Chinese presence in Pak waters, country’s top navy in ‘self-help mode’
By Sumit Kumar Singh
New Delhi, April 5 (SocialNews.XYZ) The Pakistan Navy has spared no effort to portray itself as a credible regional maritime force, with tremendous growth expected in the coming years. Press releases said the Pakistan Navy would soon introduce a slew of new frigates, submarines, corvettes and aircraft that would transform it into a regional “blue water” navy. However, the facts on the ground are very different from this fantastical narrative peddled by Islamabad.
A list of actions by the Pakistan Navy (PN) and the Maritime Security Agency (MSA), supplemented by incidents in the Arabian Sea, indicates a state of systemic malaise in the ranks of these forces and a deficit of growing trust between the navy and the government.
The lack of national confidence in the Navy’s leadership was recently highlighted by a court order that forced the Pakistan Navy to hand over more than 20 acres of land in Gwadar to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor authorities.
The Navy had firmly asserted that the land was necessary to counter “pervasive threats” which the Court summarily dismissed as “baseless”.
*Money requested for 2022 FIFA World Cup security
In another unrelated, but disturbing incident, there was an alleged payment request made by the Pakistan Navy to organizers in Qatar to secure the waterfront for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Considering that Qatar and Pakistan share such extensive socio-cultural ties, one would expect that providing such security assistance would be a matter of pride and not a profit-making venture.
Asking for payment for such aid is certainly not expected of navies aspiring to be regional powers, however, if Pakistani navy leaders are indeed asking for money – maybe they don’t trust to the government to continue funding its plan.
Given the current economic situation in Pakistan, it may well be that – like the Foreign Service – the Pakistan Navy has not received any funding from Islamabad.
Therefore, it seeks to generate its own income to keep itself afloat. Otherwise, it would suggest that the Pakistani admirals, inspired by the army’s Pizza King Generals, decided to make hay while the sun shines.
Recent revelations of significant holdings of senior Pakistani military officials in Swiss banks indicate that such a culture of “helping each other” has existed within the military’s senior leadership for decades now.
In fact, Pakistani military leaders have consistently found themselves on such “black fund” lists, including the Panama Papers (2016), Paradise Papers (2017), and Pandora Papers (2021).
Closer to Pakistani shores, the activities of the PN and MSA are another indication of organizational decay.
* Chinese Survey Vessels
Sources have revealed that Chinese state-owned exploration vessels are undertaking extensive surveys near the Makaran coast, almost none of which have come to the knowledge of the Pakistani public.
In addition, these survey vessels are almost invariably “protected” by Navy and MSA vessels.
It is clear that such continuous “security cover” is not usually provided by naval vessels, which have far more important roles and functions to perform.
It may be logical to infer that these missions are ‘paid for’, most likely by Beijing, and therefore have become attractive to ‘autonomous’ admirals.
This assertion would immediately clash with the argument that other vital missions were also performed by the Navy and the MSA.
However, the evidence to the contrary is vast and abundant.
* Illegal fishing by Chinese boats
The first example would be recent survey reports that have indicated widespread illegal fishing by Chinese vessels off Yemen, Oman and Pakistan that engage in unsustainable and banned practices to maximize profits.
Alarmingly, these boats are finally entering Pakistani ports to ship their huge ill-gotten catches. It would have been the primary responsibility of the Pak Navy and the MSA to counter such activity. However, there is no visible action or apparent intention on their part to act on these aspects.
Fishermen across Pakistan have protested this in the past, but their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, on one occasion in March this year, Pakistan Navy ships were unable to leave their base ports because protesting fishermen blocked the exits from the port.
* Rampant drug dealing
Another indicator of the distraction of the Pakistan Navy and the MSA from their main task is the “almost regular” arrest of boats carrying drugs off East Africa, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
All of these boats carried huge amounts of drugs on board, which became a major concern for regional governments.
Almost all of these boats have been traced to the Pakistani coast from where this “hash highway” starts, and on which drug traffickers operate with near impunity.
One wonders how a “responsible” maritime force allows such transgressions on a routine basis.
Interestingly, last month the Pakistan Navy finally apprehended a drug-carrying dhow near its shores – perhaps to offset mounting international pressure.
Notably, the nationality, origin and composition of the ship’s crew were omitted from press releases – perhaps to “save face”.
These problems are just the most visible manifestations of a growing culture of corruption that seems to have permeated the Navy and MSA base in Islamabad.
Although the causes may be debatable, the symptoms are strong enough to warrant a recalibration by the nations responsible for the region on how to engage with these agencies.
* Self-help prospects
Whether due to a lack of funding or triggered by other financial reasons, the growing prospect of “self-help” from the senior management of these agencies does not bode well.
These may seem like a small problem today, but if not urgently addressed, they could one day turn the Makaran coast into a source of insecurity, infecting the entire region’s efforts to establish a safe, peaceful and prosperous environment.
The fallout from illegal fishing, drug trafficking and maritime terrorism could actually be crippling for developing economies in the region, where a hard-fought socio-economic transformation is underway.
The recent history of Pakistan-based terrorism shows that Islamabad is quick to see the global community’s “inaction” as acceptance.
The same mistake should not be repeated in the maritime domain, where regional and global prosperity are deeply intertwined. It is high time that responsible actors in the region, who will be affected by the manifest decline in the ethical standards of Pakistan’s maritime security forces, flag these aspects for credible corrective action.
The message must be clear, strong and consistent – so that it cannot be drowned out by the “insatiable greed” of a small group of individuals.
(Sumit Kumar Singh can be contacted at [email protected])