|Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone: Opportunities, Challenges and Strategies|
Pakistan must exploit its maritime potential: IPS Seminar
Lack of awareness about its enormous maritime potential, especially among the ruling elite, was failing Pakistan as a nation to exploit its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Indian Ocean – up to 200 nautical miles along the country’s 1000km coastline – which is extremely rich in biodiversity, seafood, minerals and hydrocarbon resources and covers an area more than the size of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces combined.
This was the crux of a seminar titled “Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone: Opportunities, Challenges and Strategies” held at Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad on August 11, 2016. An overarching authority at the federal level to look after the maritime affairs of the country was the key proposal.
The main speaker of the interactive session was Commander (retd) Dr Azhar Ahmad, senior IPS associate and head of social sciences, Bahria University, Islamabad, while Rear Admiral (retd) Salim Akhtar was in the chair. It was attended by a number of officials from various government ministries and armed forces, policy analysts, researchers, and students.
The seminar was also apprised that after the lapse of several years the outdated national maritime policy of 2002 has been revised with the input of the concerned ministries and has been forwarded to the cabinet division for further processing.
The speaker and participants were unanimous in their views that awareness and required research to explore and quantify the economic potential of Pakistan’s maritime resources has remained a neglected area with those at the helm of affairs, which was the main hurdle in the way of the country to become a maritime nation.
Dr Ahmad apprised the audience of the vision of the founding fathers of the country about this area of national importance that despite the meagre resources in the early years of independence two research vessels were commissioned for the purpose in as early as 1948. They continued to survey the ocean and its resources in Pakistan’s maritime territory till 1990 when they were decommissioned due to poor condition.
Since then no meaningful effort has been made to invest in maritime research and economic mapping of the seabed, except for a couple of projects with foreign assistance, and even the National Institute of Oceanography was trying to procure a research vessel for the last several years with no success so far, unfortunately, he told the participants.
He also underscored the need for creating an overarching national authority to control the maritime affairs of the country as the coordination between several ministries at the federal and provincial level in this critical sector was too cumbersome, especially after the passage of the 18th amendment.
Rear Admiral (retd) Salim Akhtar, in his concluding remarks, highlighted the issue of severe sea pollution caused by untreated industrial waste and oil spill in harbors in the coastal belt of the country, especially Karachi, which has caused colossal damage to marine life and subsequently to seafood exports that were banned by EU a few years ago due to high concentration of pollutants in the fish catch off Pakistan’s coast.
He also lamented the corruption in the fisheries department and lack of modern vessels and technology in the country for fishing in the high seas which was allowing foreign fishing trawlers a heyday in Pakistani waters, while the majority of poor Pakistani fishermen can only fish in the polluted seawater near the coast in their small-sized boats.
To a question about involving Pakistan’s EEZ in the CPEC project, Akhtar said that though this historic project between China and Pakistan was about linking Gwadar with Xinxiang through road infrastructure and industrial zones, Pakistan Navy should also be equipped to provide seaward security to CPEC.