Guard vulnerable ports

Navy Day commemorates a very special event. On December 4, the day the third Indo-Pak War began, the Indian Navy delivered such a spectacular blow to the enemy that the end was inevitable. Thirteen days later, Gen Amir Abdulla Khan Niazi of the Pakistan Army surrendered, in a humiliating public ceremony in Dacca, along with 93,000 of his soldiers. The surrender had been organised by Gen JFR Jacob from the Indian side.

I believe that the seeds of this defeat had been sown on August 14, 1947. On that day, the British succumbed to the myth of a monolithic, ethno-religious state. It had not worked in Nazi Germany, even though Hitler had tried to resurrect the mythical Teutonic gods. It had been defeated in apartheid South Africa and we had seen the writhing of that stricken beast when I had visited that beautiful country in 1993.

Such racist delusions go against the reality of the ethnic diversity of mankind particularly the rich interbreeding of the people of our sub-continent. Like the delusions of all bullies, it can be enforced only by loutish gangs who, inevitably, justify their thuggish behaviour on specious religious grounds.

It was bound to fail, and it did, as the proud Bengalis resisted the brutish conduct of the self-proclaimed Punjabi elite. The Bengalis' requests for autonomy were suppressed leading to secessionist demands in 1971. One crore refugees fled into West Bengal and Indian tax-payers bore the burden of their re-settlement.

Something had to give and on December 3, 1971, it did. Accusing India of supporting the Mukti Bahini resistance fighters, the Pakistani Army launched a ground offensive in the Western Sector: Punjab, Kashmir and Rajasthan. The Indian Navy had anticipated such a move and was prepared for it. Within hours of the outbreak of hostilities, Operation Trident was launched.

Our Navy had missile boats. Small ships are called 'boats' (and so are submarines for quite another historic reason). These missile boats were like the hunting cheetahs used by Mughal rulers: they were sleek, lethal and swift. But they did not have much staying power. They were, therefore, assisted by two anti-submarine ships.

At ten minutes to 10 at night, when they were 70 nautical miles off Karachi, our Missile Boat Group detected two Pakistani naval ships: PNS Khyber, a destroyer, and PNS Muhafiz, a minesweeper. Our missiles struck both of them, and they sank. Another Pakistan destroyer, PNS Shah Jahan, was badly damaged. The missiles then struck fuel tanks in Karachi harbour.

The sheer audacity of the naval attack on their main port took the Pakistanis unawares. They thought they had been attacked by the Indian Air Force and scrambled their fighters. In the melee of the thick pall of smoke and flames, the Pakistani aircraft were rumoured to have attacked one of their own ships mistaking it for an Indian one.

The Missile Boat Group returned to our waters unscathed. Encouraged by the success of Trident, the Navy launched Operation Python five days later. In spite of bad weather and rough seas, we approached the Karachi coast and fired four missiles. The first missile hit the Keamari oil installation, referred as an Oil Farm.

The other three hit merchant ships Harmattan, Gulf Star reportedly carrying oil and ammunition to Pakistan's defence forces, and the oil tanker Dacca, of the Pakistan Navy. At least 50% of the fuel needs of the Karachi area were estimated to have been destroyed. These successful attacks dealt a devastating psychological blow to Pakistan and contributed immeasurably to the surrender of their army less than a fortnight later.

Sadly, we don't seem to have learnt any lessons from our own successes in 1971. Though we are a peninsula nation, thrusting out across the most important oceanic trade routes of the world, we still have a land-locked mindset. Perhaps that has something to do with a refurbished mythic mindset: a pathologic horror of crossing the Kala Pani. But such superstitious prohibitions, though they may be the flavour of season, are illogical.

Sea as entry point

The 26/11 terrorists came to Mumbai by sea, not overland. They can come that way, again. Our coastline is 7,516.6 km long. Much of India's industries are located within 200 km of this coastline: well within the range of seaborne missiles. A major part of India's trade by volume - 90% - is by sea, 77% by value. As our port facilities are enhanced, this is bound to increase.

On the military and strategic side, the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are the most strategically important in the world. Our main, and most aggressive, rival in Asia is China who also operates through its surrogate, Pakistan. This is why it is so protective of Hafiz Saeed. As long as he continues to capture the attention of our netas, obsessed with their dreams of an all-India hegemony, our insular mind-set with prevail while China slowly consolidates its control over the Indo-Pacific region.

Pakistan did not invest enough in its strategic think tanks, defence industries and, most important of all, the constant training of its defence service personnel. It is not the army's job to do such civilian works as building railway over-bridges or cleaning up the garbage left by careless tourists.

Or even, as the Pakistan Army reportedly does, grow opium poppies and cannabis though these are very profitable undertakings. Such commercial activities fatten and make unfit the essentially lean, mean, military mind. This, in turn, leads to the criminal unpreparedness manifest in Karachi in December, 1971. With the increasing might of our Asian rival, what we did to Pakistan on that historic day, can be done to us in every one of our major ports at a time of our rival's choosing.

This will emasculate our ability to achieve our potential for many generations to come. So, to our netas we say, stop being mesmerised by your own theatrical, egoistic jumlas. Wake up and smell the choking smoke of oil and explosives. The next missile attack might be closer to your home, much closer.

(The writer is a retired Indian Navy officer)

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