Ex-Malabar compromises logic for rhetoric, and choosing jingoism over substance.
Ex-Malabar started as a bilateral exercise, established in 1992, between the Indian Navy and the US Navy. Over the years, given the commitment of the two navies towards freedom of navigation and good order at sea, the exercise has today grown to include other like-minded naval powers such as Japan and Australia which share the common belief of rules-based international order. Here, like-minded means ‘democracies’. Thus, positioning Ex-Malabar as a symbol of ‘Indian hegemony’ in the IOR is not only misinformed, but also betrays a dysfunctional understanding of modern-day geopolitics.
With regard to Aman-21, what Pakistan needs to understand is that by conducting an exercise to merely “project a positive image”, with little on-ground capital to back its initiatives, rings hollow. For instance, Ex-Malabar is only a part of the larger narrative that India and the Indian Navy fulfill in the IOR. These are augmented by sincere efforts towards genuinely fostering peace and stability in the region. For instance, earlier in 2020, as part of PM Modi’s vision of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) and Indian Navy’s reputation as the Preferred Security Partner, India undertook three Covid-related outreach Missions to provide food and medical aid; SAGAR-I to five IOR nations, SAGAR-II to four East African nations and SAGAR-III to two South-East Asian nations. The SAGAR-IV mission ro Comoros and Madagascar is presently being undertaken by the Indian Navy’s largest amphibious platform INS Jalashwa. The Navy also deployed a warship in the conflicted waters off Somalia to escort food-aid vessels of UNWFP, the 2020 Nobel Peace Laureate.
Likewise, Exercise Samudra Setu entailed evacuation of 3,992 Indian citizens by Indian Naval ships in the aftermath of the outbreak of Covid-19, while the Indian Navy has been an integral part of the ongoing ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, which has already supplied the two indigenously manufactured vaccines to over 15 countries including Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. In an unsurprising gesture of goodwill, India has also offered its vaccine to locally-posted Chinese and Pakistani diplomats.
Modern day geopolitics is more than a matter of who has a bigger gun. It entails fostering genuine goodwill through sincere efforts. Perhaps, Pakistan should bear this in mind the next time it organizes an orgy of photo ops for the world, while a pitched-existential battle in the form of terrorism, hunger and poverty rages on within.
(Binay Kumar Singh is an author and columnist. He can be reached at Twitter: @BinayBharat. The views expressed are personal)