By Raja G Mujtaba
Normally thinking of a navy one can only think of two dimensions i.e. surface and subsurface fleets but some advanced navies have acquired the third dimension i.e. naval aviation but very few have the fourth dimension and that is marines or soldiers meant to fight land battles. Pakistan Navy (PN) is one of those few navies to have all the four dimensions.
During my visit to Pakistan Navy, I had the opportunity to visit its bases along the Makran Coast and at Karachi. The marines were visited in the Creeks where they were deployed to defend the border line with India. The significance if this border is that it extends into the sea that determines our economic zone. If Pakistan loses a few kilometers on land it would translate into thousands of Sq kilometers in the sea. Besides the economic zone, it is also said that this basin has strong prospects of oil.
This visit afforded me with an opportunity to practically witness the three dimensions of PN but could not visit the fourth dimension maybe at some other occasion. The dimension that I missed was the sub-surface, could not get into a submarine and dive deep into the sea to see how it feels and operate under sub-surface conditions. PN has one of the most modern sub-surface weapons short of nuclear submarines.
Visiting the marines in the creeks was a life experience. Took off in a Sea King Helicopter from PNS Mehran, in about forty minutes we landed at Sajawal in District Thatta, close to Indus delta.
When arrived at Saidpur, Captain Shahid Mehmood was there to receive at the helipad, after brief pleasantries, moved into the briefing room where the entire operatioanal as well as in aid of civil power were explained.
Over this stretch, Pakistan has already fought war with India in April 1965 that led to 1965 war. During this skirmish, 2nd Lt Raja Nadir Parvez who had just joined his unit for his operational performance was awarded Sitara-e-Jurrat.
During the skirmish, the Pakistan Air Force was fully vigilant to prevent the Indian Air Force (IAF) from entering Pakistani airspace and
attacking Pakistan Army positions. On 24 June 1965, an IAF Ouragan fighter (Serial No. IC 698), flown by Flt. Lt. Rana Lal Chand Sikka of No. 51 Auxiliary Squadron from Jamnagar Air Base entered Pakistani airspace. A PAF F-104 Star Fighter intercepted the IAF fighter near Badin in Sindh, Pakistan. Just as the PAF pilot locked on to the Indian fighter and was about to release his Sidewinder Air-to-Air Missile, the Indian pilot lowered his aircraft's landing gear (an internationally recognized sign of aerial surrender). The IAF pilot landed at an open field near Badin. The IAF pilot was taken prisoner and released on 14 August 1965 – as a goodwill gesture on the 18th Anniversary of Pakistan's Independence Day. The IAF Ouragan fighter was retained by the PAF as a trophy and flown by a PAF pilot to an airbase in Karachi. (NOTE: This event is not to be confused with the surrender of an IAF Gnat on 4 September 1965 during the 1965 India-Pakistan War, which is on display at the PAF Museum Karachi).
Now since 1992, this area is with Pakistan Navy, first with their Special Services Group and now with their Marines, the Fourth Dimension. PN Marines are not only defending the borders of Pakistan but also extending humanitarian services during natural disasters and calamities.
Going over the Indian mindset it never wants peace but wants to expand and hegemonies over the neighbours. Keeping this in mind, Pakistan can never and must never trust India that can attack anytime anywhere to cause more issues; Siachen is one such example where it moved in 30 years back and still is causing friction between the two neighbours.
It was here in late 1999 that when a PN Maritime Surveillance aircraft, Atlantic on a routine mission flying within Pakistani territory was shot down by the Indians, all the crew on board died. After the shooting, the Indians tried to drag the wreckage into their area that they could not.
Why the marines are deployed there in those conditions that have nothing friendly for the humans needs to be studied. When I visited the Creeks, there were no signs of life except snakes in those marshy and brackish areas. Even birds were not seen there, imagine how and why these marines were living there.
It is because of the Rann of Kutch that falls astride the Pakistan-India border and comprises some 30,000 square kilometres (10,000 sq mi) between the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus River in southern Pakistan.
In summer monsoon, the flat desert of salty clay and mudflats, which average 15 meters above sea level, fills with standing waters. The greatest extent between the Gulf of Kutch on the west and the Gulf of Cambay on the east get united during the monsoon.
The area was a vast shallow of the Arabian Sea until continuing geological uplift closed off the connection with the sea, creating a vast lake that was still navigable during the time of Alexander the Great. The Ghaggar River, which presently empties into the desert of northern Rajasthan, formerly emptied into the Rann of Kutch, but the lower reaches of the river dried up as its upstream tributaries were captured by the Indus and Ganges thousands of years ago.
There are sandy islets of thorny scrub, forming a wildlife sanctuary and a breeding ground for some of the largest flocks of greater and lesser flamingos. Wildlife, including the Indian wild ass, shelter on islands of higher ground, called bets, during the flooding.
During the 2010 floods, which were unprecedented PN Marines did a tremendous job. They with their hovercrafts, boats and helicopters covered a very area to rescue and provide relief to the stranded people. In many cases, even their animals were recovered.
Just a brief rundown on flood relief, in 2010 Rescued 223,000 people, provided 1145 tons of food supplies and treated over 46,000 patients and in 2011, 17270 people were rescued, 1900 tons of food supplies along with 1200 tons of goods were distributed. In 2011, there was a sharp increase in number of sick that rose to 46,400 people. Not only this, PN has also initiated housing projects for the displaced persons who lost their houses. To such people, 252 have been distributed and 40 houses are awaiting allotment.
While visiting the Saidpur area, there we were shown the Saidpur Model Village comprising of some 36 houses. It was an excellent effort where 1 room houses with approximately 6 marlas of land each belongs to each allottee. This colony has a mosque and a water filtration plant installed by PN. The entire expenses for this model village were borne by Pakistan Navy. Kudos Pakistan Navy.