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Harnessing Pakistan’s maritime opportunities

Harnessing Pakistan’s maritime opportunities
Taj M Khattak JUNE 5, 2018

Pakistan’s EEZ and extended continental shelf constitutes over 35% of its land and it has a sea front of more than 1000 kilometers. More than 90% of our trade by volume and 70% by value is carried out through sea, yet the maritime sector has not been adequately exploited for accrual of optimal benefits and advantages. One important reason from amongst many for this failure is that maritime issues are not high on the national strategic thinking.

The oceans are rich in living and non-living resources and can generate wind, tidal, thermal and biomass energy. It is also a major source of food and an avenue for livelihood in such industries as fisheries, tourism, ports, shipping and ship building, to name a few. Pakistan’s exploration in these areas for its economic development has been far from satisfactory. In recent times the sustainable economic activity in maritime sector has been called Blue Economy after the term was first mentioned by Gunter Pauli, a self-styled entrepreneur of Belgian origin, who published a book on the subject in 2010. He juxtaposed the huge potential and benefits of Blue Economy to those of Green Economy and his ideas were considered so revolutionary at the time that was called ‘Steve Jobs of sustainable development’. Since then there is a growing universal trend to pay more attention to world’s oceans and seas. Every country which has access to sea has accelerated its efforts to harness maritime opportunities within the framework of Blue Economy.

Although Pakistan has benefitted from expanded mandate of UNCLOS and has acquired sovereign jurisdiction on sea bed beyond its EEZ, it is still lagging behind significantly in translating policy frameworks of a Blue Economy by such institutions as United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Global Oceans Commission, Global Partnership for Oceans. In the region around us also, a number of multilateral institutions like SAARC, APEC, East Asia Summit, and IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) are engaged in developing cooperative strategies and action plans towards sustainable development of marine resources. All these bodies are constantly providing new prominence to oceans and seas. Their policy options and proposed models should be considered for new initiatives to build our national capacity. China has gone even further and initiated Five Years Development Plans for National Marine Economy which monitors progress of various marine sectors on a regular basis.

Across the globe, concept of Blue Economy is finding resonance among a number of countries. National agendas for post-2015 development plans for sustainable development of resources and economic expansion are being worked around it. At the core of this concept lies the idea of ‘optimization of natural resources within ecological limits’ and ‘de-hyphenating socioeconomic development from environmental degradation’.

Pakistan appears more focused on advancing the concept of Green Economy for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. This is understandable as only a very small percentage of country’s population lives within a short distance from the sea and a vast majority is historically land oriented. But ignoring maritime sector any longer would be a grave mistake in view of its overwhelming economic benefits and fast changing global trends.

Pakistan’s maritime sector is a vital component of national economic and military power and there is an inevitable linkage between economy and security. Maritime affairs all over the world are transnational by nature and Pakistan is no exception. Yet, arguably, matters of the sea are least regulated by consensual rules and instruments amongst littoral states. This has allowed the influence of militarily strong and financially better endowed to creep in. Our fishing community routinely protests about violations of the country’s fishing resources by vessels from afar but doesn’t get much attention. Our lack of interest in maritime realm has painted us as a nation of weak resolve and encouraged an extraneous predatory phenomenon – this has to be checked and reversed.

If we are aspiring to be a rising Asian economic power in the decades ahead, we will have to pay more attention to developing our maritime sector especially in such aspects as ship construction, expansion of national shipping fleet, and improvement of port infrastructure for docking modern vessels with much larger cargo carrying capacity as it is happening in some neighboring countries. In this regard, the recent approval of developing a shipyard at Gwadar is a good sign in foreseeable future for shipbuilding in Pakistan.