Maritime Awareness and Pakistan Navy

Commander (Retd) Muhammad AZAM KHAN makes the nexus between the sea and the Navy

The establishment of PN War College at Lahore came under lot of tirade and censure, in various forums of the armed forces besides print media, in the past and continues to a large extent even today. The College, functioning in temporary premises with makeshift arrangements since its inception in 1971, was shifted from Karachi to its present abode at Lahore in 1996 and consequently upgraded as P.N. War College. It was intended to conduct Naval Staff and War courses concurrently in the new premises under a well deliberated and revised set up for which necessary preparations including curricula were in the advanced stage. This, unfortunately, could not be put into effect in view of the compelling requirements of cost cutting and austerity measures that besides other things also led to the closure of the Joint services staff college and subsequent contemplated amalgamation of the three services staff colleges. It goes without saying that each service has its own exclusive operating environment and courses are accordingly structured to train the officers in various professional and staff skills including respective Service strategies. This task is undertaken to ensure that officers become professionally mature and competent enough to provide meaningful contribution while formulating joint National or Military strategy at a subsequent stage in their career progression. The rapidly changing technology, induction of new weapon systems and threat perception, like Geo-political environment, merits a perpetual review of the curriculum of courses in the services. Only an independently working institution within each service can meet such a demand. Unless this aspect is taken into account, no worthwhile input can be expected from the officers while attending joint courses in higher institutes of learning like National Defence College.

The shifting of the Naval College to a location other than Karachi was a long drawn goal of P.N. that besides other factors, could not be realized earlier for want of requisite funds as well as suitable dwelling upcountry. Having served as Deputy Director Naval Training and being directly involved with the establishment of this premier Naval institute at Lahore the author not only had a deep insight to the rationale behind the concept but is also well informed of the various attempts aimed at scuttling the project. The proposal ran into snags at the very outset and it became increasingly difficult to overcome red tape barricades when the plan was first presented outside the Navy. However, with some painstaking efforts, at successive tiers, NHQ finally managed approval for the project but not until an intense opposition from various quarters was substantially neutralized. Later, acquisition of land, being a premier location, also became an insurmountable task both at political as well as military levels. It was only after protracted discussions, discourses and persuasion at the highest level that the site was acquired for the purpose. But perhaps the most trying aspect of the project was the fact that some of the strongest opposition came from other sister services and the P.N's wisdom behind establishing an institute much away from sea shores was invariably questioned both formally and informally by almost all ranks. The debate continues intermittently in tri-service gatherings and muted voices of disagreement are still heard. Unfortunately, such thinking only reflects that we have yet to mature as a nation, insofar as maritime related affairs (of which Navy is just one component providing security) of the country are concerned.

It needs to be appreciated that many advanced Navies of the world including France, China and Malaysia continue to operate some of their premier Naval institutes much away from the Sea shores in hinterland as well as main cities to ensure adequate projection and better service understanding by its citizens. While the presence of Pakistan Army and PAF is felt everywhere in the country, P.N. inherently suffers on this account. Being restricted to Karachi and its surroundings, awareness about the Navy in other parts of the country and its role in the defence of the motherland is either scant or grossly misunderstood. This has resulted in tragic neglect of our maritime sector besides disproportionate representation in the service from parts of the country beyond Sindh. The problem gets further compounded since Pakistan is a land locked country with a small coastal belt and a non-seafaring populace. This, despite the fact that bulk of Pakistan's trade including that of strategic goods is through sea and a considerable amount of the country's revenue is generated by its maritime sector. That the role of Navy in the past major battles remains largely obscure gives yet another dimension to the problem.

Notwithstanding the efforts of P.N. towards self-acquaintance at the national level, it is an accepted reality that not much heed was paid to naval requirements till 1971 under the famous dictum of 'the defence of East Pakistan lies in the west'. Such ill-conceived notion was due to poor maritime awareness at the national level and hence the need to have a strong Navy for the defence of the united Pakistan was ignored. In the process, at least one Naval Chief (Admiral HMS Choudari) had to resign after he failed to convince the then national leadership on the dire necessity to build a strong Navy for the defence of the two wings. The disastrous effects of such neglect became increasingly pronounced towards the fall of 1971 when war clouds intensified. That Pakistan Navy learnt about the outbreak of hostilities in the west through radio news bulletin is sufficient indicator of its place then in the national defence corridors. One cannot but mention that it was the absence of a strong P.N. that eventually tore asunder this misplaced dictum. That unyielding and predominant land fixation (continental thinking) coupled with years of naval neglect only hastened fateful events of 1971, especially in the East, cannot be overemphasized. A weak and feeble Pakistan navy could barely prove sufficient before the formidable and well-equipped Indian navy despite some isolated incidents of dauntless courage and fearless resistance that were seen in both theatres of the War. The terror of a single submarine (PNS Ghazi - the only submarine then available for such distant operations) not only kept the Indian carrier as well as its allied forces at bay (much away from the area of operations) but the blockade of erstwhile East Pakistan could not be undertaken by the Indian Navy till Ghazi met its tragic fate. Admiral Krishnan, the then Indian FOC-in-C East acknowledges in his accounts that he prayed each morning seeking divine help for the destruction of, as he mentions the dreaded Kali devi (Ghazi). And indeed God did answer his prayers. The end of Ghazi not only catapulted the morale of the Indian navy but also made their job in the eastern theatre much easier. Consequently, Indian Carrier task force was brought in the Bay of Bengal to strike targets ashore at will. In the west a single destruction of Indian frigate (INS Khukri) by P.N. submarine Hangor effectively demoralized the enemy and put them on defensive after their initial onslaught of missile attacks on and around Karachi. Needless to mention that had Pakistan Navy been strong and national leadership conscious of its responsibility the accomplishment of the objectives by the Indians would have certainly been difficult and challenging if not impossible.

Much has changed in the context of conventional war in the sub-continent since 1971. Not only that, the world at large and South Asia will never be the same again after the nuclear detonations in the sub-continent some 21 months ago. Today, with increasing number of strategic assets of both countries scattered along or near the respective coast and wide ranging Global as well as regional interests (straits of Hormuz) within our area of operations a minor conflict at sea can trigger a large scale war that may engulf the entire region leading, eventually, to exchange of nuclear weapons. In the aftermath of Kargil crisis the Indian Navy's claim that 'it was the strategic deployment of I.N and threat of blockading that would have crippled Pakistan's War fighting potential as well as economy which resulted in averting the War' remains a stark reminder of the perils that lie ahead. The Indian Government. fully cognizant of its strategic maritime interests has recently earmarked a sum of US$ 4.5 billion for the Indian Navy under a new strategy of which the guiding principle is 'that naval assets are the most suitable platforms for India's growing nuclear arsenal'. While all efforts are in hand to transform the Indian navy into a Blue-Water Navy, few acquisitions are perhaps ominously Pakistan specific. These include Russian Kiev class carrier that is being upgraded and retrofitted at an estimated cost of US$ 750 million and will be equipped with multirole Mig 29 K shipborne aircraft. The planned inventory also includes the satellite based command and control network, cruise launching missile capability on 10 principal combatants and, off course, the future nuclear submarine dubbed the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) planned for deployment by 2008. Above all and of late, the Indian navy has kept an extremely offensive, in fact, provocative posture close to our waters in the Arabian Sea and has conducted a number of major exercises involving all elements of the Navy besides IAF. To add to that a number of Pakistani fishermen were recently apprehended and executed in the most blatant and callous manner while fishing well within the territorial waters of Pakistan. Nearly 40 warships including those from United States, Britain France and South Africa are likely to participate in the India's first five-day international review scheduled in February this year. The message that is thus being conveyed needs to be understood and appreciated at the national level, more so in view of the emerging realignments in South Asia and the changed Geo-strategic environments.

The influence of Sea power on the history of mankind cannot be overemphasized. Both land and sea theatre have importance in their own right. However in the post-cold war era where economics has assumed significance in determining relations and Geo strategy is being replaced by Geo economics as a measure of National Strength the maritime sector has become the focus all over the world. Sea based resources (oil, gas, and fish) have become crucial to the economic success of littoral states and hence must be supervised and administered. These resources are likely to have profound effect on the formation of power blocs and may as well shape the destiny of the nations in the 21st century. Not only that, the extensive use of sea as the cheapest and easiest means of mass transportation has contributed to the internationalization of world trade, commerce and industry and linked the entire world.

Pakistan Navy has come a long way from 1971. Joint exercises, formulation of various joint doctrines and tri-service strategies as well as increased interaction in various forums has led to its better understanding by the other two services. However a large quantum of population is still unaware of the significant responsibility entrusted and the vital role that P.N has to play both during peace (Policing the EEZ etc) as well as War. This in present times does not, in any way, augur well for a country whose economy is so heavily linked with Sea borne trade. Such state, as in the past, is fraught with danger and may have serious ramifications for the country in future as well. In addition to loss of revenue, a large quantum of younger generation today seems only more inclined and thus opting for the other two services.

A realization of the significance of maritime sector requires a pragmatic approach and is as important a national requirement as the protection of our vital sea trade routes that rest with the Pakistan navy. Besides other considerations, it was the fear of an increasing lack of awareness on naval related matters as well as poor representation from other provinces and parts of the country that compelled P.N. to stretch itself beyond seashores of Mekran coast. Today, the increased presence of 'whites' in the heartland of Punjab has enormously added to P.N's acquaintance at the grass root level. This scribe has observed Naval related issues being discussed and intriguing questions posed by commoners as never witnessed before. Realization, at the national level, of its strategic significance for the country remains a cherished goal of P.N. The establishment of a naval institute upcountry was just a small step towards accomplishment of this goal. One only hopes that awareness about this tiny but vital defence service that holds immense strategic value shall soon dawn at the national level as much as for the security commitments of the country as also for the prosperity of its future generations.