Iranian Maritime Policy – Matrix of opportunities, threats and challenges for Pakistan

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Iranian Maritime Policy - Matrix of opportunities, threats and challenges for Pakistan

Ousama Khurshid Khan |

Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expanding its regional influence in all sphere i.e. socially, culturally, militarily and by modern tools of asymmetrical warfare. The strategic culture of Iran depends upon the Shiite ideology of Islam and some of its glances can be witnessed in its strategic objectives. As a result of this strategic culture, the traditional foreign policy has changed into a revisionist foreign policy, which adheres to a universal ambition of changing the Muslim world in its own image. The pursuit of this strategic culture has led Iran towards focusing more towards it naval power.

The giant Iran maritime force (IMF), the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN), the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) are the components of Iran’s naval power. Analyzing the maritime policy of Iran, the assessment can be made that the Persian Gulf and much of Central Asia are considered as their “Near Aboard” by Iran. Iran claims 20% of the Caspian Sea whereas International arena considers only 12% of the Sea as Iran’s legitimate claim. The claim makes it evident that Iran wants territorial expansionism, which has been a psychological order of Tehran’ in its history.

Back in 2012 Tehran performed naval exercises including minelaying and minesweeping exercises. Iran is using the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) for their strategic expansion, as (IRIN) took part in those exercises. Iran also claims several islands on the Persian Gulf such as Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb and Abu Musa and has physical presence there. These islands are considered as the pivotal point for Iran Maritime Policy because these islands are on the juncture of Strait of Hormuz.

Interestingly UAE claims the ownership of these Islands but Iran has established garrisons and bases on these islands. Iran claims the control of the Strait of Hormuz because of physical presence over these Islands. Iran conducted massive naval exercise at the start of August 2018 in the Persian Gulf in order to give a signal of battle readiness to Washington before it would impose new sanctions. According to reports, around 100 vessels took part in the drills. This was a power show in the Persian Gulf, right on the Strait of Hormuz and raised serious concerns for the regional maritime powers.

Iran is a neighbor of Pakistan, sharing land and sea borders. Last year two Iranian Ships named as Naghdi and Tonb came to Karachi for a training visit which was presumed to be a new start in the maritime domain from of Pakistan. It is fact of the matter that Iran is a strategic ally of India as they are competing the Chabahar port. Iran is well aware of the fact that Chabahar is not having the potential which Gwadar has. On contrary at the inauguration of Chabahar, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said, he wanted ‘More engagement and unity” in the region, explaining, “We should go after positive competition”.

Moreover, Iran has plans to export electricity from Gwadar Port in the near future which is a signal of mutual cooperation but India in the equation is the trembling stone. In order to mitigate the Indian threat, Pakistan needs to bring in Beijing and should try a flagship project in the maritime domain. The fact of the matter is that Iran rely on China as a strategic partner in the Persian Gulf as they have a common enemy, the USA. Moreover, the commercial relation between China and Iran is very strong as China is the buyer of Iranian oil commodities. China has exported important military equipment to Tehran and provided key enabling technologies to the Iranian military-industrial complex. Hence, Pakistan should take China on board as mentioned above in order to draft a proper Maritime Policy and learn from Chinese and Iranian experience in big seas.

Another way to dilute this expansionism threat and to convert it into a strategic alliance is to take Oman onboard and initiate a flagship project with a Pak-Iran-Oman (PIO) troika in order to strengthen the alliances in the Persian Gulf as well. The viability of this project is positive as Pakistan and Oman had naval exercises two months ago and on the 26th of August, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called for boosting maritime cooperation between Iran and Oman. The whole situation can be turned into the convergence of interests with a win-win situation. Both Oman and Iran are facing, sanctions from the US whereas Pakistan is tilted towards Chinese and Russian camps now.

This alliance is more needed by Iran and Oman than Pakistan. People sitting in the echelons of the Maritime Sector should gain momentum for this troika alliance which shall be beneficial for the development of Pakistan Maritime Sector. Another attraction for this alliance would be the availability of Gwadar port not only for strategic use but the ‘trade policy’ should be devised between these three countries. In this maritime alliance, if Russia or China should be taken on board as an observer, it will shake the grounds for the USA, whereas Oman and Tehran will surely cooperate in this strategic partnership.

The contours of the international arena are changing frequently and major powers are now focusing on to build their naval power. Pakistan must chart down its Naval Doctrine as CPEC is now operational and because it is sharing naval boundaries with India and Iran. Pakistan must acknowledge the fact that China is a strategic ally of Iran whereas Pakistan is not, on contrary India is also a strategic partner of Iran but Pakistan is not. Though there is no immediate threat, but the Navy of Pakistan should be prepared for the coming era.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. Sun Tzu

Ousama Khurshid Khan is a lecturer, political commentator and presenter of Cutting Edge program on UNEWS. Ousama is also serving as a distinguished visiting faculty at Pir Mehar Ali Shah University Rawalpindi. He is an M.Phil. Scholar of National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan. His area of interests are US Foreign Policy, Indo-Pacific Strategy and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Perspectives.

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