Thursday June 13, 2024

Military duty and Covid-19

By Muhammad Azam Khan
April 24, 2020

An April 20 column in the Indian press censures Pakistan for continuing with missile test firings and so-called terror missions in Indian Occupied Kashmir amid rising concerns about COVID-19. The op-ed singles out Pakistan Navy for releasing area warnings in Arabian Sea to conduct missile firings.

World-wide, armed forces remain alive and alert to all kinds of external and internal threats. They are also involved to shore up national effort in calamity or crisis. Militaries across the world are today reaching out to their citizens in need and reinforcing respective national efforts to contain the spread of deadly coronavirus. Pakistan is no exception.

While upholding its core mission and maintaining credible combat potential, Pakistan Navy is helping the distressed section of the society in the country. Sure enough, the aid to civil authorities comes without lowering of the guard. Fully cognizant of its national responsibility, Pakistan Navy has reached out to coastal communities and residents of inland water ways. It is also opening new channels of communication in urban centres and farthest rural expanses of the country, particularly in provinces of Balochistan and Sindh. Areas of specific focus are hunger mitigation, poverty and disease eradication, personal protection equipment, food and cash distribution besides general hygiene training and preventive measures.

A number of corona infected personnel were recently reported onboard US and French aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle respectively. Those afflicted ships were recalled to ports for disembarking and isolating infected crew members. Such incidents however, did not result in US or French navies abandoning their routine deployments or curtailing whatever other operations were underway. The discovery of over 26 corona infected sailors in Indian Navy’s Western naval command too did not necessitate Indian navy to cease operations on the western seaboard. It was however, wise enough to swiftly remove all related reports from internet.

As recently as April 14, the international media cited Indian naval chief issuing warning to Beijing for its continued presence in the Indian Ocean. While addressing Raisina Dialogue, a multilateral forum committed to addressing the most challenging issues facing the global community, Indian Admiral did not spare a thought for the suffering of teeming millions in his own country.

He was more concerned about Chinese navy’s presence in Indian Ocean. To be precise, he fulminated, “If anyone operates in our region, they have to notify us first.” A press release later by the Indian Navy said, “The Dornier squadron, operating from the air station, has been undertaking regular maritime surveillance missions”. This statement and Indian Navy’s press release should suffice to put to rest the misleading and conjured claims in the Indian column. As masses suffer in India under pressure of COVID-19, its more than business as usual in Indian Navy; in fact India is steeped in militarism.

In the Gulf, Indian Navy ships are patrolling to ‘ensure the security of India's sea-borne trade; an informed observer may inquire as to why Indian Navy ships are still steaming in Gulf waters and against whom?. Even if there is some threat, US Navy is strategically locked to the Indian Navy. These crutches are enough to guard India’s maritime interests anyway.

Let us also take stock of virus statistics. Pakistan has tested roughly 70,000 suspected cases as of April 20. This is about 250 per million people, far more than India (129 per million). According to the Indian press, ‘tens of millions of Indians living below the poverty line and transient migrant rural-to-urban migrant workers were left with their livelihoods up ended by the lockdown’. ‘Attempts by the Indian government to offer a social safety net are insufficient, with spending at under 1 percent of Indian GDP’, claims a report.

In so far alleged terrorism by Pakistan is concerned, one may go nowhere except read what Subramanian Swamy, a top BJP leader and member of Indian parliament, said in a recent interview. “We know where the Muslim population is large there is always trouble because the Islamic ideology says so.” No wonder, ‘the Indian government is exploiting COVID-19 to ramp up suppression of Muslims, comparing the tactic to one used by the Nazis’. ‘This, alleged strategy on the part of the Hindu nationalist government would ‘dovetail with this illness to create something which the world should really keep its eyes on’, ‘the situation is approaching genocidal’, says, the Booker Prize winner author and political activist Arundhati Roy. The author is a freelance columnist with interest in maritime security issues.