The Chabahar-Gwadar Conundrum

The prevailing sense of elation about the supposedly ultra-bright prospects of the Gwadar-CPEC projects has in recent times been dampened by news about the expected rise of  an adjoining port, a mere 70 kms away across the border in Iran. The signing of a trilateral MOU between India, Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate Indo-Afghan trade through Chabahar has added to the speculation. It is thus important to analyse such conjectures before they fully embed themselves  in our collective consciousness and thereby mislead the country into a knee jerk response with potentially disastrous consequences.
Read More…

Safeguarding the Vital Links in Sea Trade

Nothing encapsulates, and perhaps embodies, the spirit of globalisation better than world trade, most of which is carried out via the medium of the sea. Maritime trade can thus be said to be the pivot around which the global economy as well as our collective social well-being actually revolves. The enormous natural resources on land, coupled with a matching industrial capacity for value-addition, are not worth much were it not for a corresponding ability to trade freely over a terrain which, despite being used for common benefit, is still vulnerable to hybrid criminal threats.
Read More…

Combating Traditional and Non-traditional Threats at Sea

Navies all over the world, by virtue of the peculiar characteristics they are endowed with, play a significant role at all times in preserving the sanctity of the nation’s shores. Nontraditional challenges at sea like piracy, terrorism, poaching, narco-smuggling, gunrunning, human trafficking and environmental degradation have not only attained prominence, but tend to crop up in areas where they face the least resistance, thereby prompting the need for constant vigilance. Like in all illegal activities, there are fabulous sums of money to be made, which attracts all manner of criminal elements and even criminal enterprises in its fold. The involvement of organized crime in turn raises the bar for ruthlessness and violence at sea.
Read More…

Gwadar in Focus

Gwadar has had a turbulent yet lonely history. Though it has been visited, and even nominally managed at times, by the Macedonians, the Ummayad Arabs, the Omanis and even the British, it managed to retain its own identity till the turn of the last century. It goes to the credit of the inhabitants that they didn’t permit the Portuguese to establish a foothold there in the late sixteenth century, at a time when the latter’s grip on the maritime trade of the entire Indian Ocean region was virtually uncontested. Gwadar’s modern history can however be traced to the sanctuary given there to Sultan Said when he had lost out on a power struggle with his brother for the throne of Muscat across the Strait. Though the Sultan eventually managed to wrest control of Muscat 14 years later in 1797, he never really let go of Gwadar and continued to exercise jurisdiction there through an appointed Wali. Imprints of the Omani slave trade are still visible.
Read More…

Setting the Sea Afire – Exercise Seaspark

The Pakistan Navy’s annual war exercise code-named Seaspark is currently underway in the waters of the Arabian Sea. It happens to be the latest in a series of suchlike tactical exercises aimed at enhancing the Navy’s war fighting efficiency. The fleet’s maintenance schedule, in fact, is planned in such a manner that maximum number of ships, submarines, Maritime Patrol Aircraft and helicopters become available for participation. An year of phased work-ups at individual, squadron and fleet levels culminate in this vital exercise.
Read More…

Seawater Intrusion in the Indus Delta and Associated Hazards

Seawater intrusion into the once-fertile Indus Delta has unfortunately become a way of life, simply because almost everyone not directly impacted by this phenomenon has started taking it for granted and very few are willing to do anything about it. This has resulted in substantial damage to the ecology and biodiversity of the environment, as well as the regional economy and more specifically, the livelihood of the local inhabitants.
Read More…

A Time for Introspection

The Muslim ‘Ummah’, if it can be termed as such, is on the verge of imploding. Almost all countries in its fold are riven with strife, strife of their own making. The reason is not hard to find: a blatant disregard of the cardinal principle of unity as enshrined in the Quran, which enjoins the believers “to hold fast to the rope of Allah, and not be divided amongst themselves”. Divisions have always been, and continue to be, deliberately engineered by the ruling classes in a bid to indefinitely prolong their reign, using the clergy as a willing accomplice. Instead of the focus being on points of convergence, of which there are legion, the emphasis is regrettably on fomenting differences. Tribes are pitched against tribes and nation states against nation states; no heed is paid to the Quranic injunction about tribes being created ‘so that you may know each other’ and not be antagonistic towards each other. Sectarian feelings are deliberately inflamed, with minorities being at the receiving end, ignoring the Quranic caution to be patient and wait for Allah, Who alone knows everything, to reveal where we each erred. Patience is unfortunately not our strongest suit.
Read More…

Gwadar and CPEC – Reality Check

This is a subject which deserves to be tackled with utmost seriousness, as it is one in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, and where rhetoric is found to trump reality every time. It will thus be my endeavour to present as realistic and pragmatic a picture as possible to enable this vital issue to be better understood in an wholesome perspective.

That the port of Gwadar and the interlinking corridor are vitally important to the country has been established beyond doubt. The trick lies in converting this vision into a viable reality. To do so, our foremost consideration should be to learn from history by analysing the fate of similar prestigious maritime-related projects, like for instance Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works Ltd, Port Bin Qasim and its adjoining steel mill and the on-going Karachi Deepwater Container Port. All were preceded by hype similar to the one we now hear about Gwadar and all of them are hardly success stories to warm the heart: some are floundering, some barely getting by, while the last one mentioned, the Karachi Deepwater Container Port, which is still struggling for closure, is destined to be headed for failure. The point worth understanding is that building ports and shipyards does not ipso facto make a country a great maritime power; running them well, does.
Read More…

Taking the War to the Sea

The dawn of 6 September 1965, a full fifty years ago this day, was like any other dawn. As the sun rose over the horizon, however, it ushered in, along with the ever-brightening rays of the sun, the steeds of war. Parents, unaware of the events unfolding at the border, had packed their children off to school but had to hastily rush to retrieve them when they heard the emotionally- charged somber announcement on radio about the outbreak of hostilities. Why radio, why not TV, one may ask? Well, TV had only recently made its appearance in the country and the only channel at the time, the state-owned PTV, did not commence its transmissions till 5:30 in the evening. The composed voice of President Ayub Khan, reassuring and determined, kept roaring over the available audio-visual spectrum, vowing defiance and demanding sacrifices. People responded to his call with gusto, donating whatever they could to the war effort.
Read More…

Gwadar Glimpses

Part 1 –  1973 to 1981

My first look at Gwadar in early 1973, needless to say, was not a pretty one. Heat, dust and despondency hung in the air. As soon as the ship’s boat hit the shallow gradient of the clay and gravel beach and as we waded onto it in knee-deep water, dragging the boat behind us, the stench of rotting fish hit us in the face. The sprawling beach on the Gwadar East Bay, apart from being littered with decaying fish remains, also featured colourful fishing boats hauled up for maintenance and fish of peculiar shapes salted and left to dry in the burning sand. Small fishing craft dotted the confines of the bay. Fish appeared to be the staple diet of the community, as beyond a few snacks and a local bottled drink of some sort, nothing worth eating or drinking could be located in the nearby market. At the entrance to the market was a prominent pan shop presided over by an imperious and imposing lady. The sun was relentless and the area hardly witnessed any rainfall. Water was a scarce commodity, with the British-era desalination plant, which relied on the rays of the sun to cleanse the seawater of impurities, being ill-maintained. Many dug-up wells yielding brackish water, could be seen sealed after expending their utility.
Read More…

Previous Posts Next Posts

About Me

I am a retired Rear Admiral of the Pakistan Navy who has done a three-year post retirement stint as the Director General of the National Centre for Maritime Policy Resarch housed at the Bahria University Karachi Campus.

During my eventful 38-year long naval career, I had the good fortune to command two destroyers as well as the 25th Destroyer Squadron. I also served as the Flag Officer Sea Training. I did my Principal Warfare Officer’s course from SMOPS, HMS Dryad, UK in 1979, my staff course from the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich,UK, in 1983-84 and my war course from the National Defence College, Islamabad, in 1998-99.