Beyond frontiers – Engaging the Pakistan Navy in coastal governance

Fisheries are the primary livelihood sector for 80% of the coastal population of Pakistan, but this sector contributes to only 0.5% of national GDP and 1% of the country’s labour force. Fish and fishery-related exports yield, on average, a sum of PKR 8.8 billion (US$ 838 million) for the country annually, but such trade benefits are critically dependent on the sustainable use of these marine resources.

A field of tiny mangrove saplings planted in deep silt

The reckless degradation of coastal and marine resources has led to the depletion of wild fish stocks and ecosystem services. This is caused by the use of harmful fishing gear, weak enforcement of fisheries regulations, waste of fish catch due to poor handling and storage, coastal pollution and degradation of mangrove ecosystems. Large-scale threats such as upstream diversion of freshwater, which causes changes in the delta, and climate change make coastal ecosystems and their dependent communities increasingly vulnerable.

Through the MFF programme, Pakistan has been taking critical steps to overcome these challenges. The Pakistan National Coordinating Body (NCB), comprising representatives from government agencies, civil society organisations and the private sector, works alongside existing national frameworks for managing coastal areas and oversees MFF’s  activities in the country. The NCB builds trust amongst various coastal agencies, and has created opportunities for policy level discussions and improved coordination among the coastal institutions. As a key national organisation, the Pakistan Navy wields significant influence in coastal policy formulation and decision making. Their involvement in the NCB piqued the interest of the Ministry of Defence, which joined in 2012. 


Realising shared goals

Over the years, MFF’s partnership with the Navy has evolved from localised actions to more strategic policy level engagement: from a small grant project in 2011 focusing on raising environmental awareness among PN personnel, to supporting the designation of Pakistan’s first Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The 2011 environmental awareness campaign was the first of its kind to target all ranks of the Navy. It greatly helped to sensitise senior officers, like Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, to coastal environmental issues. “I have served in the Navy for 40 years and used to operate in the mangrove canals around Karachi,” he recalled. “Back then the waters were clean and we often saw dolphins. But I was not even aware of what the trees were called, let alone how important they are for fisheries and coastal protection.”

PN Mangrove Plantation

As a result of his newfound appreciation for mangroves, Admiral Zakaullah presided over the relaunch of a mangrove plantation campaign, which began in 2016. It was reaffirmed in August this year, with the Navy pledging to plant one million mangroves by the end of 2017.

As a member of the MFF NCB, the Navy was also instrumental in this year’s designation of Astola Island as Pakistan’s first marine protected area. In September 2016, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i, a motion had been passed to have Astola declared an MPA. Between the Congress and June 2017, the Navy was a key facilitator of the designation process, helping to organise site visits to the island for experts to conduct situational assessments. 


Overcoming institutional obstacles

Establishing MPAs in Pakistan had been challenging at first. The lack of engagement from the Navy and Ministry of Defence led to a general perception that they were against the designation of MPAs in Pakistan, when the real obstacle was simply the lack of a platform for inter-organisational dialogue. MFF’s NCB proved to be an invaluable asset, as it provided this type of inclusive platform that allowed engagement among all the key stakeholders through a consultative process. By June 2017, the first MPA had been established, bringing Pakistan closer to achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which specifies that at least 10% of each Party’s coastal and marine area must be classified as Protected.

Astola Island, Pakistan

Building a relationship with the Pakistan Navy and the Ministry of Defence wasn’t simple, either, as these agencies operate under strict regulations. Focal points also change frequently. Despite this, a steady relationship has been maintained, resulting in a staunch friendship with the institution as a whole.

The engagement of the Navy and Ministry of Defence in the process has been vitally important, as it allowed access to strategically important military locations which are usually restricted. The Navy provided logistical support during field assessments and visits by senior government functionaries, and the Ministry of Defence also assisted in the preparation of geographical coordinates for Astola Island MPA.

The aims and objectives of civil society and government organisations complement and reinforce each other. “You have become navalised,” joked Lt Cdr Noorul Amin, referring to the trust between the MFF Pakistan National Coordinator and the Pakistan Navy. This particular partnership has yielded tangible results on the ground and has generated a great deal of interest in nature conservation among government agencies without an explicit conservation focus. These agencies are now playing active roles in guarding the country’s natural assets as well as its frontiers.

IUCN Asia Regional Director, Aban Marker Kabraji, stands with Pakistan Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah


This story was contributed by Ghulam Qadir Shah, MFF National Coordinator for Pakistan. Ghulam drafted the piece following the IUCN Asia Strategic Communications for Conservation Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, which took place in July.

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based regional initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. MFF focuses on the role that healthy, well-managed coastal ecosystems play in building the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. The initiative uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem, but MFF is inclusive of all types of coastal ecosystem, such as coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses and wetlands. MFF is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, and is funded by Danida, Norad, and Sida and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Thailand.

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