Strategic situation in Indian Ocean with U.S., Chinese and Indian bases and port facilities

by Shakir Ali     15 January 2021


In ancient times, the maritime domain was considered a sense of security by littorals, besides comprising excess of mineral resources. It also provided them an opportunity to focus on tangible and non-tangible threats emanating from the land. With the availability of technology and advancement in seafaring, the intensity of challenges emerging from the sea has also increased. In the maritime domain, Pakistan is putting forth much focus on its naval capabilities and its interest in the Indian Ocean in the Post-COVID days. The traditional security challenge that includes militarization, nuclearization, and alliance-making bring Pakistan’s maritime domain into limelight politics. This paper argues the importance of maritime security for Pakistan in the wake of US-India naval engagement in the Afro-Asian region. This paper elucidates: (a) geopolitical and geo-economic of Indian Ocean (b) development of Pakistan’s maritime strategy (c) US-India maritime engagement (d) Implications for Pakistan (e) Policy options for Pakistan.

Geo-political and Geo-economic of Indian Ocean:

According to famous geographer Robert D Kaplan, the Indian Ocean is bounded by Asia on the north, west by Africa, east by Australia, and the south by Antarctica. This waterbody consists of about 30 straits and channels and adjoining the Indian ocean in which the important ones are as follow: Strait of Malacca (between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore), Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Babel-Mandeb (between south Yemen and Djibouti), Mozambique channel (between Mozambique and Malagasy republic), Suez route (connect Mediterranean sea and red sea through Suez canal)[i]. Strategically it is important to world trade routes for 90% of world trade through the shipping industry and provides a predominant passageway for oil from the Persian Gulf to various destinations worldwide.

There are thirty-six littoral and eleven hinterland states in this region, making it a total number of fourth-seven independent states. Geopolitically every state in this region is trying to secure their maritime interest in this region, which results in a clash of strategic interests and the power struggle between extra-regional power, regional power, and small resident states.

Pakistan being a littoral state, imported twenty million tons of oil through the sea. Oil fulfills thirty-two percent of energy necessity and thirty-eight of power generation. Therefore, in this context, the maintenance and modernization of Pakistan’s maritime security are like the human body’s backbone [ii].

Development in Pakistan maritime strategy:

Pakistan’s maritime strategy came into practice and hit the headlines after the 9/11 events. From 2001 to 2010, Pakistan has been becoming a member of japan led operation ‘Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation (OEF-MIO)’ to counter-terrorism in the Indian ocean with the collaboration of 36 countries[iii]. The operation ran successfully for ten years and halted in January 2010 due to domestic issues in japan. Pakistan was a constructive member of this operation throughout its course. In January 2009, Pakistan joined combined task force-151 to ensure maritime security and control piracy activities in the Indian Ocean (particularly in Somalia)[iv].  Pakistan navy has commanded CTF-151 eight times recorded in maritime history. Pakistan has quitted CTF-151 due to worsening relations with the US[v].

The first-ever maritime doctrine of Pakistan was launched by the President of Pakistan on 20 December 2018. The maritime doctrine has ten chapters, and its aims vividly visible from Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mehmood Abbasi words, “MDP aims to act as a catalyst for synergizing efforts and resources of various stakeholders in the development of the country’s maritime sector, which has lacked vitality despite vast potential.”

Moreover, Pakistan’s maritime doctrine is working on the 3S principle. I.e., maintaining its naval strategic autonomy, stability in the Afro-Asian region and strengthen its maritime domain to secure its primary naval interest[vi].

In 2018, Pakistan also created independent regional maritime security patrols (RMSP) to combat traditional and non-traditional threats in Afro-Asia pacific[vii]. On 4 March 2019, Pakistan Navy detected an Indian navy submarine trying to enter into Pakistan seabed. However, Pakistan halts its excellently while maintaining its maritime sovereignty. This kind of event portrays Pakistan’s navy commitment towards the defense of its maritime domain. Pakistan’s navy also plays a pivotal role in the maritime domain through maritime diplomacy[viii]. Through maritime diplomacy, Pakistan’s navy has successful in joining international maritime mechanisms like AMAN in 2007. It is a multinational naval drill in which 45 countries from all over the world have participated. It’s aimed at common interests like maritime security and economic security. The 6th AMAN international drill was held in Karachi, Pakistan, with effect from 9 to 12 February 2019[ix].

US-India Maritime Engagement:

While knowing about the geopolitical, geo-economics, and geo-military aspects of the Indian Ocean in the global strategic calculus, India is determined to convert its navy into a ‘blue-water navy,’ a highly modernized mechanism to protect India’s key national interests in the Indian Ocean. Along with practicing naval diplomacy and Assured-Second Strike Capability, the Indian navy also wants to get a wide range of conventional and nuclear capabilities. Such kind of modernizing plans will disturb the strategic stability, thus causing an imbalance of power in the Afro-Asian region while giving an immense leverage power to India[x].

Moreover, in the wake of emerging china, The US has knotted strategic ties with India and is fully supporting India in its maritime expansion. This is portrayed from the facts that while having a bitter historical background in defense cooperation, the US and India did naval handshake in 2015 under US Secretary Ash Carter and former Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar. This naval cooperation between the two largest democracies set common maritime security principal “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region”[xi]. Deepen maritime diplomacy is portrayed because the US joined the Trilateral Malabar exercise hosted by India in the Bay of Bengal in 2015[xii]. In 2016, US Secretary Ash Carter and former Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar had agreed to sign an agreement named as Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Under this agreement, both countries’ navy uses each other bases and ports for refueling and logistic purpose[xiii].

The 2+2 dialogue under Trump and Modi’s administration held in 2018 is the major roadmap towards US-India strategic relationship. This dialogue yield two agreements, i.e., Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA)[xiv].  Under the COMCASA agreement, it will help India import highly advanced strategic and defense equipment from the US, which will help India procure its maritime, airspace, and land territory[xv]. Under BECA, it will allow India to get geospatial information from the US for combatant and non-combatant purposes[xvi].

Such kind of India’s naval modernizing strategy will disturb the strategic stability, thus causing an imbalance of power in the Afro-Asian region while giving an immense leverage power to India.

Implications on Pakistan:

In the US effort of maintaining the international world order, India emerged as a major regional ally.   The wake of growing strategic relationships between the US and India in the Indian Ocean has triggered many challenges to the Afro-Asian region, especially to Pakistan.

  1. In the arena of convergence of strategic interest, the US has declared India as a net security provider of a so-called indo-pacific region. This will give a new motivation to India to adopt belligerence strategies towards its neighbors, particularly towards Pakistan[xvii].
  2. Since independence, Pakistan and India have a pattern of enmity in their relationship, so it is the fact that Indian maritime strategy in the Indian Ocean would be Pakistani centric. Moreover, the strategic trade authorization status would help India import strategic weapons from the US to undermine Pakistan’s security and counter china[xviii].
  • Geo-strategically, some scholars considered US-India maritime engagement in the Indian Ocean as a way to undermine the importance of CPEC. It would deter the flow of energy from the Middle East’s energy-rich states to economic Asian tigers (china) by advancing their naval muscle by reaching access to the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman[xix].

Policy Options for Pakistan:

After reading so many researcher papers and research articles, I have drawn the following foreign policy options for Pakistan in the wake of the growing US-India strategic partnership in the Indian Ocean.

  1. For the sake of economic security in this region, the government of Pakistan and the republic of china should draft a comprehensive security strategy to mediate and manage pressure coming from the Indian navy offensive behavior in the Indian Ocean and Afro-Asia Pacific. While countering traditional security threats, there is also a dire need to counter non-traditional security threats.
  2. The government of Pakistan should play its role as a bridge to mitigate conflict between china and India in the maritime domain through maritime diplomacy.
  3. Pakistan should portray its foreign policy objectives in the Indian Ocean based on cooperation rather than confrontation with littoral states and hinterland states.
  4. Through soft-power diplomacy, Pakistan should engage China, India, and the US to develop nuclear restraint regime to halt a nuclear weapon’s deployment in the Indian Ocean.
  5. Finally, it is the dire need of time that the government of Pakistan should increase the naval budget and develop sea-based deterrence.


Pakistan is one of the littoral states of the Afro-Asia pacific. From independence to 2010, Pakistan put forth much more focus on security emanating from the land. Pakistan’s maritime domain comes into the limelight after the first-ever maritime doctrine was launched in 2018 by Pakistan’s president. In the wake of emerging china, the US has knotted strategic ties with India in the Indian Ocean because of their shared interest. This strategic tie has given new leverage, power and superiority to India in the traditional security dynamics. The supplement of new strategic leverage power to rising India will have serious threats to the balance of power to the Afro-Asian region and Pakistan.

However, it is important to note that the major threats for the Afro-Asian Pacific region, especially for Pakistan, emanate from US-India naval engagement in the Indian Ocean would be counter through active soft power coercive diplomacy.



[i] Kaplan, Robert D. 2011. Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and The Future of American Power. 1st ed. New York City, United States: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

[ii] 2012.

[iii] Tanter, Richard. 2011. “The MSDF Indian Ocean Deployment – Blue Water Militarization in A “Normal Country” | Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability.” Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability | We Hold That It Is Possible to Build Peace, Create Security, And Restore Sustainability for All People in Our Time.

[iv] “Pakistan Navy Assumes Command Of Combined Task Force-151”. 2020. Radio.Gov.Pk.

[v] Javaid, Osama. 2018. “Pakistan Quits Anti-Piracy Force Amid Worsening US Ties.” Aljazeera.Com.

[vi] Khan, Cdr (Retd) Azam. 2019. “Pakistan Launches First Formal Maritime Doctrine – Global Village Space.” Global Village Space.

[vii] Ansari, Usman. 2020. “Pakistan’s Naval Chief Talks Regional Security And Tech Wish List”. Defense News.

[viii] Siddiqui, Naveed. 2019. “Pakistan Navy Foils Attempt By Indian Submarine To Enter Pakistani Waters”. DAWN.COM.

[ix] 2019.

[x] Sethi, Sandeep. 2014. “Indian Navy: The Quest For Blue Waters – Indian Defense Review”. Indian Defense Review.

[xi] author, no. 2016. “Assessing US-India Relations: The Strategic Handshake”. Thediplomat.Com.

[xii] “Indo-US Exercise – Malabar 15”. 2015.

[xiii] raj, Yashwant. 2016. “India, US Sign Military Logistics Agreement”. Hindustan Times.

[xiv] MORGAN ORTAGUS, DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON. 2020. “Highlights Of 2020 U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue”.

[xv] Panda, Ankit. 2018. “What the Recently Concluded US-India COMCASA Means”. Thediplomat.Com.

[xvi] Roy, Shubhajit. 2020. “Explained: BECA, And the Importance Of 3 Foundational Pacts of India-US Defense Cooperation”. The Indian Express.

[xvii] Haider, M., 2016. Pakistan Concerned Over Growing Indo-US Ties: Sartaj Aziz. [online] DAWN.COM. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 January 2021].

[xviii] ibid

[xix] BHADRAKUMAR, M., 2015. Obama Deserves His Nobel: M.K. Bhadrakumar. [online] Asia Times. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 January 2021].


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