'Sea blindness' seems to be an issue here. The 1,000 km coastline, extending from Iran in the west, and India to the east, already presents Pakistan with a number of security challenges though there is no doubt that the Pakistan Navy is capable of addressing these. But the CPEC will bring new considerations, which must be factored in. However, while the nation is highly supportive and aware of the Army's important role in the security of the country, few seem to give much thought to that of the Navy. Somehow, the wider population seems to be blind to the threats that come from the sea, perhaps because it does not resonate with our daily lives in the way the possibility of a terror attack in our cities does. The risks are real and there is no room for such blindness. The Indian Navy, for example, is building up its Navy with new warships, nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier. Compare this to the Pakistan Navy and it is easy to understand the increasing imbalance in maritime deterrence. While talks between Pakistan and India are on the cards in the hope of reducing the bilateral threats, we cannot know what the future will hold. History tells us to be wary.
Established in 2009, the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) is also a multinational Naval Task Force set up to combat piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. Its mission is to disrupt piracy and armed robbery at sea and to engage with regional and other partners to build capacity and capabilities to protect global maritime commerce and secure freedom of navigation. It operates in conjunction with the EU's Operation Atalanta and Nato's Operation Ocean Shield. At times, the Pakistan Navy has taken its turn in leading the Task Forces. According to my international defence sources, Pakistan's leadership was very highly regarded, as has been its overall participation. However, this has had little publicity here in Pakistan.
The substantial experience gained from participation in these Task Forces will stand the Navy well in its role to provide maritime security for the CPEC. This new role could be transformative for the Navy in Pakistan through drawing greater attention to their role and the need for greater budgetary support for future requirements, which will need to be addressed in terms of ships, equipment and possibly manpower.
Maritime exercises are being conducted with the Chinese Navy, which also has a strong interest in the maritime security of CPEC and to protect the massive investment. This will further enhance the Pakistan Navy's capabilities and extend its relationships with foreign maritime forces beyond the existing Task Force commitments.