BY: Dr. Masood Khattak
Recent clashes on the Line of Control (LoC) exposed the Indian military’s self pro-claimed conventional dominance vis-à-vis Pakistan. As sequel of Pakistan’s response and India’s embarrassment in losing two fighter jets and apprehension of a pilot, the Indian Navy’s offensive venture in Pakistani waters also suffered pitiful consequence when its highly equipped Scorpene submarine got detected via Pakistan Navy surveillance efforts; nothing could be more excruciating amid war patrol for a potent naval platform – more so a submarine. With rather young platform, equipped with advanced sensor and equipment suites, longer submergence ability, detection of the Scorpene submarine pushed Indian navy to professional dust and raised eye brows on its ambitious superiority at sea. This was the second time since 2016 that Indian Navy tried to enter Pakistan’s seas but effectively denied space. Pakistan’s mature response of displaying restraint hauled diplomatic triumph alongside military professionalism.
The myth of Indian Navy’s invincibility in the Indian Ocean Region – (IORs) has been busted. A closer look at the peace time accidents, human errors/ shortcomings or blunders indicate it as grappling with vintage warships, lack of professionalism, where rather new platforms remain disposed to many serious incidents in the recent past raising questions on India’s claim of maritime dominance in the IORs. Be it blast onboard Kilo Class INS Sindhurakshak in 2013 killing over 20 crew and loss of vessel in the harbor or the most distressing incident of the only Indian nuclear warhead carrier submarine – INS Arihant – facing serious damage in its propulsion compartment because of incompetence of the Indian Navy personnel, who left the hatch open leading to flooding rendering the sub out of service for almost a year.
Few months after a massive explosion sank an Indian submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, fire inside INS Sindhuratna, and subsequent resignation of Naval Chief Admiral D K Joshi was grim reminder for India that all is but satisfactory with Indian navy. Twelve mishaps involving submarines and warships in a span of just a few months are enough to potentially cripple the navy’s operational capabilities, severely impairing India’s ambitions of becoming a strategic blue-water power able to operate far beyond its widespread coastline.
Well-placed sources mention that Indian navy despite operating 10 Kilo Class submarines acquired from Russia for around four decades, has not been able to establish a comprehensive maintenance infrastructure for these platforms and still relying on Russian expertise. Comparing to Pakistan Navy, whose rich submarine experience spread over five decades has remained highly safe and professionally rewarding. It is a well established fact that surface ship’s engagement after Falkland War is to the credit of Pakistani submarine force only.
Amid such tarnished track record at own end, Mr Shishir Gupta in his article published in Hindustan Times on 1 April, downplaying Pakistan’s submarine outlook rather than in-house professional and safety standards, is simply put “extreme illusionism”. Post 27 Feb standoff, maximum PN subs were deployed at very short notice as offensive weapon against any misadventure against Pakistan. On the Indian side, serious issues in safety procedures, handling and weapons-related procedures on naval platforms are effectively sufficient to smudge country’s repute globally especially when it claims to be a dominant regional power, with aspirations for becoming a global power. Lack of confidence in own anti-submarine capability and fear of so called “only Pakistan Navy submarine presence at sea” was evident with resorting to option of dropping random depth bombs while IN ships were in submarine probable areas, in clear disregard for the marine ecosystem and the health of marine life.
It was unfortunate astronomical chakra for India whereby at the most crucial standoff stage with Pakistan in recent years, availability of avant-guard (for India) Kilo Class submarines remained minimal; only one could stay out while remaining were under some sort of maintenance. Least to expect, one of the Indian navy 209 Class submarine also caught fire in Mumbai Harbor post – Pulwama standoff between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan Navy with regular development programme will remain a serious challenge and efficient counter balance to the Indian Navy. Mischief of India however, continues leaving lot to wonder in saneness for issuance of notice to mariners (NTMs) across entire Indian west coast for anti-submarine firings despite credible intelligence of merely single Pakistani submarine operational and deployed; held with top intelligence officials in India – as stated by Shishir Gupta and Rahul Singh.
With Indian Navy’s poor safety and professional standards and irresponsible leadership unveiled post 27 Feb, probable mishandling strategic assets by India at sea descends towards catastrophic implications for marine environment and regional security for the IOR community warranting unanimous censure at regional and international forums.
The Writer is a lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He could be reached email@example.com.