Written By: Tanveer Shahid
The spirit of human relief turns into a national commitment when it comes to render assistance in one’s neighbourhood or across the oceans. Navies, across the globe, are by default well-suited to render Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief Operations (HA&DR).
Not only at home but across frontiers also, contribution of the men in uniform in combatting disasters, soothing human pain, mitigating losses and resurrecting from the ruins have been enormous. Given the organisational forte in terms of operational capacity, quick mobilisation, technical wherewithal, trained manpower and resources, armed forces globally are amongst the first to join civil administration to deal with disasters. Extending humanitarian assistance beyond borders, achieved predominantly by navies, reflects the colourful shades such as human compassion, international responsibility, interstate goodwill, bilateral cooperation, exchange of warmth at the masses’ level, projection of power and gunboat diplomacy.
More recently, the floods of 2017 in Sri Lanka also emulated the hands-in-glove humanitarian assistance and relief efforts of the Sri Lankan armed forces, and Pakistan Navy, representing Pakistan’s wholehearted and swift support to bandage the human suffering.
How do armed forces comprehend and embark on humanitarian assistance? The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) defines it as “aid to an affected population that seeks, as its primary purpose, to save lives and alleviate suffering of a crisis-affected population, to be provided in accordance with the basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.” Humanitarian assistance interfacing the armed forces and civilian administration, especially when conducted in international domain, needs to be well regulated. The UNOCHA internationally issued guidelines on use of armed forces in humanitarian operations; ‘Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief’ (1994 Oslo Guidelines) establish basic framework for use of military in international disaster relief in peacetime. In any localized international humanitarian operations, the country involved may define its operational guidelines for civil-military coordination and related aspects for successful relief efforts.
Recent history is punctuated with the initiatives of militaries around the world to assist the humans and provide relief in disasters – be it the cyclone of Bangladesh in 1991, hurricane ‘Mitch’ in Central America in 1998, earthquake of Indian Gujarat in 2001, Indonesian tsunami in 2004, hurricane ‘Katrina’ of the U.S. in 2005, earthquake in Northern Areas of Pakistan in 2005, the UK floods in 2007; the earthquake of China in 2008, the earthquake of Haiti and the devastating floods of Pakistan in 2010, or the devastation in Japan in 2011. Recalling a few ones from the unfortunate long list of disasters, we could appreciate that the yeoman spirit of the forces – be it army, navy or air force – and the humanitarian response in disasters and natural calamities has been exponentially moving up the spiral. Land and air forces strenuously commit themselves when it comes to challenge the destruction within a state or in case of purely a continental disaster.
In Pakistan, the distressing earthquake of October 2005 that perished around 73,000 lives leaving more than 3 million homeless; or the devastating floods of August 2010 that drowned around 1,800 to death and affected over 20 million are amongst the tall testimonies of national spirit, professionalism and selfless service of the Armed Forces of Pakistan. Pakistan Army proficiently spearheaded the relief and rehabilitation efforts of the forces. Pakistan Air Force remained commendable in the aerial support role. During these testing times, and in fact at any juncture of disaster along the coast or at sea, Pakistan Navy has remained thoroughly active in Sindh and Balochistan. The 5-R sequence of disaster relief operations – Rescue, Relief, Recuperation, Rebuild and Rehabilitation – has been thoroughly lived by the Armed Forces in unison with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs), district administrations, and NGOs.
The spirit of human relief turns into a national commitment when it comes to render assistance in one’s neighbourhood or across the oceans. Navies, across the globe, are by default well-suited to render Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief Operations (HA&DR) beyond horizons, besides essentially projecting their national maritime combat power. It is estimated that more than 44 percent of world’s 7.5 billion population lives within a hundred-mile arc of the seas. Various other factors also answer to ‘whys’ of this international HA&DR suitability of navies, such as mobility, prompt deployment, operating capability with no reliance ashore; onboard structure of medical support, strategic and tactical lift capability through onboard (organic) helicopters (and/or ground vehicles), logistic support and composite C3 (Command, Control and Communication) outfit. Notably, the naval forces are self-sustaining and exclude requirement of additional logistical burden in areas where infrastructure is already in shambles or severely impaired.
While littoral states continue to focus on developing the combat power of their navies for strategic and diplomatic roles, their national Maritime Doctrines articulate HA&DR as one of their core objectives. Growing HA&DR capability has become an important area, besides the mainstream combat growth of a navy as a vital instrument of national power. Whereas a maritime doctrine may dictate regional maritime environment, cardinal principles guiding naval outlook in national perspective, strategic and operational modus-operandi of the application of maritime power in war and peace, a doctrine equally spells out various dimensions of HA&DR operations in national and international perspectives.
Pakistan’s maritime combat strength entails Pakistan Navy being the country’s maritime backbone as defenders of maritime frontiers, a maritime shield; and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), a paramilitary maritime Law Enforcement Agency, a maritime ombudsman, working under the Ministry of Defence and patronage of Pakistan Navy. Pakistan’s strategic thought is developing significantly through naval cooperation and diplomacy unveiling the shadowed maritime outlook. The development of Gwadar Port, the gateway of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, expanding of ports and offshore infrastructure, increased focus on fishing industry, growing merchant shipping activity vis-a-vis development of combat strength of Pakistan Navy and maritime law enforcement capability of PMSA, testify the promising and focused national maritime strategy.
Building up from a modest start after independence Pakistan Navy today is a modern, balanced and potent maritime force with its regional outlook. As its military objectives, Navy seeks to protect maritime interests of Pakistan, deter seaward aggression, safeguard Sea Lines of Communication (or maritime corridors) and maintain international cooperation for good order at sea. Along with naval roles, the Chief of Naval Staff, being the Principal Maritime Advisor to the government, superintends growth of national maritime sector. Navy, thus holds a number of significant core objectives amongst others: to effectively maintain and grow combat power and its operating force; to undertake effective naval diplomacy; to develop coastal cities and coastal communities heralding nation-building role of the Armed Forces; and, to undertake HA&DR operations at home or abroad duly aligned with the state’s diplomatic aspirations.
Internationally, Pakistan Navy had been carrying out proactive and wholehearted response during the HA&DR operations particularly after the East-Asian tsunami of 2004, rescue of MV Suez from pirates in 2011, conduct of Humanitarian Operations in evacuating the stranded Pakistanis and foreign nationals in Yemen in 2015, and extending assistance to Sri Lanka in May this year.
During the devastating onslaught of tsunami in 2004 over South East Asia, originating in the sea off Indonesia and spreading to its north and west, Pakistan Navy ships (PNS) NASR, an auxiliary tanker, and TARIQ, a Type-21 destroyer, extended humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The ships and their resources were put to the service of governments of the affected countries for evacuation and relief of the stranded tourists/locals from islands. Pakistan, through Navy, continued the humanitarian, diplomatic and logistic assistance by sending a Type-21 frigate and an auxiliary – PNS KHAIBAR and PNS MOAWIN – with ample relief goods to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. These vessels had three helicopters, a Pak Marines detachment, naval doctors, and paramedics. Besides, relief goods – medicines, medical equipment, food supplies, tents, and blankets – were sent in enormous quantities to the affected populace in friendly countries.
Operation Umeed-e-Nuh, a Pakistan Navy operation against piracy, was launched in June 2011 to rescue MV Suez, attacked and taken hostage by Somali pirates. PNS BABUR, a Type-21 TARIQ class frigate that was deployed on counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, was tasked to provide all necessary assistance to Panama-flagged ship against the pirates. The Navy had dispatched teams of Naval Special Forces troops, medical teams and food provisions onboard PNS BABUR. The ship was successfully rescued; however, due to the merchant ship’s deteriorated operational and material state, the crew needed additional help from Pakistan Navy as the ship was unable to maintain its floatability. PNS ZULFIQUAR, a sword class destroyer, was then tasked to group with PNS BABUR to safely evacuate the crew. Employing naval helicopters, 22 crew members, including 11 Egyptians, 6 Indians, 4 Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan were safely rescued and brought to Pakistan for onward journey to their respective homelands. The operation was globally an estimable blend of operational and humanitarian operation.
In 2015, Pakistan Navy carried out another successful HA&DR operation during the war-like circumstances in Yemen. The evacuation mission was a civil-military combined effort by Pakistan to extract and evacuate overseas Pakistanis from the war-torn areas of Yemen. The situation in Mukalla, located 480 km east of the major port of Aden, had become critical after Al Qaeda fighters stormed the city. Through a discreetly planned mission, the evacuation effort was launched from the Ash Shihr Port. PNS ASLAT, a sword class combatant, safely evacuated 148 Pakistanis and 35 foreign nationals, including 11 Indians, 8 Chinese and 4 Britishers, two naval ships, PNS ASLAT and PNS SHAMSHEER safely evacuated not only 190 stranded Pakistanis in Yemen but 55 foreign nationals of China, India, Philippines, UK, Indonesia, Syria, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Bangladesh, Romania, Qatar, Ethiopia and Germany. This particular operation was applauded by the international community and reinforced affability with the states whose citizens were evacuated, generating global goodwill – with India in particular.
Lately in May this year, in the aftermath of severe floods in Sri Lanka, Pakistan Navy extended all-out men and material support in coordination with the Sri Lankan authorities to the flood affected local populace. PNS ZULFIQUAR performed as the base camp for Navy HA&DR. Pakistan Navy Search and Rescue teams, reached the remote areas of countryside in the affected districts. The medical camps were established in rural districts of Colombo. In addition, dry ration, fresh water and edibles were distributed amongst the displaced families. Ship’s Disaster Response Teams comprising the Special Services Group (Navy) and Pakistan Marines provided assistance in close coordination with the Sri Lankan Navy to earn the goodwill for Pakistan and the emblem of the Armed Forces.
The humanitarian operations strategy of PN has been consistently up ladder in terms of HA&DR design, scope, capacity and reach apropos its amassing stature as a regional force and growing international collaboration. Given the forward posture, inherent mobility, and highly flexible nature of a Navy with diverse capabilities, naval forces in general, and Pakistan Navy in national perspective, remains to be the force of choice for international HA&DR missions. In order to bolster their HA&DR capabilities, navies tend to acquire naval platforms that are particularly well-suited to conduct HA&DR operations without compromise on fleet strength engaged in traditional naval warfare missions. For instance, bigger auxiliaries, a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) ship or similar family of platforms can conveniently reach the debris-littered shores in clear advantage against mainstream warships or auxiliaries. The LPD is normally capable of carrying a number of helicopters and along with its landing craft can land relief supplies and manpower faster.
Building on relationships forged in times of calm, Pakistan Navy continues to mitigate human suffering as the precursor of offshore efforts, in a proactive fashion to respond to disaster crises. As a maritime nation with a robust maritime capability, the sea remains amongst best mediums for Pakistan to carry national goodwill, promote soft diplomacy, project naval power, nurture bilateral friendships and extend helping hand to mankind across the oceans as a responsible nation. And, imperative use of navies in international HA&DR operations affirms the effective role the military plays in undertaking the humanitarian relief activities besides defending one’s homeland. Since Independence, preserving and floating on the collective resolve of nationhood, Armed Forces continue to march with and for the nation to be safe, secure and smiling – be it peace or war.
The writer is a freelancer, a maritime and defence professional.