Still a long way to go
India has been inscribed and described in a number of ways widely ranging from regional power, emerging power, a major power, great power and would be great power. However, what unite a significant number of these standpoints are the domineering structures, aspirations, ambitions and hegemonic designs of India.
Notwithstanding as bourgeoning force, India tries to restate its maritime vision, ability and capability by structuring a blue water navy and enunciating a naval doctrine that accentuates the job of India as a net security provider in the IOR.
The Indian Ocean once acronym for the zone of peace is now witnessing a strategic competition for ‘vital’ space. The emerging and rising role of India along with some other global powers in the IOR has somehow forced India to steer from its continental interests to some strategic maritime goals.
Numerically Indian Navy stands as the fifth largest, with almost 171 vessels and around 250 aircrafts. By developing nuclear a submarine which is capable of launching nuclear tipped missiles, India has acquired the third layer of its Nuclear Triad, which essentially poses great threat to not only Pakistan but the whole IOR in general, if and only if the submarine is operational.
The foremost criticalness of Chabahar port is that it can step side Pakistan by providing India a strategic ingress to Afghanistan and bolster India’s access to Iran
Indian Ocean region is a noteworthy course of global trade mainly energy and a profitable hotspot for fishing and other mineral resources; likewise are the choke points and strategic ports of Chabahar and Duqm, where India is gaining and developing access. The foremost criticalness of Chabahar port is that it can step side Pakistan by providing India a strategic ingress to Afghanistan and bolster India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Iran, Russia, Europe and Central Asia. Secondly it will also be beneficial for India in countering China Pakistan Economic Corridor most importantly the maritime leg of the aforesaid project. Similarly, the port of Duqm is also of generous importance to India for it is the gateway to Red Sea through Gulf of Eden and will also provide logistical support to it. According to various reports mainly by the Indian media, a dry dock will also be available at the Duqm, allowing maintenance without returning the vessels back to Indian based shipyards, thus assuring India’s constant presence.
However, steps of developing and gaining access to these strategic ports are a clear omen of India’s hegemonic designs in the region and its aspirations to isolate Pakistan. It’s important to mention here that the Indian security landscape is also shaped by a number of regional and global issues which are ultimately manifested in its geopolitical rebalancing, increased assertiveness and belligerence towards its neighbours, so for that matter India’s use of force and coercive policies are also not a surprise particularly for Pakistan. Though it has certainly not fetched India fruitful results and Pakistan despite being numerically less but marked with professionalism always gave India a befitting response like operation “Dwarka” in which the radar Installations of Dwarka were destroyed, it was one of the significant operations of 1965 war which was a valour display of dedication and commitment of the PN personnel involved in it. Again in 1971 Pakistan navy submarine Hangor sank INS Khurki inflicting Indian Navy the largest wartime casualty with almost 176 sailors and 18 officers dead including the commanding officer of the ship.
The immense importance of Indian Ocean to India is beyond question. Agreed, but does it have that capability and capability to exercise leverage and harness the potential Indian Ocean has? And if we establish the fact about capability does it have that credibility? The absence of India’s Nuclear Submarine Arihant came into the knowledge of authorities when the Indian Navy was making precautionary advance deployment last year during the Dokhlam standoff with China. Later it was also reported that one of the rear hatch of the submarine was left open ‘accidentally’- this speaks volumes about the inefficacy of Indian Navy.
Moreover, mere rhetoric and empty slogans are certainly not going to work. The effective management of Indian Ocean Region interest by India definitely requires adroit skills which Indian Navy doesn’t possess yet. One such example out of various happenings is that of Indian ‘INS PRABAL’ amid the ongoing stand-off between the two countries. The corvette was stationed at Muscat port and it didn’t leave the port fearing presence of Pakistan Navy ships patrolling in the Gulf of Oman. The corvette’s cowardly act was an indignity on the part of Indian Navy which decided to keep the corvette in Muscat port and avoided any interaction. Pakistan Navy continuously monitored movement of the ship and entire fleet throughout Southern IOR. It has been heard from reliable sources, a meeting was held at Indian Naval Headquarters for safe return of corvette to homeport. Accordingly, the carrier group was tasked to take the corvette under cover. After so many assurances, the corvette left Muscat and raced away following the territorial waters of Oman to join the saviour carrier group that escorted the corvette to its homeport. The corvette taking refuge in a foreign port and avoiding any interaction is a clear manifestation that Indian Navy never dares to come close to Pakistan waters. The deployment pattern of other ships and carrier group were also at extended ranges having no substantial effect. The icing on the cake for Indian Naval failure was the detection of Indian newly inducted Scorpène submarine by Pakistan Navy. Pakistan Navy showed restraint for overall peace in the region by not attacking the detected submarine in PN AOR. Indeed, this is the second occasion of submarine detection by Pakistan Navy anti-submarine assets. In Nov 2016, post Uri incident stand-off, an Indian 209 Class submarine was thwarted out of Pakistani waters.
In a nutshell Indian Navy lacks the required professionalism and thereby cannot yet exercise the leverage it aspires to over the Indian Ocean. While on the other hand the Pakistani Naval Force despite being less numerically is fully capable and equipped with the skills required to thwart any threat.