Months of deaths, infections and hellish experiences of isolation for hundreds of thousands, the threat of COVID-19 continues to ravage the world. Governments have been called into question, and state institutions are put to the test to deal with modern-day plague that threatens our collective survival.

As COVID-19 spreads its deadly tentacles, the very concept of security held by the developing nations such as Pakistan is fading out, with an ever-increasing public pressure to dedicate more resources in dealing with disease, hunger and starvation, rather than fighting an “imagined enemy.”

In recent months, social media has dragged many amateurs and subject matter experts alike to debate what is more important an aircraft or a ventilator. Certain Twitter handles deliberately fanned the debate invoking either/or fallacy. In fact, traditional and non-traditional security approaches, in theory and practice, are not mutually exclusive but complimentary. Put simply, military aircrafts and medical ventilators go hand in hand in mitigating the deadly consequences of wars, natural calamities and pandemics.  This has been vividly demonstrated by Pakistan Navy (PN) in times of global pandemic, utilizing its personnel and assets to guard coastal borders and communities against COVID-19.

Pakistan’s coastal proximity to Iran, one of the epicentres of the pandemic, made it highly vulnerable. Apathy in the sea could have jeopardized the government response on the land. But thus far, Pakistan Navy and its affiliated agencies have done a solid job in avoiding immediate catastrophe at sea. Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency have ensured screening of the coastline to check any undetected illegal move through sea. Together with Fishermen Cooperatives, medical teams are deployed at all fish harbours in the coastal regions to screen outbound and inbound fishermen. Besides financial contributions in Corona Relief Fund, Pakistan Navy is continuously engaged in providing food rations and awareness to coastal communities in Gwadar, Pasni, Bin Qasim, Sonmiani, Keti Bandar and other adjacent areas.

By the time Pakistan’s first COVID-19positive patient surfaced in the coastal city of Karachi in late February, the PN was aware how the virus could wreak havoc on commercial and naval ships. The tale of Diamond Princess, the cruise ship infested with the virus, had convinced the Naval strategists in Pakistan that the prospect of contagious disease aboard ship is real. Hence, no naval asset/platform is permitted to visit highly infected shores.

Pakistan’s food security in the times of crises largely depends on measures taken by Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Pakistan Navy and other entities in the maritime domain. To keep ships moving and ports fully functional, the MoMA instructed the port authorities to expedite clearing and dispatching all essential supplies of medical equipment, medical supplies and protective gear, perishable items, and foodstuff. Resultantly, compared to other regional ports Karachi and Bin Qasim ports are less disrupted, in terms of port operations and staffing. Pakistan risks exposing itself to high-level of uncertainty in availability of basic food items and medical essentials if port operations are disrupted.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Navy ships are undertaking routine patrols and overseas operations with diligence in order to safeguard Pakistan’s national interests. The newly inducted ship Yarmook made its maiden voyage in early March. Navy ships involved in Combined Maritime Forces against terrorism and piracy have continued to perform their duties responsibly in international waters. Pakistan Navy’s destroyers and patrol vessels are also continuing routine surveillance and patrols in order to safeguard territorial waters.

Exclusive focus on non-traditional threats in absence of an external security umbrella comes at a heavy cost. Pakistan Navy is cognizant. India, under American tutelage, is on the path of belligerence not only in the land and air but also in the seas. Any temporal disruption in naval capabilities could be exploited by the savvy adversary. Therefore, equal attention and resources are being dedicated to boost conventional naval capabilities. In February 2020, Pakistan Navy organized SEASPARK-20, a major maritime exercise to assess war preparedness and validate operational plans in response to emerging regional and global challenges. Recent induction of Yarmuk, a state-of-the-art electronic warfare, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare platform with cutting edge self-protection and terminal defence systems, was also intended to convey a strong message; Corona or no Corona, Pakistan Navy is on guards to respond to any Balakot-type misadventure in the sea. And this time, no tea for intruders.


– The writer is an assistant professor at NDU.