As Pakistan hosts AMAN-17 from 10 to14 February 17, it is worthwhile remembering the origins and aims of the multi-national naval exercise and accompanying conference, plus the importance of the biennial eventnow being held for the fifth time. The AMAN series kicked off in 2007. It was the first regular multinational maritime exercise of its kind to be established in the region, and remains the only such multilateral event where countries such as China and the US regularly participate. It was established against the backdrop of piracy, terrorism, and increasing fears of illegal use of the sea in general throughout the Indian-Pacific region. As a result Pakistan Navy, with experience gained from participating in the counter terrorism related Coalition Task Force-150 and patrolling in and around home waters, took the initiative to bring together regional and extra-regional navies to participate in a conference and naval exercise to counter these threats. This was attended by a wide range of regional participants and observers plus extra regional naval powers and concerned parties. There were a number of stated aims, to display a united resolve against terrorism, enhance co-operation and inter-operability between friendly regional and extra-regional navies, promote regional peace and stability,harmonise tactical procedures at sea, and highlight Pakistan navy’s position as a bridge between regions, plus promote a positive image of Pakistan in general.Considering Pakistan’s strategic location where Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East meet, commanding the sea lines of communication (SLOC) to and from the Gulf, as well as being a gateway to Central Asia (and now China), AMAN as a tool to help improve Pakistan’s global standing and highlight the efforts it makes to ensure regional stability as part of wider global efforts, is a valuable event. The accompanying conference, which brought together a large number of military and civilian academics and other interested parties, such as government and non-government actors, dealt with maritime threats and opportunities in the twenty-first century with a focus on the Indian Ocean region. It sought to raise awareness of the ocean’s importance, identify and promote areas of common interest, achieve a consensus on what issues are confronting the region and come to a conclusion on how to minimise threats. AMAN-07 was well-attended, with 28 countries participated by sending Observers, 14 ships from Bangladesh, China, France, Italy, Malaysia, UK and USA, SOF/EOD teams from Bangladesh and Turkey. Most of these nations were even then heavily committed throughout the region, attempting to ensure maritime security and combating illegal use of the sea, so their recognition of Pakistan taking the initiative to organise AMAN by participating was appreciated. Since then, AMAN has grown in both size and stature (with some countries such as Japan also now sending maritime patrol aircraft like it did in 2011 and 2013), but it remains a multinational exercise that is unique in many ways. A number of key western states such as Australia, Britain, France, and the US have participated by sending warships to attend since 2007. These are notable for their powerful navies and commitment to multilateral security endeavours, and therefore have a wealth of experience to share. However, AMAN has been notable for the regular attendance of warships from states that are not usually participants in such multinational exercises. Bangladesh for example has sent warships and patrol vessels in AMAN 2007 and 2013. Ensuring maritime stability, be it securing its maritime boundaries or combating illegal use of the sea that may disrupt its trade and vitally important fishing industry, is crucial for Bangladesh, especially considering potentially sizable offshore energy deposits. It also faces threats from terrorism, and instability from neighbouring Burma, and consequently has been steadily modernising and expanding its navy. Regular participation in AMAN certainly gives Bangladesh an opportunity to learn from more experienced navies, and apply these lessons domestically. Indonesia and Malaysia have faced home grown piracy in the Malacca Straits, which is almost but not entirely eliminated. Along with Singapore, both countries have increased anti-piracy co-operation efforts as they are unwilling, (essentially unable), to singlehandedly meet the cost of patrolling what is in effect an international waterway used free of cost by all nations’ maritime shipping. Piracy remains a problem in other areas of the world however. Some developing nations are wary of anti-piracy missions undertaken by extra-regional navies due to the legacy of colonialism when anti-piracy missions were occasionally the pretext colonial expansion. Such local co-operation as undertaken by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, or Pakistan’s example in establishing the AMAN series could at least serve as inspiration elsewhere therefore. The Saudi Arabian and UAE navies, (more recent participants in multilateral security endeavours), also attend AMAN to learn and share experiences gained from participating in the Gulf based security endeavour CTF-152. Both have powerful navies that are being modernised to handle a wide range of challenges, and they are likely to be increasingly active as a result. A notable recent attendee has been the Sri Lankan Navy, which in 2013 attended with a missile boat.Sri Lanka’s navy was instrumental in ending the bitter 26 year civil war and consequently has a wealth of experience in fighting terrorism and illegal activity at sea. Now facing the challenge of transforming itself into a peacetime organization, it may need to look to others to help restructure its forces.Turkey’s continued support (attending with a frigate in 2013) highlights the very strong Pakistan-Turkey naval relationship, with Turkey committed to supporting regional stability and forging closer links with Pakistan as it helps modernise its navy. The Turkish Navy has not had a regular naval presence in the Indian Ocean region for nearly a hundred years, but that has changed, not least because of its strong commitments to stabilising Somalia. AMAN has also been notable for the regular participation of China. AMAN was the first regular multinational naval, exercise China participated in, and one in which the US and other Western nations also attended alongside Chinese warships. China is a time-tested ally of Pakistan, one which is fast modernising its naval power and expanding its global presence and commitments, most notably its anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa. Despite playing its part in ensuring the stability of the Indian Ocean region China’s rise has nevertheless been regarded warily by some other nations. Fully drawing China into a wider maritime security regime may therefore reduce these tensions and AMAN provides one such avenue for this to happen. AMAN has therefore proved itself in its aim to foster security, interoperability, and closer co-operation among navies operating in the Indian Ocean region. Key issues facing the international community with respect to ensuring maritime security in recent times have been the threat of terrorists’ use of the sea and employing asymmetric warfare, plus piracy (despite the waning threat of Somali-based pirates). For the participating navies therefore it has been important that AMAN has regularly featured drills to counter piracy and asymmetric threats, which have been simulated by the navy’s smaller boats and those of Maritime Security Agency (MSA). The SSG(N) have also shown their skills in simulated hostage rescue operations boarding ‘hijacked’ vessels by fast boat and helicopter.Exercise AMAN has also provided a platform for Special Forcesto exchange ideas and develop new countermeasures in this regard. Much of the drills they rehearse are likely linked to counter terrorism scenarios, and with the region continuing to experience instability this element is likely to remain a key aspect of AMAN. More traditional exercises undertaken during AMAN include gunnery drills, Search & Rescue (SAR) Operations, Replenishment at Sea (RAS), anti surface & anti submarine warfare, and cross deck landings. This latter drill, which entails helicopters practicing landing on other warships, is a key skill to practice if co-operation is to be maintained as it will aid interoperability. The regional benefits of AMAN are clear, but it is often overlooked that it has also had domestic benefits. Both conference and exercise have highlighted the lack of anti-piracy legislation in Pakistan and brought it to the attention of the government. Though the pirate menace has been somewhat reduced it has not been totally defeated and the threat to Pakistani nationals manning fishing boats and merchant vessels remains. What to do with any pirates if apprehended by the navy or MSA therefore was something that needed clarification. Unfortunately despite best collective efforts illegal maritime activity is likely to persist in the Indian Ocean region. It is refreshing therefore that the spirit of co-operation continues with more than 35 countries being represented at AMAN 2017, and it will be interesting to see what this year’s conference entitled “Strategic Outlook in Indian Ocean Region 2013 and Beyond – Evolving Challenges and strategies” delivers.