The Seedy Side of the Sea

The sea is best known for not only facilitating global trade but also effortlessly channelling its major chunk through a complex web of interfaces, better known as ports, scattered all over the continental coastline. The recreational needs that it fulfills in addition, by way of cruises, pleasure yachting, sailing, surfing, scuba diving, island hopping and what-have-you, are all perhaps more satisfying on a personal level.

What is lesser known, however, are those horrendous happenings which not only converts a pacific medium into the ‘outlaw sea’, but also causes it to be dubbed as the ‘greatest crime scene in the world’.

Piracy for one is nothing new and is something that has plagued mankind ever since its more intrepid specimens set sail for commerce and exploration. Julius Caesar has arguably been its most celebrated victim, whose ransoming didn’t however prove to be too conducive to the health of his erstwhile captors.

Side by side with piracy, largely stifled to a great extent barring the Gulf of Guinea, other crimes, cloaked in secrecy, have blossomed. Over time, the sea has become highly valued as a law-evading medium since it is neither substantially policed nor does it have marked borders like on land. From the illegal transportation of humans, drugs and arms to unauthorised poaching and the dumping of toxic waste, the sea has seen it all. Insofar as a ship at sea is concerned, there are five major stakeholders it is beholden to: the vessel’s owner, charterer (if applicable), the exporter/importer of goods it is carrying, the vessel’s registry and finally its crew. The foremost slot is occupied by the ship’s place of registration, or in other words its nationality, whose job it is to ensure that the vessel remains shipshape, that it doesn’t drift beyond well-established functional and legal guidelines, and to discipline those responsible if it does. Owners however predominantly prefer their vessels to fly a flag of convenience, which gives them greater flexibility to do as they please without being taken to task.

Being the only ones out at sea, the axe mostly falls on the poor seafarers whenever anything goes awry. They are the ones most hard-pressed too, owing to their bleak working conditions. Braving isolation, harsh weather conditions and work overload, many seamen struggle with severe psychological ailments for which no help is readily forthcoming.

Around 4000 seamen are believed to lose their lives at sea every year without apparently generating too many ripples on land. The sad part is that most of these accidents are avoidable, being typically linked to lax safety procedures and lack of oversight. In one such incident, 22 of the 24 crew members onboard the Korean-owned STELLAR DAISY lost their lives when the vessel sank in the cold waters of the South Atlantic in March 2017. The vessel’s faulty redesign, while being converted from a VLCC to VLOC a decade earlier is believed to have contributed to its fate. Weather conditions, particularly freak waves, have also been known to sweep crew members away from the deck without a trace.

It is generally seen that regardless of where the fault may lie, it is always those at sea that face the immediate consequences. Many cases have come to light where ships, mostly decrepit ones, are simply abandoned ashore whenever their owners are confronted with straitened financial circumstances. Despite deteriorating conditions onboard, as food, water and electricity begins to run out, the crew clings on to the ship in the vain hope of collecting their back dues.

In one such case involving a payment dispute between the ship owner and the vessel’s fuel supplier, Indian offshore service provider Tag Offshore abandoned an oil tanker, along with its 17 member crew off the Jawaharlal Nehru port. One can just about imagine the distressing state of affairs onboard, when the fuel starts running out, causing disruption to lighting, air-conditioning and garbage disposal facilities. After the Maritime Union of India and National Union of Seafarers of India admitted their helplessness in the matter, the Mumbai High Court came to their rescue by taking cognisance of the matter on the basis of writ petitions filed before it. It ordered the disembarkation of the crew without attracting any civil and/or criminal liability for doing so. The crew can thus consider themselves luckier than most. In this and many similar cases, the Captain and crew are mainly used as pawns for the expeditious settlement of monetary claims.

For quite some time, the UAE has become a preferred spot for abandoning vessels offshore. At one stage, as many as 31 sailors stood stranded on seven such vessels, some for up to two years. Their agony stem from the financial woes of the shipowners, with their own salaries being put on the line. Some crew members prefer to stick it out in the vain hope of recovering their back pay, while others are forced to opt for repatriation. The International Maritime Organisation has now stepped in to provide some relief by making insurance, which would cover crew salaries for up to four months, as well as repatriation costs, compulsory.

Ocean-going fishing vessels however take top prize as far as cruelty towards the crew is concerned. One of the worst of such documented cases occurred in January 1999 onboard a Taiwanese fishing trawler around 1000 miles North East of Mauritius, when its Captain went berserk and ended up killing half of its 25 man crew by the time he was through.

It’s not only the crew which gets a raw deal; passengers too get in the way of the sea’s wrath at times. More than 300 people, most of them students and their teachers on a high school outing to a nearby island, lost their lives in the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014. Many passengers are also known to have fallen over the side, while a  considerable number have complained of having been sexually assaulted. Cruise ship consortiums are understandably keen to play down such concerns to prevent it from adversely affecting their business. Since a large number of Americans go on Caribbean cruises, US law mandates the FBI to investigate cases involving American citizens, regardless of whether the cruise ship docks or does not dock in a US port. Even after having established jurisdiction, what happens next is ‘murky’, for as the President of the International Cruise Victims Association graphically puts it, that when he talks to ‘100 different FBI field agents, I would get 100 different answers’.

The most problematic aspect of crimes being committed onboard is the difficulty experienced in obtaining justice. In a recent case, a Spanish judge let a sexual assault accused go, since he felt he had no jurisdiction over a crime reported to have taken place in international waters. In theory, the Captain is responsible for maintaining the peace, but in practise, the best he can do is to hand over the suspects to the nearest convenient port. He simply doesn’t possess the required prosecution and judicial wherewithal. In theory again, jurisdiction devolves to the country whose flag the ship flies, but in practise, most cruise ships fly a flag of convenience, tagged to a country that doesn’t have the will nor the resources to investigate distant crimes, well beyond its shores.

In theory again, with respect to the case referred to earlier, there is nothing preventing the country to which the victim belongs (UK in this case), or the country to which the suspect is a citizen of (Italy in this case) from taking up the matter. In practise again, owing to the ambiguity embedded in international law, such countries prefer to lie low.

Some ships like the MV Dona Liberta, a rusty refrigerator vessel, referred to as scofflaws, appear to have thrown all caution to the winds. It routinely abused, cheated and even abandoned its crew, caused an oil slick nearly 100 miles long, accumulated unpaid debts of millions of dollars, with its parent company being suspected of illegal fishing operations. The ship not only got away with all this and continued to operate freely, the surprising thing is that it was never short of work or seafarers. At the end of the day, all it took was new ownership, a fresh coat of paint, a new name and a fresh registry to wash away its tainted past.

The problem lies not in legislation, of which there is no dearth. The International Maritime Organisation has promulgated hundreds of rules, regulations and codes governing all safety, security, welfare and training aspects. The shipping industry itself has issued reams of guidelines, while dozens of mutual maritime pacts have been signed. It’s the enforcement part that is lax: national and international agencies have neither the resources nor the inclination to track down and prosecute wrongdoing at sea.

The unscrupulous find an unlikely ally in jurisdictional ambiguity. Take the case of the Dona Liberta: the ship was owned by a Greek company incorporated in Liberia, crewed primarily by Filipinos, captained by an Italian and flagged to the Bahamas. So if the crime was committed in international waters, “who”, asks Mark Young (a retired US Coast Guard Commander) rhetorically, “leads such an investigation?”

As Shakespeare said,

‘The brain may devise laws for the blood,

But a hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree.’

And out at sea, out of sight, those with criminal intent are the ones with the hottest tempers.

Maritime Security – Challenges and Response

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the concept of maritime security was closely tied to the traditional use of naval military power for the protection of one’s coast and maritime interests. For the more robust naval powers, such security was ensured through naval power projection, while relatively weaker states had little option but to rely on defensive means.


Till the time UNCLOS ‘82 took effect, the ground rules for marshalling the maritime environment were unfortunately laid by those states which were already de facto in a position of control. The term ‘mare nostrum’ (our sea) was coined by the Romans in 30 BCE to describe their total grip over the Mediterranean Sea. In 1609 ACE, Hugo Grotius, a Dutch philosopher-cum-jurist, introduced the concept of ‘Mare Liberum’ (free sea) enjoining the freedom of navigation at sea. This came at a time when the Dutch were trying to make deeper inroads into the Indian Ocean trading system and their expectation of a level playing field was hindered by the firm Portuguese grip over the ocean’s chokepoints. Around 27 years later, an English academic, John Selden, came out in support of ‘mare clausum’ (closed sea), meaning thereby that the sea was in practise as capable of appropriation as land territory. This led to the emergence of numerous conflicting claims which had the potential of fomenting perpetual chaos had not better sense gradually prevailed.


The most crucial development so far was the coming into force of UNCLOS ‘82. This Convention not only conferred proportionate rights on all coastal, and even non-coastal, states, but more importantly, invested them with vital stakes in the maintenance of stability at sea.


UNCLOS ‘82 is best understood as a framework providing a basic foundation for the international law of the oceans, and which is intended to be extended and elaborated upon through more specific international agreements and the evolving customs of states. These extensions are continually emerging, making the law of the sea at once broader, more complex and more detailed than UNCLOS.

Just as international law has continued to evolve, so have threats to good order at sea, the difference being that while the former is positive in nature, the other foments instability.


The one thing that is most central to a nation’s well-being is its ability to trade freely across continents. A country’s natural resources, along with a matching value-adding capacity, are all meaningless if a corresponding ability to trade is denied. The importance of the sea can thus easily be envisaged when one realises that more than 85% of world trade is conducted through this medium. This also helps explain why during both the world wars, one of the foremost missions assigned to the navies of both the adversarial powers was to protect one’s own sea trade, while denying it to the other side. Apart from scenarios where national interests trump collective needs, the twin concepts of the sea as being a common heritage of mankind, from which all states benefit from, and of the freedom of the sea, has now firmly taken root. This augurs well for all coastal states.


From Pakistan’s perspective, disruptions may occur if a war or near war situation arises. How the country deals with such emerging threats falls in the realm of naval strategy and tactics.


Let me however add that all the major maritime powers, as well as the countries straddling the Persian Gulf, have vast stakes in keeping the international sea trade routes open, and may not take too kindly to any form of disruption in a two-sided war. Belligerents too, if convinced that no significant advantage is likely to be accrued by disrupting their adversary’s sea trade while their own is equally vulnerable, may well decide to steer clear of what has been termed as guerre de course. And therein lies the value of deterrence.


These days, as Dr Christian Bueger has pointed out, maritime security has simply become a buzzword and barring a consensus on what it encompasses, it still serves the useful need of drawing attention to new challenges and rallying support for tackling them. The maritime security matrix is thus broadly linked to national security, human security, marine environment and economic development.


This brings us to non-traditional challenges at sea, which adversely impacts all the above-named issues in one way or another. These may take the form of terrorism, piracy, poaching, narco-smuggling, gun-running, human trafficking and environmental degradation. Such threats have not only attained prominence, but tend to crop up in areas where they face the least resistance.


It was the 1985 hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean, which resulted in the senseless killing of a paraplegic passenger, that brought the issue of maritime terrorism in the spotlight. The ensuing deliberations led to the adoption of the UN Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Marine Navigation (SUA Convention in short) in 1988.

The magnitude of the 9/11 terrorist attacks ushered in its wake the stark realisation that a similar attack on any major maritime hub could very well cause an immeasurable dent in the global economy. The US, feeling particularly vulnerable, kept launching one initiative after another: The Container Security Initiative, Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, Maritime Transportation Security Act, Megaports Initiative, Proliferation Security Initiative, SAFE Ports Act and Secure Freight Initiative.


As far as the global community was concerned, the greatest breakthrough in strengthening maritime security occurred in December 2002 at an IMO-sponsored conference, where the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code was unveiled. Since it was tabled as an amendment to the existing Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, it’s compliance became mandatory for the 148 SOLAS contracting parties. The ISPS Code provides mandatory requirements for governments, port authorities and shipping companies, as well as guidance for implementation.

Because of its unpredictable nature and massive devastation potential, terrorism poses the most significant risk by far to merchantmen and even naval vessels. The bombing of the USS Cole, while at the Aden anchorage, in 2000, and MV Lindberg off the coast of Yemen in 2002, both rammed by explosives-laden dinghies, best illustrate the nature of this threat, though not its full potential.


Piracy poses the next biggest threat. The Malacca Straits, the South China Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Guinea display marked vulnerabilities. Yet when compared to Somali piracy in its heyday (2005-2012), these are mere pinpricks. In Somalia, what started off as a local endeavour to curb rampant poaching and dumping of toxic waste in its lawless waters, grew into a full-blown piratical enterprise. It spiralled out of control by 2008, when fabulous sums of money were being raked in as ransom for captured vessels, cargo and crew. In 2010 alone, pirates seized close to 50 vessels, taking nearly 1200 seamen as hostages. And from this peak, piracy dwindled gradually in 2011 and more rapidly the next. What caused such piracy to flourish in the first place was a belated and disjointed international response. A number of high value interdictions had finally forced a large number of warships to converge onto the high risk areas by 2009, either as part of international groupings like the EUs Operation Atalanta, NATOs Operation Ocean Shield or the international coalition’s CTF 151, or as individual units, to protect their country’s national interests. At the end of the day, piracy off Somalia, which had spread its tentacles to the furthest reaches of the western Indian Ocean, was brought under control through a series of coordinated steps:

  1. Broad-based UN resolutions authorising the international community to tackle the threat in a collaborative manner by targeting the planners, facilitators and perpetrators of piracy, not only within Somali waters but also within its land territory if required.
  2. Preparation, dissemination and updating of an industry-backed initiative outlining best management practises to deter piracy.
  3. Authorising merchantmen traversing the area to carry armed guards for protection.
  4. Imposition of banking curbs on UK banks in particular, to complicate the issue of ransom payments.
  5. Setting up of a task force aimed at targeting the organisers, financiers and negotiators behind the piracy enterprise.
  6. Encouraging the collaborative capacity building of regional states.


Malacca Strait is a high density traffic lane. Once realisation sunk in that trade disruptions in this corridor were inimical to the regional economy, the three major countries straddling the waterway, namely Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, started containment efforts through effective coordination in the form of ReCAAP and commencement of joint patrols, which proved immensely successful. The only major flashpoint at the moment is the Gulf of Guinea, where the principal player, Nigeria, needs to spearhead a similar initiative. The G8++ Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG) group tries to help out with the capacity-building of regional states.

Side by side with piracy, other crimes too have blossomed, largely unchecked.


Criminal enterprises find the medium to be an inviting one, since the vast expanse of the sea makes effective policing difficult. From the illegal transportation of humans, drugs and arms to poaching and the dumping of toxic waste, the sea has seen it all.


Maritime security is also endangered by crimes committed at sea. The most problematic aspect of such crimes is the difficulty  in obtaining justice. In theory, the Captain is responsible for maintaining the peace, but in practise, the best he can do is to hand over the suspects to the nearest convenient port. He simply doesn’t possess the required persecution and judicial wherewithal. In theory again, jurisdiction devolves to the country whose flag the ship flies, but in practise, most ships fly a flag of convenience, tagged to a country that neither has the will nor the resources to investigate crimes that occur well beyond its shores.


Pakistan faces more or less the same threats, though in varying degrees. Effectively countering such diverse threats in such a vast medium is indeed an uphill task. Pakistan’s job is made even more difficult due to a number of glaring deficiencies, which I shall discuss in due course.


Pakistan’s biggest problem used to be the complete lack of coordination at the ministerial, departmental and field levels. It was left to the Pakistan Navy to take the initiative to bring together all the country’s public sector agencies with a stake in maritime security on the same grid. The Joint Maritime Information and Coordination Centre that was set up at Manora includes reps from all associated agencies for effective coordination. The Centre has not only been working smoothly since February 2013, it has also established working linkages with other regional info sharing portals, most notably the Information Fusion Centre at Singapore. With the aim of further expanding its access to maritime-related information, the Pakistan Navy joined the Trans Regional Maritime Network (T-RMN), a 32-nation group based in Italy, in October 2019.


While info sharing and coordination are undoubtedly important, their contribution would not amount to much were it not for a corresponding ability to act. Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency, which was setup soon after UNCLOS ‘82 was opened up for signature, is primarily responsible for monitoring breaches of the Convention. The Pakistan Navy, by virtue of being endowed with effective long range surveillance and enforcement platforms, happens to be an exceedingly viable instrument that the country has at its disposal for underwriting its maritime security.


Realising that the most effective way of countering the common hybrid menaces that recognizes no boundaries is through regional alliances, the Pakistan Navy, till recently, had been a regular participant of Combined Task Forces 150 and 151, both of which it had the honour of commanding multiple times. The US-led CTF 150 had been set up in the wake of the UN-sanctioned invasion of Afghanistan, with the prime objective of ensuring maritime security in the Arabian Sea by undertaking counterterrorism operations. When piracy incidents off Somalia started registering a sharp uptick, a dedicated Combined Task Force 151 was set up to patrol, monitor and counter piracy in general, in the Gulf of Yemen. Based on the friendships forged and experiences gained through such multi-Naval enterprises, the Pakistan Navy has since instituted its own Regional Maritime Security Patrols.


While on the subject of implementation, it may be worthwhile to mention that the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea is not the be-all and end-all of all maritime matters. While correctly dubbed as an informal constitution of the oceans, it mostly lays down broad principles, leaving the elaboration of rules to other treaties. The International Maritime Organisation, an organ of the United Nations, essays an oversized role in the promulgation and regular updating of all maritime-related conventions and codes.


As far as maritime security in essence is concerned, the most relevant piece of legislation is the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, which came into being soon after the 9/11 attacks and is a part and parcel of the SOLAS Convention. The primary objective of this code is to ensure the strengthening of security measures in order to deal effectively with all emerging maritime security threats. As per this code, Pakistan, as a contracting government, is supposed to conduct port facility security assessments, evaluate risks and prepare port security plans. All ships are required, amongst other things, to carry a Continuous Synopsis Record (CSR), and have an Automatic Information System (AIS), Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking System (LRIT) fitted on board. While Pakistan is broadly complying with these steps, what it lacks at the moment is an effective regulatory mechanism.


The SUA Convention of 1988, as mentioned earlier, enjoins global collaboration to combat violent crimes at sea. The primary thrust of this Convention is to prevent people from endangering the safety of ship, crew or passengers. Ship masters are obliged to deliver offenders along with evidence to port of entry, while state parties have been made responsible for jurisdiction over offenders. It all looks fine on paper, but as I mentioned earlier, most masters and even state parties prefer to look the other way when confronted with vile occurrences at sea.


In broad terms, degradation of the marine environment also poses a grave threat to maritime security. IMO has accordingly adopted strict anti-pollution standards for ships courtesy of the MARPOL Convention. It may however be stressed that pollution of the sea through land-based sources poses a far graver threat. This is regulated through several regional treaties, most of which have been adopted under the aegis of the UN Environmental Program. Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency needs to take a lead from such UN initiatives.


Apart from regulatory issues, Pakistan is notoriously lax in formulating its own domestic legislation. When international treaties are not wedded to domestic law, implementation understandably poses difficulties. For instance, if the offence of piracy is not outlawed through domestic legislation, and piracy is not included in our penal code as a criminal act, how is Pakistan expected to prosecute pirates that it has captured. Likewise, in the absence of domestic legislation, how can Pakistani law enforcers prevent ships from dumping oil, sludge, ballast or other toxic substances in our coastal waters or prosecute them if caught. Maritime or Admiralty courts are also required for trying offences of a specialised nature, like commercial shipping matters, salvage, collisions, groundings etc.


Most of the challenges currently being faced at sea have taken on a transnational, trans-boundary and hybrid flavour. Such threats can only effectively be countered by remaining a step or two ahead ahead of the criminals who feed on them. In Pakistan’s case, that not only involves restructuring at the ministerial, departmental and field levels, but also forging regional partnerships.


All coastal states are expected to act responsibly and in tandem with each other by beefing up their port and ship-related security measures to minimise security incidents. Pakistan is expected to, and should, do all it can to ensure its own security and by extension that of the broader global maritime community. Having been plagued by terrorism for the better part of four decades, the country cannot afford its spillover into the maritime domain.

To and for My Grandson

When, in the twilight of your life,
feeling haggard, hard done by,
It seems that life has passed you by,
just when there were new fields to conquer,
new avenues to explore,
new opportunities to grasp.
Your eyes light up when you see,
a tiny, sprawled figure,
who only slurps, and sleeps, and poops,
and yet, and yet………… never fails to put,
a spring in your step,
a smile on your face,
a song in your heart.
You can spend decades with family and friends,
and yet, when a tiny hand,
wraps itself around your finger,
and holds you in its spell,
everything else appears to be,
just a blur.
Such an innocent, trusting face,
reminds you not of
what could have been,
but of what can still be.
Your aching limbs and battered spirit,
have found a new body to inhabit,
a new life, full of promises, to live.
Through him, I live on,
My grandson, ah, my little one!

Promoting Peace and Partnerships at Sea

The sea has historically and traditionally been a medium of contrasts. Its seemingly placid surface yields easily to an undulating intensity, and it doesn’t take long for gale force winds to develop into destructive storms. An unruffled sea one moment and not long after, triggered by a massive underwater quake, a tsunami sweeps countless shores with unrelenting fury. Legitimate trade likewise plies side by side with illegal trafficking.

The stakes these days are considerably higher. The entire global economy currently relies on international trade, of which as much as 85% is conducted through the medium of the sea. Threats to the global socio-economic order doesn’t just stem from piracy as in the past, but are now so diverse in character that it has led many analysts to dub the oceans as the ‘biggest crime scene in the world’. The vastness of the interconnected oceans, with enforcement and jurisdiction challenges of their own, offers an appetising opening to organised criminal
enterprises to benefit from, by stealthily operating under the radar, so to speak. The use of inconspicuous vessels for undertaking such illegal activities compound problems related to policing and detection. Stoppages of commercial vessels for search on mere suspicion causes
unacceptable disruption in world trade. In the Arabian Sea, dhows, extensively used for legitimate coastal trade, have been seen to traffic in contraband cargo. Boats designed for fishing, an activity that provides livelihood to around 12% of the global population, are known to indulge in various illegal acts, like piracy and drug smuggling, on the side.
The bombing of the USS Cole, while at anchor at Aden in 2000, and MV Lindberg off the coast of Yemen in 2002, both rammed by explosive-laden dinghies, brought the spectre of maritime
terrorism to center stage. The tabling of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code in December 2002, as an amendment to the existing Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1974/78, which incorporated mandatory requirements and implementation guidelines to signatory governments, port authorities and shipping companies, provided the impetus for strengthening global maritime security through individual as well as coordinated efforts. There can however be no doubt that the one sure way of effectively confronting the multitude of threats tending to disturb good order at sea, it is through concerted action featuring a collaborative approach.
Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean was curbed in large part by the convergence of warships from as many as 29 countries which, operating either singly or in groups like the EUs Operation Atalanta, NATOs Operation Ocean Shield or CTF 151, were all bound together by a shared objective. Regional initiatives like the IMO-sponsored Djibouti Code of Conduct played a significant role too in this endeavour. The Jeddah amendment of 2017 has seen the scope of the alliance widened to include the combatting of all illegal activities, and not just piracy, at sea.
Recognising that maritime security would remain a mirage if it wasn’t backed up by actionable intelligence, the Republic of Singapore Navy took the much-needed initiative to set up an Information Fusion Center in April 2009 at its Changi Naval Base. This regional center has by now established linkages with 71 Operation Centers from 38 countries, with 16 International Liaison Officers being based there as well. Another notable regional initiative has been that of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Fashioned after the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, IONS has attracted not only the Indian
Ocean littoral states, but also welcomes extra-regional countries with a stake in the region. The Conclave of Chiefs, which forms an integral part of every biennial symposium, ensures that not only are views exchanged, coordinated responses are also agreed upon at the highest naval level. The overarching objective of the conference after all is to evolve and act upon a unified plan of action against the multitude of maritime security challenges plaguing the region. With the
redesignation of the US Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command last year, the interest of the United States in the region in general and IONS in particular is bound to increase.
Pak-US relations may have witnessed many ups and downs over the years, but the one area where their interests have always coincided is that of the sea. In fact, it was a CENTO-related naval exercise held in Pakistani waters in November 1963 that facilitated the maiden entry of
the US Navy in the Indian Ocean. This was followed by a stopover at the port of Karachi in August 1964 of three newly-built nuclear vessels, the USS Enterprise, Long Beach and Bainbridge, during their unprecedented around-the-world unrefuelled cruise to demonstrate the efficacy of nuclear propulsion.
Though CENTO as an organisation could not stand the test of durability, its annual naval exercises, aptly codenamed MIDLINK, conducted alternately in Pakistani and Iranian waters,
showcased the visibility and camaraderie of the US, Iranian, Pakistani and Royal navies. These exercises, while they lasted (till the disbandment of CENTO in 1978), prized the promotion of
partnerships and interoperability over Cold War theatrics.
USN warships however continued to remain a familiar sight in the North Arabian Sea. Port calls at Karachi were invariably followed by Passexes (passage exercises) or by a series of bilateral exercises codenamed Inspired Siren. It was in one of the latter exercises in 1995 that a USN warship, utilising its shipborne helicopter and a trained ship boarding party, practically demonstrated the concept of VBSS (Vessel Board Search & Seizure). This has considerably
assisted the Pakistan Navy in refining its procedures to undertake search operations at sea in a safe and effective manner. And indeed, when CTF 150 was set up in the wake of the UN-sanctioned invasion of
Afghanistan, the Pakistan Navy had neither any qualms in offering its services nor did it face any problems in fully integrating itself in the workings of this task force. Pakistan Navy went on to subsequently command this force, whose area of operations included some of the world’s busiest sea lanes, a record ten times. Likewise, when another Combined Task Force, CTF 151, was established in January 2009 to pursue a specific counter piracy mandate, the Pakistan Navy not only signed on immediately, but went on to command it too for eight times. The experience gained by the Pakistan Navy through participation in these task forces has enabled it to further fulfill its international obligations by launching the Regional Maritime Security
Patrols. The Pakistan Navy further solidified its credentials as a force for good by initiating a series of biennial exercises codenamed Aman (Peace), the first of which was held in early 2007. The sixth in the series, held in February this year, brought together as many as 45 countries on a common platform of pursuing the cause of peace at sea. It is always a heartwarming sight to see representatives from countries as disparate as the US, Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia braving political divides to attend conferences, briefings, sports fixtures, food galas and international cultural displays in the same spirit that their warships undertake an International Fleet Review at sea.
Non-traditional challenges at sea have not only proliferated over the years but tend to crop up in areas where they face the least resistance. In a canvas as vast as the sea, its resident challenges, being trans-boundary in nature, are bound to be complex enough to test the limits of an individual navy or other maritime law enforcement agency. Surveillance, vigilance, maritime patrols, intelligence gathering and info sharing are all naval missions required to be undertaken
in a well-coordinated manner if the genie of instability at sea is to be kept bottled up. Where land divides, it is said, the sea unites. And such unity is direly needed if the global objective of freedom of navigation, to the exclusion of all else, is to be realised. Pacem in Maribus, Peace on the Seas, can only come about if all responsible coastal states reach out across the sea to clasp hands in the pursuit of a common purpose.


Note: This article was published in the winter 2019 issue of the quarterly magazine UNIPATH, which covers US CENTCOMs area of responsibility.

The Ups and Downs of Nuclear Politics

‘War’ said Clausewitz, ‘is the continuation of politics by other means’. One would have thought that with the onset of the nuclear age, the politics of war should have taken a backseat, but it didn’t. The Allied and Axis powers of the Second World War were replaced by NATO and the Warsaw Pact alliances, whose forces, though arrayed against each other along the East-West European divide, actually fought its ideological battles on the periphery. The stalemate didn’t prevent the two blocs from conjuring up weird deterrence and war-fighting theories. While the US emerged from the ruins of the Second World War as the sole nuclear power, others like the Soviet Union, Britain and France didn’t waste much time following suit. US President Truman viewed the Berlin blockade of 1948 and the Korean War of 1950-53 as an endorsement of the greater conventional might of communism within the Eurasian landmass and till the time the West managed to catch up, he displayed no qualms in using the US nuclear superiority card as leverage.

His successor, whose worries extended more towards the economic burden of having to defend his Allies, introduced the concept of Massive Retaliation against any military misadventure. Dissenting voices were raised against this policy, because the only two choices that it presented, suicide or surrender, were both too extreme. For the next 15 years, amidst a host of technological developments like thermonuclear devices, intercontinental ballistic missiles and deep diving nuclear powered ballistic missile carrying submarines, mistrust between the two opposing camps continued to deepen. Improved precision guidance systems enabled the US to entertain thoughts of a disabling first strike on the assumption that it’s adversary was also contemplating the same. By the mid-1960s, so many nuclear warheads and delivery systems had been accumulated as part of a Nuclear Triad that it made nuclear war unthinkable, since that would most assuredly result in Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). With a high level of uncertainty being injected in any aggressor’s design of trying to get away with a crippling first strike, nuclear stability thus came about. Let alone a supposedly foolproof second strike capability, the simple presence of unacceptable risks was enough to dissuade any would-be attacker.

The introduction of ICBMs led to a scramble to develop a counter, an anti-missile system. The development of Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRV), incorporating as many as 10 separate warheads in a single missile, further complicated the picture, more so with the introduction of decoys, with up to 40 of them in a single ICBM, designed to saturate and confuse the enemy defences. With an effective counter proving to be economically infeasible, the US had to perforce turn to diplomacy.

The proposal floated by the US in 1967 of an ABM treaty finally materialised in 1972 under the aegis of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, whose main objective was the maintenance of strategic stability. SALT 1 also led to an interim agreement which froze the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers at existing levels. Better sense had prevailed, with realisation finally sinking in that the best way to address worries about survivability was not redundancy but a negotiated trim down. Even so, the second round of talks on Strategic Arms Limitation, which took seven years (1972-79) to hammer out an agreement on the more ambitious agenda of mutual  curtailment of strategic nuclear weapons, fell a victim to politics (Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), which prevented its ratification.

The thread of the stalled SALT 2 agreement was picked up a decade later by the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (choice of the word ‘Reduction’ intended to give it a more positive spin), which, on its entry into force on 5 Dec ‘94, barred the two sides from fielding more than 6000 nuclear warheads atop 1600 ICBMs. It’s final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about 80% of all strategic nuclear weapons in the US-Russian inventory, something that was unprecedented. The next round of talks resulted in the so-called Moscow treaty of May 2002 or the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT), which laid greater emphasis on limiting the operationally deployed warheads, regardless of their attributed means of delivery. The later version of START, signed in April 2010 (superseding SORT) imposed more severe limits of 1550 nuclear warheads in toto on each side.

The ABM treaty managed to survive the needless turmoil generated by the US on political grounds as well as the upheavals in the erstwhile Soviet Union by lasting for a good three decades. The first point of discomfiture was the announcement by the US Administration on 23 March 1983 of a grand Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI). Though President Reagan took pains to point out that the ballistic missile defence research programme would be consistent with the country’s ABM treaty obligations, the Soviets saw through this deception, promptly labelling it an irresponsible and mad attempt to unleash nuclear war in the hope of winning it. Though the so-called Star Wars programme died a natural death through funding strangulation shortly after President Reagan left office, the next Republican President sought to revive it under a different name, National Missile Defence (NMD). This being violative of the ABM treaty, the Administration gave the mandatory 6-month notice on 13 Dec 2001 for withdrawal, in order to seriously pursue the program. The Russian response was revealed earlier this year(March) when none other than its President showcased a series of new innovative missile systems capable of dodging all existing defences. And so the game begins anew!

US reliance on the strategy of flexible response, which envisaged a graduated escalation along tactical, intermediate and intercontinental lines, caused understandable consternation in Western Europe because it signified a foolhardy attempt to restrict the war to continental Europe. The plan was also scoffed at by the Soviet Union which did not feel constrained to abide by these escalatory steps. In order to address the intermediate range nuclear missile dilemma, which posed the greatest threat to Western Europe in the shape of the Soviet SS 20 missile, talks on the limitation of Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces were resorted to in October 1980, which soon broke down, however, just as the first lot of Pershing 2 missiles made their appearance in West Germany. The talks were revived on 15 January 1986 on the urging of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and as per agreement, a total of 2692 such weapons, a vast majority belonging to the USSR, were destroyed in accordance with the treaty’s deadline of 1 June 1991. It was only in February of last year (2017) that President Putin expressed his unhappiness at the INF treaty, which had enabled countries on the Russian periphery, not bound by the treaty, to push on unhindered. As per US assessment, Russia may already be in violation of the said treaty through its deployment of the SSC-8 cruise missile. Russia also objected to the deployment of the dual-use Aegis based missile defence systems in Poland and Romania. Rather than attempting to resolve these issues through talks, the US unilaterally withdrew from the treaty, citing Russian non-compliance on 1 Feb 2019, with Russia immediately following suit. The dilemma which the introduction of the US intermediate range nuclear missiles, in the form of their negligible response times, posed to Soviet/Russian security caused a Moscow to develop what is called a dead hand trigger, whose advanced version now uses artificial intelligence, to assist in computer based evaluation of radiation and seismic sensory inputs, to strike back automatically without any human input.

At the time the Cold War was heating up, however, two European countries, Britain and France, the former actively assisted by the US, scrambled to develop their own nuclear arsenals as an independent counter to the rising Soviet threat. Though this reflected a lack of faith in America’s commitment to European security, the former’s deployment of some 325,000 troops in West Germany notwithstanding, the US still welcomed the additional hardware. Apart from four Resolution Class SSBNs equipped with 16 US-built Polaris A3 SLBMs, UK had also amassed a whole lot of tactical weapons for use in land, sea and air platforms, all under the aegis of NATO. France likewise went on to maintain a more robust and more formidable Nuclear Triad, inclusive of four Le Redoutable SSBNs as an independent nuclear deterrent.

The end of the Cold War saw the removal of a vast majority of NATOs tactical nuclear weapons and all of Europe’s ground-based delivery systems. UK now maintains the Vanguard SSBN-Trident SLBM combination(earmarked for replacement by the Dreadnought class), while France deploys the newer Triomphant SSBN-M 51 SLBM combination along with the new ASM-A, constituting 300 warheads in all.

China, as the last of the world’s five nuclear weapon states (NWS) recognised by the NPT, which it ratified in 1992, was in no doubt as to the importance of this status. Having endured the horrors of Japanese occupation during WW2 and braved an equally brutal civil war immediately afterwards, China felt hemmed in by the US support for the nationalists in Taiwan and by the threatening nuclear posture that it adopted during the Korean War. China subsequently sought and received help from the Soviet Union, particularly in the field of fissile material production, till the two countries had a falling out in mid-1959.

China exploded its first nuclear fission device in 1964, followed by a thermonuclear one three years later. Such tests continued till 1996, when China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In strict adherence to its policy of minimum deterrence, China is believed to maintain a limited nuclear arsenal of some 250 warheads. Four recently constructed Jin class SSBNs have been recently handed  over to the PLA(N) for mating with the JL-2 SLBMs.

Apart from the five nuclear weapon states, countries like Israel, India, Pakistan and N. Korea, while decidedly nuclear, have not been recognised as such by the NPT, to which none of them is a signatory. Two of these countries, Israel and India, have largely escaped censure, India because it is huge, democratic and economically attractive, and Israel because of its close alliance with the US. Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities remain under constant covert threats, while N. Korea’s spurt of activity during the past decade allegedly crossed many red lines. In principle, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into effect in 1970, was intended to dissuade any new state from joining the nuclear club, while nudging the five established powers towards eventual disarmament. In practice, it achieved nothing of the sort; Israel, India, Pakistan and India went on to become nuclear powers, while the nuclear arms race shows no sign of cessation. President Obama used to argue that the US could not justifiably urge other countries to give up their nuclear programs while expanding its own, but this is exactly what he was accused of.

Israel is one country, which since its inception in 1948, has always looked to a nuclear weapons program as an ‘ultimate insurance policy’. This dream came closer to realisation when the French agreed to extend full cooperation in the field. Work on the secret nuclear facility in the Negev desert at Dimona began in 1958, with the reactor going critical in Dec 1963 and the reprocessing plant becoming operational a few years later. Israel is believed to have deployed its first nuclear capable ballistic missile around 1973 and to have conducted its thermonuclear test in South Africa in Sep 1979. The first three German-built nuclear warhead capable Dolphin class conventional submarines entered service around 2000, with three more of the advanced Dolphin 2 design being added since.

Despite the country’s professed policy of nuclear ambiguity and its post-1967 shift to a more pragmatic posture of ‘nuclear opacity’, Israel has maintained its nuclear credibility through subtle and calculated leaks. It was in Oct 1986 that Mordechai Vanunu, an erstwhile employee, blew the whistle on Israel’s top secret nuclear program, augmenting the accuracy of his assertions with 58 odd photographs that he shared of equipment such as a full-scale model of a hydrogen bomb and glove boxes where plutonium devices were fashioned into pits.

Though Israel went on to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, it has not ratified it as yet. The country was also instrumental in derailing a rare consensus on The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty(FMCT) in 1998. But ever since it cobbled together its first three rudimentary devices on the eve of the 1967 war, Israel has let known by its veiled rhetoric that it would not be loath to use its nuclear arsenal whenever it feels its conventional superiority to be under undue strain. It is presumably because of this edge that most Arab states inter alia have sought rapprochement with Israel, with the latter’s only battles since 1973 being one-sided ones against non-state entities.

North Korea is a completely different kettle of fish. Though vilified as a rogue state and thus slammed with heavy sanctions, the country’s prime motivation for going nuclear appears to be regime preservation. Three years of bloody fighting in the Korean Peninsula paved the way for the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953. Given America’s traditional animosity towards communism, a formal peace treaty has proved to be illusory thus far, which means that technically, the two Koreas are still locked in a state of war. The said armistice agreement prohibited the introduction of new types of weapons or ammunition in the peninsula by either side. Hardly three years had elapsed, however, before the new US Administration began thinking about the introduction of ‘weapons of dual capability’. By the mid-1960s, the US, unmindful of the restrictions imposed, had amassed more than 900 nuclear artillery shells, tactical bombs, surface to surface rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and nuclear land mines in South Korea. From then onwards, development of a nuclear capability became a strategic imperative for the North. By the time the US decided to withdraw its nuclear inventory from South Korea in 1991, the North was sufficiently well advanced in its nuclear and missile development program. The Clinton Administration, which assumed office shortly afterwards, tried to keep the North’s nuclear advancements in check when it signed an Agreed Framework accord in 1994 to supply the country with two light water reactors in return for putting a halt to all production of plutonium. The reactors were never supplied and the deal fizzled out. Subsequent sabre rattling by President George Bush Jr, who famously included North Korea in his axis of evil during his State of the Union address in January 2002 caused the country to further speed up its technological prowess, its most significant achievements being the detonation of a thermonuclear device in September 2017 and the flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching mainland USA. These developments, which resulted in the slapping of stringent UN sanctions, resulted in a flurry of diplomatic activity. After blowing hot and cold for many months, the two mercurial leaders, President Trump of the United States and Kim Jong-un of North Korea, finally met at a Summit meeting at Singapore, where the two leaders pledged to work for a lasting and stable peace, with the North Korean leader agreeing to a complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for US security guarantees. A good start has been made, but as they say, the devil is in the details. The next such summit in Vietnam Nam brought the wide fissures between their opposing approaches into the open. Another summit is being talked about, with the North Korean leader imposing a precondition of excluding the hawkish US Secretary of State from the process.

Pakistan, on the other hand, tries to project itself as a reluctant nuclear weapon state, and perhaps rightly so, as it was only stirred into action once India first tested its ‘Smiling Buddha’ device in 1974. Rather than abjectly surrendering to nuclear blackmail, which was destined to be its lot, Pakistan was left with no choice but to take the same route. The Afghan resistance of the 1980s, during which Pakistan was a much favoured ally of the US, allowed the country’s fledgling nuclear program to flourish under the radar. No sooner did the Soviet Union announce their unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Pressler amendment kicked in, with the US President refusing to certify that Pakistan’s nuclear program was peaceful in nature. Plausible deniability on Pakistan’s part had changed overnight to implausible deniability.

It was again India’s detonation of a further five devices that enabled Pakistan to emerge out of the closet and become an overt nuclear power by following suit. Pakistan’s nuclear program has since thundered along, amassing a variety of missiles and delivery systems along the way. Though India has tried to project it’s ever increasing nuclear arsenal as a counter to China, the more likely conclusion is that it simply wants to boost up its big power credentials, which would inter alia give it a fair shot at the UN Security Council permanent membership. It has correctly gauged that UK and France are continuing to maintain their membership status on the back of their nuclear capability.

Pakistan on the other hand, has adopted a completely Indo-centric approach. It started its nuclear weapons program after India tested its first device in 1974; it went on to conduct six nuclear tests over two days in response to India’s five in May 1998; it started developing tactical warheads as a response to India’s Cold Start doctrine; and again India’s Arihant class SSBNs was the trigger that yielded the conventional submarine launched Babur cruise missile. So far as a supposedly reluctant nuclear power like Pakistan is concerned, a strategy of minimum deterrence appeared to be the best approach. The problem lies in defining what ‘minimum’ actually represented. Pakistan’s apprehensions about FMCT also caused it to accelerate its efforts towards amassing as much of a nuclear arsenal as possible before the treaty actually kicked in. It appears that Pakistan was then caught between its avowed aim of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence and its endeavour to match its larger adversary blow for blow. Such a nuclear arms race against a larger and more economically robust adversary doesn’t seem to be a good idea. An additional driver could be the self-preservation of an agency that regards itself as the country’s sole bulwark against certain annihilation. The day that it announces that Pakistan has achieved minimum credible deterrence is the day that its sense of importance and perhaps relevance to the country’s defence posture gets perceptibly lowered. It is no wonder then that we have progressed on from minimum credible deterrence to full spectrum deterrence. Since the minimum credible deterrence strategy didn’t really stop us from going full spectrum, one plausible explanation for the shift could be that the new strategy allows greater space for unhindered expansion.

It stands to reason that whatever India is doing in terms of expanding its nuclear capabilities can most assuredly be brought to bear against Pakistan, yet Pakistan is by no means the yardstick which helps determine its path. Indian nuclear ambitions are most likely guided by its desire to achieve big power status. If its sole focus was Pakistan, India would have been far better served by not going nuclear at all. That way it could have continued enjoying conventional superiority without being impeded by the spectre of nuclear deterrence. It’s development of long range intercontinental ballistic missiles like the Surya, or SSBNs like Arihant is certainly not Pakistan-specific, or put another way, their non-availability would in no way have weakened the Indian nuclear posture vis-a-vis Pakistan.

When Pakistan went overtly nuclear in 1998, the development of nuclear weapons was portrayed as an opportunity to curtail its conventional expenditure. That didn’t happen, presumably because of two compulsions, one born out of the country’s internal security dynamics, and the other stemming from the need to maintain an adequate nuclear threshold. But what the current balance of power has done is to push wars underground, wars that are increasingly being undertaken at low cost and through remote control. Such hybrid wars are not expected to bring about much of a change in the regions in which they are being fuelled, and their aim appears to be to inflict pain for the sake of pain, enabling victory to be claimed as per the pain ratio. They are mostly justified as tit for tat moves to make the other realise the consequences of its unwarranted interference. Such mutually debilitating actions are pointless when viewed from a broader perspective and it may therefore be advisable to maintain a hands-off policy under a mutually agreed mechanism. Since both sides have by now come to recognise that the flashpoint of Kashmir is certainly not going to be solved by military means, they might as well devote their energies to meaningful talks with an open mind, something which Pakistan is currently pressing for.

As Pakistan became an overt nuclear power, the initial feeling was that of nationalistic pride and a spirit of exultation. Realisation soon sunk in that there is much to worry about too. The primary concern pertained to unauthorised or accidental use, with understandably severe ramifications. This necessitated the introduction of an effective command and control system, which controlled every aspect of the nuclear tree. In view of the ever-increasing diversity and complexity of our nuclear arsenal, this system had to be hierarchical in nature, with the final decision resting in the hands of just a few individuals. In order to prevent unauthorised use at every stage from manufacturing to storage to mating to deployment, the standard two-man rule is generally preferred. Technology in the form of Permissive Action Links, incorporating a set of combination locks, is also employed in tandem with administrative systems. Pakistan appears confident that the coded locks it employs completely rules out the possibility of unauthorised use.

It is also important to address detonation risks associated with a warhead getting damaged or even worse, catching fire. Such risks can be minimised through the adoption of special safety design features. One of the times that a nuclear weapon came closest to accidental detonation was in 1961, when two hydrogen bombs got released from a military plane just as it broke apart over North Carolina. While in one of them the embedded safety features kicked in, the other started behaving as in a wartime scenario: its triggers deployed and five out of six fail-safe interlocks went off in the prescribed sequence. The only reason that the warhead didn’t detonate was because the sixth switch suffered a technical failure. The moral of the episode is that anything can happen if we are not careful to the nth degree.

Another issue Pakistan has had to grapple with is whether some weapons or all weapons should always be ready for instant use. The more the number of weapons kept ready, the greater the risk of accidents. On the other hand, if mass scale mobilisation and deployment is resorted to in a dire crisis, a potential adversary can be tempted into a preemptive strike, hypothetically speaking, particularly if it has access to real time data through satellites, drones and remote sensing.

It is indeed heartening to see the high level of confidence Pakistan displays in its ability to safeguard its nuclear inventory. Other countries, the US and India in particular, do not hesitate to voice their misgivings on the issue, their major worry being an odd warhead or two falling in the wrong hands, those of terrorists and  extremists. Pakistan has sought to allay such apprehensions through adoption of a three pronged strategy. First and foremost is the need to maintain internal stability and cohesion: this is being undertaken under Operation Rad al Fasad and the flagging National Counterterrorism Strategy. Next in line is the physical security of nuclear weapons, inclusive of their storage, mating and deployment sites. A dedicated force of 25000 personnel (and growing) has been set up for the purpose. And finally, to deal with the nightmarish scenario of nuclear warheads having fallen into the wrong hands, a number of safeties have been incorporated into the warhead design as well as fail-safe (reliance on orders to fire) mechanisms.

Another debilitating problem relates to the disabling of any nuclear command and control system through a surprise decapitation strike. The US is perfecting a system called the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) which uses a non-nuclear warhead moving at fabulous speeds (Mach 5 +) to destroy any target with unerring accuracy. Loss of command systems is presently being countered through improved means of detection, comprehensive defensive arrangements, alternative command posts and establishment of multiple command links with nuclear stations. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, fearful of such an occurrence, had operationalised a system that automatically launched its own ballistic missiles in the form of a massive retaliation. The system’s major drawback of an accidental launch was countered by incorporating numerous safeguards into its design.

Another incendiary twist to the global nuclear paradigm is the introduction of ‘pits’, which are essentially small atom bombs designed to detonate within a bigger nuclear warhead to cause devastation on an unimaginable scale, more than a thousand times that wreaked at Hiroshima. The trick is to make them small enough to be incorporated in thermonuclear warheads of long range missiles. Despite a huge existing ‘pits’ stockpile, the Pentagon has needlessly decided to go in for additional pits at its Los Alamos and South Carolina production sites. On its own too, these new low-yield nuclear weapons can translate into high-yield temptation in trigger happy hands, eliminating thereby the carefully nurtured distinction between conventional and nuclear warfare.

The biggest harm by far inflicted on Pakistan through the introduction of nuclear weapons lies in the psychological realm. The Pakistani establishment has started perceiving nuclear deterrence as a panacea for all our security-related woes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The need to keep within the perceived nuclear threshold has not prevented conflicts from erupting but just pushed them down to the low convention or sub-conventional level. The Pakistan Military, whose exclusive focus used to be towards its eastern border, has been forced to redeploy to take care of festering insurgencies along its western frontier. The biggest change however  occurred in the psychological make-up of the military, which prides itself on its professionalism, but has yet come around to unquestionably accepting its adversary’s conventional superiority. Resultantly, instead of trying to thwart an unproven doctrine like Cold Start through conventional means, this self-defeatist mentality has caused Pakistan to resort to building up its tactical nuclear arsenal, eroding thereby its conventional deterrence. An additional question we need to ask ourselves is as to how exactly tactical nukes would be more effective in deterring a conventional strike as opposed to the ballistic missiles already held in our inventory. What makes us think that a tactical nuclear deterrent would work where a ballistic one wouldn’t is not clear. While framing a doctrine, any doctrine, it is important to keep in mind that the enemy has a mind of its own and may not react as we think it should. We may think of tactical nukes as being a step or two down from ballistic missile in the escalatory ladder, and yet our adversary may not differentiate between the two. It makes one realise, come to think of it, how easy it is to throw us off the track by injecting a red herring, Cold Start in this case. The fallacy of NATOs Flexible Response Strategy, from which we borrowed our own theory of tactical nuclear deterrence against a rapid conventional strike, stood exposed when the Soviet Union categorically dispelled the notion that their response to tactical missiles would be any different from any other nuclear weapon. Whenever the first nuke, tactical or otherwise, is fired, all hell is likely to break loose, with thoughts of a graduated response under such conditions, being mere wishful thinking.

Pakistan has been lucky, in one sense at least, to have just one Director General heading the SPD for an uninterrupted and prolonged duration of 14 years (2000-2014). It is however disadvantageous in another sense that such a person, blessed with longevity, would be less inclined to listen to alternate points of view from ‘novices’. While it is creditable that such a large pool of scholars pursuing nuclear related research has been created in a relatively short timespan, the worrisome aspect nevertheless is that they tend to speak the same language. Mid-course corrections to our nuclear strategy can only be effectively undertaken if the right sort of environment is furnished, one in which discussions featuring alternate world views are encouraged.

Nuclear projects are a literal black hole when it comes to funding; they gobble up funds without much external visibility, and perhaps accountability. While nuclear weapons are now a reality and their deterrence value undeniable, there is no harm in revisiting our original stance of minimum credible deterrence, with greater emphasis being laid on ‘minimum’ instead of ‘credible’. China’s example is relevant: it is believed to have capped its nuclear warheads at 250, the bare minimum for a credible deterrence against super powerful adversaries, while focussing on its economy, which has become a role model for all developing countries.

If realisation sinks in that nuclear deterrence is just that, deterrence, then things will automatically fall into place. But if we become a part of an arms race of the nuclear variety, then we are pursuing an unsustainable model. Apart from the hybrid wars a nuclear arsenal is incapable of preventing, our wargaming scenarios invariably start off with a Cold Start driven conventional thrust, with the option of a nuclear retaliation resting with us. And indeed it makes little sense for a more powerful conventional power to launch a nuclear attack in the first instance. So with Pakistan the one most likely to fire the initial nuclear salvo, the need for a credible second strike capability, becomes debatable. Our concept of an assured second strike capability is a borrowed, albeit flawed one. So while being inspired by the British and French models of having one deep diving nuclear powered ballistic missile carrying submarine on station at all times, we have opted for a low cost version of modifying the torpedo tubes of our conventional submarines to enable them to fire tactical nuclear missiles. But then Israel is also using its conventional Dolphin class submarines to do likewise. The context is however altogether different: being the only nuclear power in a troubled region, Israel endeavours to keep it that way, and the nuclear missiles housed in conventional submarines are presumably for the purpose of flexibility as well as that of plausible deniability in case it decides to opt for a limited nuclear strike on specific targets.

Security consciousness is a good thing, but blowing it out of proportion by correlating it with a burgeoning nuclear arsenal is a zero sum game. Amidst a stressful setting, where political rhetoric is the order of the day, there are two things both countries, India and Pakistan, need to avoid at all costs. One is brinkmanship, which can cause a nuclear weapon release in anger or in haste. The second is not to treat the other as an irrational actor to the point that one starts behaving in a similar vein. Thinking of the other as MAD is the only way to justify its contemplation of a preemptive counterforce strike, with the narrative feeding into one’s desire for an assured second strike capability. The trouble with both countries is that instead of its nuclear arsenal blossoming under a clearly articulated doctrine, it is the ever expanding arsenal that goes on to define the doctrine.

To be sure, nuclear related technology has evolved and is continuing to evolve, as explained earlier, but since it extends to both the offensive and defensive spheres, the applecart of nuclear stability doesn’t get upset to any significant extent. The fail-deadly nuclear concept is designed to guarantee an immediate, automatic and massive response to a detected strike in a ‘use it or lose it’ sort of way. The uncertainty surrounding the complete avoidance of any retaliation serves as an inhibitory factor, particularly for a conventionally powerful country, which has other options. So if we can overcome our paranoia to some extent, we may arrive at the conclusion that beyond a limited number of nukes needed for deterrence, the law of diminishing returns sets in. Thinking of nuclear weapons as part of a war fighting strategy may lead to catastrophic consequences. A nation like Pakistan, hosting such a large population, can always survive and in time reverse the consequences of a conventional thrust, but any misadventure in the nuclear domain would result in assured destruction. It will be little consolation to those floundering in a radioactive jungle to know that their adversary is also in the same soup. It is thus vital that decision makers having their fingers on the nuclear trigger should remain well-briefed about the consequences of their choices.

Inching towards a Blue Economy


Pakistan’s policy makers have often faced criticism for turning a blind eye to the bounties the sea has to offer. The emergence of the port of Gwadar has, to be sure, not only generated awareness about the potential of the maritime sector but has also resulted in governmental approvals for the setting up of a new shipyard and new ship recycling facilities in this remote western outpost. There are other hopeful signs too: a new deepwater container port off Karachi, a coal handling terminal at Bin Qasim and two regasification terminals at the same port are now all functional, while a more determined offshore oil exploration effort is also underway after a gap of nine years.

Ask any maritime practitioner, or policy maker for that matter, about what it takes to become a maritime power, and this is exactly the sort of medicine he would prescribe: build more ports, build more terminals, construct more ships, operate more cargo vessels, develop more shipyards, set up more ship recycling facilities, and so on, conveniently forgetting that all these activities are spurred by market forces. The seeming profitability of public sector enterprises like Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works, Karachi Port Trust and Port Qasim Authority blindsides us to the true reality behind this facade. It is not a worthwhile bargain if their gain is at the expense of the consumer or the public exchequer. Genuine progress can never occur unless outmoded concepts like right of first refusal, dependence on captive cargo, uncompetitive bids and ruthless labour exploitation (as in the case of our ship recycling yards at Gadani) are replaced with the universally accepted ones of innovation, client satisfaction, foresightedness, efficiency and competitiveness. Audit and analysis are the first tottering steps towards improvement, for unless we absorb the lessons of the past, we will never be wiser tomorrow than we are today. While taking understandable pride in the port of Gwadar, let us not sidestep hard questions like how much revenue its port authority has generated so far since the completion of its first phase in December 2005? Or why hasn’t its Industrial Zone taken off yet? Or for that matter, when will KPT finally recoup the investment made in the much-heralded Karachi Deepwater Container Terminal (now known as the South Asian Port Terminal Ltd)? Or how long will our fish stocks last if present trends of overfishing, pollution and use of illegal fishing methods persist? And while being thankful to the ship recycling yards at Gadani for their valued contribution to the national exchequer, let us not forget to shed a tear at the ruthless exploitation of labour (sans any regulatory framework) which has made this possible. ‘However beautiful the strategy,’ Churchill is reported to have observed, ‘you should occasionally look at the results.’ And the results, in our case, should not purely be restricted to monetary statistics.

It is clear that we have chosen not to profit from our own mistakes. But if we decide to seek inspiration from those that have excelled in one maritime field or another, there are models aplenty. The example of the post-WW2 Japanese ship-building industry, overshadowing all other competition, followed in due course by South Korea and China, is frequently quoted. A small country like Denmark hosts the largest shipping company in the world (Maersk). The largest number of cargo ships are Greek-owned, most of them being in private hands. The port of Rotterdam continues to retain its top position in Europe’s highly competitive environment, owing to its edge in innovation and its emphasis on client satisfaction. Philippines, with hardly 1% of the world’s population, provides 20% of its seafarers. Vietnamese fish exports, most of it obtained through aquaculture, are touching the ten billion dollar mark.

A word of caution though, which our policy makers may do well to heed: no model can be blindly followed without similar pre-conditions existing. The best course of action is thus to study all such success stories, but chart an independent trail in sync with our national priorities and levels of competence.

Our obsession with the twin goddesses of hype and profitability prevents us perhaps from noticing a relatively new buzzword, that of the ‘blue economy’, which the global maritime community is all agog about. This concept was formally unveiled at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. Instead of focussing exclusively on economic growth, the ‘blue economy’ concept seeks to generate livelihoods and promote social inclusion, with the underlying premise, often ignored, that unless the health of the surrounding ocean and its fragile ecosystem is invested in, the social and economic benefits being derived will continue to decline. Apart from traditional coast and sea based activities, which forms our current area of interest, the blue economy continues to unfold and embrace multiple facets of the maritime economy. Its diverse components such as mariculture, offshore renewable energy, seabed extractive activities, marine biotechnology and marine bioprospecting possess the potential to offer dividends way beyond our wildest imagination.

In a blue economy, as mentioned earlier, the keyword is sustainability; this can however only be accomplished if the ocean and its fragile ecosystems are kept healthy and resilient enough to be able to support economic growth, not only to our benefit but also to that of our future generations.

The world in general has certainly not been kind to the oceans so far, with the shocking plunge in ocean health being directly linked to human activities. Sea warming, ocean acidity, mercury pollution and rise in seawater levels have been caused by the excessive amounts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that land processes have produced and that the oceans have been forced to absorb. The massive quantities of waste products being regularly spewed into the sea, with plastic products taking 450 years to degrade, has resulted in the creation of dead zones, with all this toxicity having combined to utterly devastate the marine habitat and coral reefs, which form the ocean’s, and in turn the land’s, life support system. A full one-fourth of the world’s mangrove cover has been wiped out during the past two decades.

Pakistan’s situation is even more dire than the global average. Tens of millions of tons of domestic waste, raw sewage, hospital discards, industrial effluents and agricultural nutrients are literally being generated in the country every day, all of which, in the absence of any safe disposal arrangements, finds its way to the rivers, creeks and canals, where they not only pollute the country’s limited sources of drinking water, but also bring innumerable diseases in its wake. The unchecked pollution of Sindh’s 1200 odd freshwater lakes is destroying the traditional livelihoods and way of life of the province’s fishing communities.

The unprecedented level of pollution in the mega city of Karachi, likewise, has resulted in unimaginable amounts of waste products being unceremoniously dumped into the sea, as if it was some kind of a giant garbage bin. Karachi harbour too, over time, has deteriorated to an extent that not even a single National Environmental Quality standard is being met. The extraordinary levels of toxic elements like chromium, lead, chlorides and sulphates, coupled with the low conductivity experienced, forms a corrosive mix that, apart from decimating all manner of marine life, whittles away at the submerged port infrastructure and causes extensive damage to ships berthed inside the harbour.

The Indus Delta used to be historically interspersed with natural river courses, which, braided with smaller tributaries formed a natural drainage system, permitting agricultural, fishing and trading communities to thrive.  Badly planned infrastructural developments, and severely curtailed water flows downstream, have devastated the traditional sources of livelihood, forcing people to relocate. Strident proponents of new dams in the country, who frequently cite the example of copious amounts of water being ‘wasted’ into the sea, may find it difficult to accept that freshwater scarcity in the delta in most months of the year has not only wiped out all the freshwater strains of mangroves, but also allowed the sea to intrude unhindered into the hinterland (more than 70 km in places) to the point where the breadbasket of Karachi, Malir, is under threat.

International regulations for environmental conservation are all in place. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973/78 prescribes strict anti-pollution standards for ships and all types of toxic cargo. Pollution of the sea from other sources is regulated by various regional treaties, most of which have been adopted under the UN Environmental Programme. The 2009 Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (not yet entered in force though) deals with all aspects of the recycling process, from the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships to the use of such facilities. Guidelines on fisheries conservation and management of the EEZ are contained in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries adopted in 1995 by the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation. Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 seeks to strike a balance between a state’s sovereignty and its responsibility to ensure that its activities and the activities of its citizens do not cause environmental harm to other states or to areas beyond national jurisdiction. A useful lesson to absorb here is that sovereignty and responsibility go hand in hand.

The Ballast Water Management Convention, which came into force in September 2017, requires ships to manage their ballast water effectively, which in turn will prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that possess the potential to cause havoc to the local ecosystems. The International Maritime Organisation has also enacted rules that aim to cap sulphur emissions at 0.5% of fuel content by January 2020, compared to 3.5% at present. As a flag state, Pakistan thus needs to take an immediate decision on whether to invest in costly scrubbers for its ships or rely on expensive low sulphur gas fuel from foreign refineries.

So though comprehensive international agreements are all there, the problem confronting Pakistan is whether it has the will and the wherewithal to enforce them in our waters and in our own ships, for which the necessary domestic legislation is a prerequisite. And domestic legislation is certainly not our forte.

Another concept that has escaped our notice is that of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. It was the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 that inter alia formalised the ICZM concept by according a special status of its own to the coastal arena. At its heart is a recognition that both terrestrial and oceanic processes are not only at work in the coastal region, but their activities and impacts are intricately interlinked. ICZM thus not only furnishes a viable land-sea  interface, but also serves as a built-in mechanism for conflict resolution and as an instrument for environmental conservation. Its policy, planning and management have accordingly to be suitably tailored. The development of Coastal and Marine Spatial Plans (CMSP) is an important step to guide decision making for the blue economy. Their purpose is not only to achieve integration between land and water segments alone, but also between the various levers of government and local stakeholders, and to encompass all spheres of activity.

The best example of a blue economy, if indeed we are looking for one, stems from the European Union. 90% of the world’s sea based wind turbines are currently in Europe. Netherlands and Denmark are deriving clean energy from ocean waves. France happens to host the largest tidal wave power plant. The number of jobs in Europe’s ocean renewable energy sector are expected to double by 2030. Norway has emerged as the world leader in curbing harmful emissions, by not only generating all its electricity through hydropower, but also in going ahead with plans to electrify as many as two-thirds of the ferries that ply along its long and jagged coastline within the next 10 years. The world’s first fully autonomous commercial vessel with zero emissions, Norway’s Yara Birkeland, will be operational for coastal use by 2020, while Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) that trade internationally are expected to be introduced in a further five years.

Europe’s focus on the much-desired aspects of a blue economy is indeed laudable. After all, it is only through a ‘green’ approach that the sustainability factor is incorporated. Both living and non-living resources in the ocean are indeed in abundance. It has been estimated that by 2030, two out of every three fish on our dinner table will have been farmed, most of it by sea. Oil and gas are amongst the most abundant of non-living resources, with almost one-fourth of current global needs being met from offshore fields. Extreme care needs to be exercised during such deep-drilling operations to prevent oil spills like that of the Deepwater Horizon, which ravaged the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. With spills like that, one can bid the blue economy goodbye. Besides fossil fuels, as much as 500 billion tons of manganese nodules, containing manganese, iron, copper, nickel, phosphate and cobalt, are estimated to lie on the ocean floor. Gas hydrates (methane encased within water molecules) are believed to hold much more methane than presently exists in the atmosphere and up to twice the amount of energy of all fossil carbon-based fuels combined. The downside again is that methane not only adds to the greenhouse effect, but the gas is highly unstable at depths shallower than 500 metres.

The UN Convention on Law of the Sea obliges all coastal states to avoid environmental degradation; this is of paramount importance, particularly when exploration and mining work is being carried out in individual Exclusive Economic Zones. The minerals on the ocean floor beneath the High Seas have been deemed to be the ‘common heritage of mankind’, with its exploitation being administered by the International Seabed Authority. Though many licenses have been applied for and issued, actual mining has not yet been carried out.

In Pakistan, surprisingly, all major maritime initiatives, be it the setting up of the National Maritime Affairs Coordination Committee (NMACC) for maritime policy coordination, setting up of the Maritime Security Agency for policing our Exclusive Economic Zone, constituting the Marine Pollution Control Board, preparation of a National Marine Disaster Contingency plan or setting up of a Joint Maritime Information coordination Centre, carry a prominent naval stamp. This may seem perplexing to many, and perhaps rightly so, because the Navy’s role is understood to be only limited to the protection of the country’s maritime interests. The simple answer to this is that all maritime activities in Pakistan are peculiarly compartmentalised and no other Ministry or Agency is able or willing to take on the much-needed national level policy and coordination responsibilities that are beyond individual mandates. The newly-named Ministry of Maritime Affairs can be a suitable candidate for playing a lead role provided it is endowed with the desired professional capacity. A name change alone is hardly the right substitute for professional competence.

To conclude, concept of a blue economy will remain alien to a country that remains blissfully unaware of its national and international obligations, or one that has a dysfunctional Environmental Control Authority, or one that considers an investment in wastewater treatment plants too much of a burden, or one that considers the river flows that help invigorate the mangroves, biodiversity, ecosystems, flora and fauna of the Indus Delta as ‘wasted’.

The ocean is indeed an endless source of energy, and living and non-living resources, if only we learn to tap it with care. The ocean is in addition a regulator of climate change and a recycler of the world’s harmful emissions, if only we learn not to stretch it beyond limits. ‘The oceans deserve our respect and care’, says oceanographer Sylvia Earle, ‘ but you have to know something before you can care about it’. And therein lies our dilemma!


Note:  This article was published in the February 2019 issue of the Global Village Space magazine.

World Maritime Day 2018


The World Maritime Day has an added significance this year (2018) as it marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention which established the organisation. The IMO had conceived it to promote and communicate its own achievements and objectives around a central theme. This theme is carefully chosen to reflect the flavour of the year. In 2011, the chosen theme was about piracy, but since Somali piracy at the time was already at its height, the focus was on ‘Orchestrating the Response’. The theme of Safety had been explored many times, but since the Year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it took stock of the safety measures enforced since that time.

The theme this year, as was the case two years earlier, centers around shipping. But while in 2016 it talked about its indispensability to the world, this time around it revolves around how better shipping shapes a better future. The most important aspect of this year’s theme, however, is that it refers to Shipping as our heritage. Not to be missed is the point that any heritage needs deft, and perhaps reverential, handling.

The IMO has since long explicitly recognised Shipping to be ‘perhaps the most international of all the world’s great industries and one of the most dangerous’. Its internationalisation can be gauged from the fact that it knits ports and continents together, carrying all types of cargo, by traversing through the 71% of the globe that constitutes water. And indeed, it constitutes the major means of commodity trading of raw materials and goods produced around the world. And with the advent of containers that are not only refrigerated or temperature controlled, but also optimised to slow down the ripening of fruits, the agricultural sector is also set to join the bandwagon.

A word of caution though: Shipping has to be responsive to demand. Almost all the packaged goods are carried in container carriers, and container trade at present, after a series of mergers, is dominated by four or five companies. Most of them are opting for huge container ships of up to 23000 TEUs capacity to enable economy of scale, and if the projected trade grows sluggish, freight rates drop to the extent of shutting down the smaller players. Even the 7th largest Shipping Company, Hanjin, went bust around two years ago.

These days, the high spot charter rates, relatively low newbuild prices and burgeoning LNG trade are making shipowners hitch themselves to the LNG bandwagon. As opposed to six ships in 2016, 33 new LNG ships are on order this year to reap the harvest of an unprecedented wave of new LNG supply projects coming on stream in a relatively short period. This has also enabled shipyards to tap into new technological advancements over the past year or two to make the packages more attractive. The boom in Shipping of all varieties has also spawned equally numerous problems of all types, and the IMO has not exactly been inactive either in reacting to these challenges. Ever since the advent of steamships in the mid-19th century, safety at sea has always been a prime concern. It was the well-known Titanic disaster of 1912, however, and the shock that it generated, that led to the formulation of a comprehensive treaty on safety measures. Noting the rapidity with which amendments were required and the procedural delays which held it back from keeping pace with them, the new IMO-sponsored version of 1974 incorporated a tacit acceptance clause which enabled any amendment to automatically enter into force provided sufficient number of objections were not received by that time. The current Safety of Life at Sea Convention is thus also referred to as SOLAS ‘74.

SOLAS essentially deals with the fixing of minimum safety standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. Detailed technical standards, wherever required, have been established through various international codes like International Code of Safety for High Speed Craft (HSC Code), Irradiated Nuclear Fuel (INF) Code, International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

It was however only in 1985, when armed militants not only took over a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, but also killed an aged paraplegic passenger, that the issue of ship security came to the fore. The shock waves generated resulted in the formulation of a Convention on Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, or SUA Convention 1988 in short. It made state parties responsible for establishing their jurisdiction over the offenders as well as the laid-down offences.

It was however the much bigger horror of 9/11 that forced the IMO to come up with a comprehensive maritime security code, appropriately titled the ‘International Ship and Port Facility Security Code’, whose implementation was hastened by tabling it as an amendment to the existing SOLAS Convention. Its first part lists the mandatory requirements for governments, port authorities and shipping companies, while the second part provides guidance for implementation. Each contracting government was required to prepare and implement port facility security plans based on security assessment and risk evaluation.

In order to regulate the movements of ships under both routine and hazardous conditions, the IMO achieved a major breakthrough in 1972, when it rationalised and consolidated all the regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea in a single document commonly known to seafarers as the Rules of the Road.

While such regulations did lessen the probability of collisions, they couldn’t be eliminated altogether for the simple reason that a host of other factors like poor watch keeping practises, inadequate seamanship skills, watch-keeper fatigue, high stress levels and ill-adjustment to new technologies are also at play. Human factor has been found to be the most likely cause of a majority of accidents at sea, followed by technical and environmental factors.

The human factor is aggravated by the tough working conditions faced by seafarers – months at sea, isolation, cramped living conditions, refrigerated food, noise, heat, rough seas etc. No wonder then that 26% of them were found to suffer from depression, with nearly half this number not turning to anyone for help for fear of losing their jobs.

The International Labour Organisation is the specialised agency which not only remains concerned about worker rights, but is seen to be actually doing something about it. The ILOs Maritime Labour Convention, adopted in February 2006, has set minimum standards to ensure satisfactory conditions of employment for the world’s seafarers. It has not only updated over 65 other Maritime labour instruments, but has also introduced a system of certification and inspection to enforce it.

But for countering other related causes like slack watch-keeping, electro-mechanical breakdowns and hostile elements, good training is of the essence. It was in this context that the 1995 Convention on the Standards of Training, Competency and Watch-keeping came into being. It seeks to establish a baseline for the training and education of seafarers, with competence -based training, watch-keeping standards, quality control and certification being key areas of focus. This Convention, as amended in 2010, came into force on 1 January 2012. A five year transitional period given to all member states to ensure compliance also ended in 2017.

IMO is not unmindful either, of the potential the Shipping sector possesses to cause harm to the environment. The events surrounding the Torres Canyon, which ran aground off the Isles of Sicilly in March 1967, releasing its cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil into the sea, probably had the largest impact on the drive to upgrade marine pollution regulations. The need for new preventive legislation to stem the tide of an ever-growing number of cases of marine pollution led to the adoption of the ‘International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973, which superseded OILPOL ‘54.

Although accidental discharges such as the Torrey Canyon were often more visible to the public at large, it is actually operational discharges that result in a much more consistent and significant source of oil pollution. MARPOL 73/78, as it is presently known, not only seeks to address this issue, but has kept including in its Annexes other harmful substances capable of damaging the environment.

The Convention thus incorporates detailed instructions and guidelines for the prevention and control of pollution by noxious liquid substances carried in bulk, by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form, by sewage and garbage from ships and lastly, by air pollution from ships.

As far as air pollution is concerned, the Convention sets limits on sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances. IMO has displayed foresight by enacting rules that aim to cap ships’ sulfur emissions at 0.5% of fuel content by January 2020, compared to 3.5% at present. The reason I mentioned foresight is because the percentage of such emissions at sea is barely 2-3 % of the total at the moment, but if left unchecked, is expected to rise up to 17% by 2050. The industry is understandably worried, as compliance is not only expensive but requires careful coordination. Shippers are reluctant to invest in ‘costly’ scrubbers ($ 5-10 M per vessel) to enable ships to keep using the existing cheaper HSDO. Refineries are equally cautious in undertaking the billion dollar plus upgrade to produce low sulfur gas oil for fear of not being able to recoup their investment. Though scrubbers are being installed in some new builds, more than 95% of the global fleet is likely to opt for cleaner fuel. The first LNG-fuelled bulk carrier got delivered in April this year and many more such vessels are on the way. An LNG bunker vessel has also been designed to supply gas to such ships.

The shipping industry however considers the development of automated processes and functions on board vessels to be the biggest driver of efficiency in shipping. The collection, analysis and management of huge volumes of unstructured data i.e. big data, such as data on voyage performance, ship structure, machinery, fuel consumption, traffic cargo and the weather, are expected to provide valuable insights into the operation of ships and uncover hidden patterns as well as market trends. Big analytics will also encourage the development of automated procedures and advanced technologies such as Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).

The Yara Birkeland, a 3200 deadweight ton vessel, scheduled to enter into operation by 2020 for coastal use, will be the world’s first fully autonomous commercial vessel with zero emissions. MASS that trade internationally are expected to be introduced by 2035.

Innovation and attitudes are what matter most and for those that imbibe this principle, it will not be difficult to understand why a small country like Norway has become the world leader in curbing harmful emissions. Hydropower produces nearly all its electricity, the State Oil Company is expanding into offshore wind farming and people drive more electric cars per capita than any other country in the world. Its next target is to electrify as many as two-thirds of the boats that ply along its jagged and windy Atlantic coastline within the next 10 years.

Such technologies poses challenges to the IMO, which is not entirely unresponsive. In May this year, it has officially commenced work on looking into how safe, secure and environmentally sound MASS operations can be addressed in IMO instruments.

The International Windship Association, along with its 40 plus member countries and organisations, has also pitched in to provide alternate solutions to the Shipping industry to help meet the urgent and ambitious carbon reduction targets set by the IMO. A wide range of wind assist and primary wind propulsion technology solutions are currently available that offer between 10-30 % savings for retrofits and up to 50% on smaller new-build fully optimised vessels.

Ballast water discharges has been recognised as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet. The Ballast Water Management Convention, which had been adopted in 2004 and came into force in Sep 2017, requires ships to manage their ballast water, which in turn will prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that possesses the potential to cause havoc to local ecosystems.

We in Pakistan should remain ever mindful that along with our coast, our shipping, our ports and our ship building and ship recycling industries come huge responsibilities, which we can only abdicate, neglect or delegate to our peril. Apart from adhering to the given theme of the year on a specific day, the rest of the week should be spent in a stakeholders huddle to take stock of our failings and limitations, prior devoting the rest of the year towards addressing them.

It is only after we carry out the much-needed restructuring and capacity building of the Maritime industry, which taken as a whole, represents the largest slice of the global economy, that we can think of taking our rightful place in the comity of responsible Maritime states, capable of fulfilling our international obligations and harnessing our maritime potential in a sustainable manner.

Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 2

The religion of Islam, hatched and nurtured in the crucibles of Makkah and Medina, had, soon after the end of prophecy, expanded beyond belief from Afghanistan to the East, Central Asia to the North and Morocco to the West. Scholarly movements thus sprang up in each region to address the theocratic and legal questions being posed by agile and inquisitive minds.

In the Kufa of 717 CE, a young Abu Hanifa had sought out a worthy master, Ibrahim Nakhai, who in turn could trace his scholarly heritage to a revered and knowledgeable companion, Abdullah bin Mas’ud RA. Abu Hanifa RE, when he came into his own, looked at the Quran as his foremost point of reference, followed by only those hadiths whose authenticity he felt certain about. In order to address the finer points of law, Abu Hanifa developed a systematic form of analytical reasoning called Qiyas to extend the ruling of one situation to another as based on a shared legal cause(illa) derived from the teachings of Allah and his Prophet. Imam Abu Hanifa realised that Qiyas needed to be handled delicately by always keeping the context in mind. The application of Qiyas did lead at times to a result deemed to be unjust and harmful. In order to counter this, he came up with the concept of Istihsan(seeking the best), an alternate analytical manoeuvre that yielded a beneficial result. Abu Hanifa always kept his eye on what he believed to be the public good, in the pursuit of which he was aided by his own gentle temperament as well as the cosmopolitan environment he grew up in. Although the methodology he employed became extremely influential in his own lifetime, he left it to his students to reduce it in writing. His leading students, Abu Yusuf and Shaybani, did not however see eye to eye with each other nor with their illustrious master, and since they also got integrated with the Abbasid court at Baghdad, the original teachings of the great Imam understandably got diluted along the way.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s younger colleague, Malik bin Anas, a lifelong resident of Medina, after studying under esteemed scholars like Nafi and Zehri, devised another approach to Islamic laws and beliefs. He based his teachings exclusively on the customs and practices endorsed by the scholars living in what he considered the bastion of pure Islam, the Prophet’s city. In his scholarly work Muwatta, the earliest surviving work of hadiths and Islamic law, Imam Malik showcased his topic-wise compilation in the form of hadiths(527), rulings made by companions(613), rulings by successors(285) and his own opinions(375. It may be safe to conclude that since he obtained his hadiths from teachers who had directly interacted with some of the companions, this work is arguably more authoritative and authentic than any other work. Imam Shafi’i said so as much, although his student Imam Hanbal,wasn’t impressed at all by the conclusions derived. Realising that he could not exclusively depend on the material that he collected for addressing all legal queries, Imam Malik simultaneously devised a technique of prohibiting things which appeared legal, simply because they tended to lead to a  prohibited result. The Caliph of the newly-established Abbasid dynasty was so enamoured by Imam Malik’s personality that he expressed his intention to make the Inam’s work the basis for an empire-wide code of Islamic law. Imam Malik, the scholar that he was, dissuaded him from doing so, for fear of disturbing the blossoming regional diversity, which he considered a blessing. Had the plan been implemented, the shape of Sunni Islam would be a lot different today.

A group of thinkers called the Mutazilites( lit. to separate, as their professed founder Wasil b. Ata did, from the circle of Hasan Basri) emerged in the cosmopolitan city of Basra( in the early 8th century CE), followed by the new Abbasid capital of Baghdad. In order to better respond to the queries raised by internal and external sceptics, they tried to base their understanding of Islam on things they could justify through logic. They took their cue in a way, without seemingly acknowledging it, from the principles of rational thinking espoused by Imam Ali. They came out strongly in favour of free will, without which they felt a just God would never have promised retribution or rewards.

Into this cauldron of conflicting opinions descended an intrepid scholar by the name of Muhammad b. Idris Shafii. While agreeing in principle with the concept of holding the Prophet’s precedence sacred, he disagreed with the manner in which it was being achieved, as well as virtually everything else the regional scholars had to offer. He not only faulted both Malikis and Hanfis for their limited exposure to hadiths, but was extremely critical of the notion of analogical reasoning, the principle of Istihsan, local customs and claims of Ijma(consensus). He came to the conclusion that gaps in the understanding of Sunnah can only be bridged by strictly obeying the actual words of the Prophet as transmitted in hadiths. He accordingly tried to build the edifice of a common body of hadiths, accessed from all corners of the Islamic dominion, so as to be universally acceptable.

To be sure, he was exceptionally cut out for the job: born in Gaza, he studied with Imam Malik in Medina for many years, served as the Abbasid Governor in Yemen, hobnobbed with the leading Hanafi scholar, Shaybani, and ended his days in Egypt. Imam Shafi’i not only professed that the Quran cannot be accessed without the Sunnah, but went a step further in declaring that the Sunnah rules over the Book of Allah rather than the other way round, He moreover did not hesitate to enter into debates with not only the students of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa, but also with the Mu’tazilites. He countered the Mu’tazilite distrust of Hadiths owing to rampant forgery by asserting that the isnad, or chain of transmission, would serve as a guarantee as to its authenticity. An unbroken chain thus came to constitute a sound (sahih) Hadith, widely known hadiths through multiple chains of transmission were considered well-known (mashur), while hadiths with some flaw in its chain were deemed weak (da’if). This still serves as the benchmark for ascertaining the authenticity levels of hadiths and any scholar who tries to examine their contents through logic is subjected to derision. Faced with the task of adapting hadiths to the problems of his day, he favoured an innovative method known as Negatively Implied Meaning (Mafhum al-Mukhalafa) which meant that if the Quran or Hadiths made a positive statement about a thing, then the negative held true for all else. He made a limited concession to the use of reason by devising a form of analogy known as Manifest Analogy, Qiyas jali or by the stronger reasoning, which ensures a uniform ruling regardless of whether a particular factor is present in moderate or extreme form. Shafi’i is also credited with introducing the novel concept of Darul Aman or Abode of Peace (for countries under the banner of Islam) and Darul Harb or Abode of War (for those beyond). Since he envisioned constant warfare between them, he propped up the idea of jihad as a constant duty enjoined on all believers. In support of this contention, he introduced the idea of abrogation, whereby he considered as many as 124 verses of the Quran dealing with pacific resolution of disputes and use of warfare as a defensive tactic only, as abrogated in favour of the few so-called ‘sword verses’. This would have been considered sacrilegious had the narrative been pushed by a lesser scholar.

Two definitive camps emerged during Imam Shafii’s time: one, spearheaded by him, called the Ahle Hadith and the other incorporating voices of reason, inclusive of the Hanafis and the Mu’tazilites, known as the Ahl al Ra’y. Imam Shafii was the most authoritative voice of his time and many of the concepts that he introduced and the methods that he employed in matters of jurisprudence are still in widespread use today. Though Islam is believed to have been introduced in South India during the Prophet’s lifetime, the waves of Arab traders during Imam Shafii’s time and later, exported his ideas to the littorals of the Indian Ocean. The Mughals, it is believed, nudged the official shift to the Hanafi fiqh, as they felt it to be more conducive to their aspirations of ruling over a majority Hindu population than the Darul Harb concept.

Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 1

Ever since our Holy Prophet(PBUH), whose gentle demeanour and compelling presence had kept his community united, left this world, the monolithic faith that he preached was destined never to be the same again. The political ascendancy of the Makkan aristocracy over the Ansars, the Ridda wars, the rapid expansion of the physical frontiers of the nascent faith, the empowerment of the Bani Umayyah and the two fitnas, leading ultimately to the tragedy of Karbala, were all events that brought the foundational principles of Islam into question and triggered a debate that shows no sign of abating.

The foray of the Arabs into the vast territory controlled by the Byzantines and the Persians generated some expected though unfortunate side effects. It not only managed to gradually shift the centre of gravity of the Islamic world away from Makkah and Medina, but also succeeded in creating a class of neo-capitalists out of the simple and frugal followers of the early faith. As more and more inhabitants of the newly liberated areas flocked to the Islamic banner, it became increasingly difficult to discern whether the battles were being fought for the glory of the faith or for personal enrichment. The lure and lust for power increased proportionally to the ever rising stakes.

Though a broad section of the community of Islam came to embrace the concept of a Caliph acting as God’s temporal deputy on earth, either through an engendered belief in this being the most correct course of action or through a simple acceptance of the fait accomplii, the question of whether the actions of an unjust ruler can supersede the laws of God and His Prophet continues to be a vexing one. It’s corollary is that acceptance of such a leader translates automatically into condoning the methods employed, namely the use of force and dirty dealing, to secure and perpetuate his rule. A similar basic issue which still bedevils a consensus is whether allegiance should be given willingly or whether it can be extracted through force, something which defeats it’s very purpose.

Amidst all this turmoil in the hearts and minds of people appeared a group which appeared to be cocksure of the soundness of their beliefs, the precursor of all violent ‘Islamic’ fundamentalists, who earned the nomenclature Kharjis(the rejectionists) or ‘those who go out’. Though the Prophet had forewarned his followers about the appearance of just such a group, dubbing them the ‘dogs of hell’, the Khwarjis considered themselves the purest of the pure, the only true interpreters of the word of God. ‘Judgement belongs to God alone’ was their rallying cry but each time they said that, they ended up projecting their own radical beliefs as the voice of God. It was however only when they began to terrorise the countryside around Nahrawan by setting up an inquisition to dispense the most brutal of punishments to those whose answers failed to meet their standards of rigidity, that Ali RA felt compelled to act against them. The Kharijites were completely routed at the battle of Nahrawan, with the handful of survivors drifting off towards Oman and Yemen to bide their time.

Abdullah Ibn Abad of the Banu Tamim broke off from the wider Khawarij movement around two decades after their defeat at Nahrawan to found what is known as the Abadi school. Abadi theology, which became the basis of this sect and which distanced itself from the takfiri doctrine espoused by the Khwarjis, was nurtured at Basra. Jabir Ibn Zayd of Nizwa, who took over the reins of the Abadi community from Ibn Abad, established a toehold in Oman, where his hadiths as well as the hadiths of the early Ibadi scholars, provided a solid foundation for their faith. They felt strong enough in due course to stage a revolt in Makkah and Yemen, but this was brutally put down by the Umayyad Caliph Marwan the Second. Ibadis in Shibam(western Hadramaut), though surrounded, managed to extract a peace deal from the Umayyads. It was in Shibam then that they continued to retain a modest presence for the next four centuries or so, while still paying taxes to the Ibadi authorities in Oman. The Ibadi Imamate, established in the inner regions of Oman sometime during the 8th century, was not an inherited one, but one based on election. Once the coastal areas of Oman became rich and powerful through conquests in Eastern Africa, Sultan Taimur of the Al Busaidi dynasty, taking advantage of the warring Ibadi factions, united the Imamate with the Sultanate, and thus it has remained over the years in one form or another. The current Sultan of Oman, who seized power from his father in 1970, managed to extend his writ over all of Oman, thereby effectively unifying the posts of the Imam and the Sultan, and renaming the country from Muscat and Oman to the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultanate now happens to be the only Ibadi-majority country in the world, with around 75% of the populace professing the faith.

The horrific events surrounding Karbala created unease amongst a large segment of the inhabitants and in the course of a few years gave rise to the phenomenon of Mukhtar Al-Saqafi. Mukhtar first sought the patronage of Imam Hussain’s sole surviving son, Imam Zainul Abideen, in avenging the martyrs of Karbala, failing which he turned to Muhammad Ibn al Hanafiyyah, a step brother of Imam Hussain. After achieving his mission and then dying a martyr, his supporters, the Mukhtarriya, or the Kaysannia as they were more popularly called, attained the status of a cult, which considered Hazrat Ali RA and his three sons, Al-Hasan, Al-Hussain and Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyyah as successive divinely appointed imams and which also believed in the reappearance of the Mahdi, the occulting imam, for dispensing retribution and justice before the qiyamah.

As a counter reaction to the Kharji doctrine, and possibly in an endeavour to staunch the criticism levelled against the Umayyads because of their immoral and unjust ways, there emerged the Murji’ah, which shrank from judging human conduct, leaving this exclusively to God. This was again an extreme position, which left the field open to the rulers and their camp followers to indulge in unhindered exploitation and debauchery. The Umayyads understandably lent their weight to this philosophy.

Doubts regarding the morality or otherwise of human actions and individual or collective culpability still persisted. The al-Jabariyah or Mujabirah were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Qadar, also mentioned in the Quran as the decree of Allah, to absolve man of all culpability over their actions since everything, in their opinion, was dictated by God. The Qadriyyah or Mufawadah belief however falls at the other end of the spectrum in that humans have complete control of their destiny to the extent that God does not even know what we will choose to do. Majority of Sunni scholars have over time gravitated to a middle position wherein humans have freedom of choice, though God has knowledge of everything that will transpire.

When asked about the issue, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the 6th ordained Imam of the Shias, clarified that there is no compulsion from Allah’s side, nor is there absolute delegation of power (tafwid) from Allah to man, but the real position lies between the two extremes. He went on to elaborate that predetermination(qada) and Divine decree(qadar) are amongst the secrets of Allah. Regarding the doctrine of bada(change of man’s intention to undertake a particular action), he explained that this concept cannot be extended to Allah, as some are prone to do, since no believer can conceive of bada happening to Allah regarding some matter, causing Him to regret.

The worldliness of the Umayyad dynasty(661-749 CE) resulted in the creation of a large body of people who revelled in the materialism of the era, while a smaller number of pious men were equally repulsed by such profligacy. The latter group found a champion in the shape of a revered theologian named Hasan al-Basri(b.642 CE). Having spent time in the midst of companions like Hazrat Ali RA and Hazrat Anas bin Malik RA, he not only established a school of religious thought in Basra, but did not also hesitate to criticise the unjust policies of the governors in Iraq. Sufi thought encompassing asceticism, Quranic meditation, piety, humanism and a predilection for Zikr and night prayers first appeared in small pious circles like that of Hasan Basri, followed some four centuries later by another renowned mystic Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani(1078-1166 CE) in Baghdad. Jilani RE, whose lineage could be traced to the 8th Shiite Imam Ali ar-Raza, preached to a small select circle of followers about the importance of humility, piety, moderation and philanthropy. His sons however formed a formal order which has since spread to nearly all corners of the world. Other tariqas or silsilas like Shadhili, Chishtiya, Rifa’iyya, Suhrawardiyya and Naqshbandiyya soon followed. Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti, who is known as a mujaddid(reviver) of the Chishtiya order, brought the silsila to India at the turn of the 11th century. His shrine in Ajmer continues to be thronged with pilgrims of all denominations. Most of these orders claim to have received their esoteric knowledge from Hazrat Ali RA, but identify themselves as Sunni; Chishtiya and Naqshbandiyya are Hanafi, Shadhiliyya is Maliki, while Qadriyyah is Hanbali. They are however the polar opposite of other Sunni groupings in their beliefs and rituals.

The landscape of present day Pakistan is dotted with shrines of Sufi saints, who still continue to exercise a larger than life influence on their devotees: Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Hyderabad, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Shah Ruknuddin in Multan(which is also known as the city of saints), Baba Farid Ganjshakar in Pakpattan, Baba Bulleh Shah in Kasur, Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Bari Imam in Islamabad and Rahman Baba in Peshawar. Though their annual urs continue to attract millions of devotees, the impact of their humane teachings have witnessed a steady erosion since the 1980s by the influx into the country of a petrodollar fuelled intolerant version of Islam, which has even infected the Sufi-cum-Barelvi community in its own way.

Pakistan’s Coastal Pollution Dilemma

The subjects of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation continue to make headlines around the world, yet we in Pakistan remain blissfully unaware of its ramifications. To most of us Climate Change is an alien concept, while environmental pollution is limited to the heaps of garbage we see piled up in various nooks and crannies all over the city. It’s ironical that the city managers continue to grapple with such basic issues as the safe disposal of waste well into the 21st century. Candid discussions, leading to resolution of Pakistan’s festering coastal pollution nightmare, needs to be undertaken with the urgency it deserves. Any such dialogue has to perforce start off with the amazing stretch of intermeshing creeks fondly remembered as an ecological paradise, the Indus Delta, as well as the huge megacity of Karachi, which keeps intruding on its western periphery.

Though coastal pollution has its primary roots on land, it is so multi-faceted and wide-ranging in nature that it’s full implications are difficult to grasp and dangerous to ignore. There are literally tens of millions of tons of domestic waste, raw sewage, hospital discards, industrial effluents and agricultural nutrients being generated in the country every day, all of which, in the absence of any safe disposal arrangements, finds its way to the rivers, creeks and canals, where they not only pollute the country’s limited sources of drinking water, but also bring innumerable diseases in its wake.

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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.