In 1789 during yet another famine in France, the princess Marie Antoinette upon being told that the peasants had no bread, is said to have replied with frivolous disregard for the starving peasants with the words “Let them eat cake”. Today, the condition of the Pakistani citizens is quite similar to the French peasants of 1789.
The desperate economic conditions in Pakistan and the impact of floods has led the Finance Ministry to issue directives for implementing strict austerity measures for year 2022 – 2023. These measures aim to curtail operating expenditure and reduce the economic burden of the people.
However, it seems that these directives never reached their Navy.
Very recently, Pakistan Navy Ships Shamsheer and Nasr visited Yokosuka Port in Japan with an aim to participate in the International Fleet Review. In much contrast to the government verdict of “no unnecessary expenditure”, the visit was neither mandatory nor of importance. However much to the citizen’s dismay, neither the empty coffers nor the grave economic situation of the people seemed to deter the Navy from going on a tourism cum shopping spree.
Pakistan Navy Ships visit Yokosuka Port in Japan
In economically stable conditions, a Naval ship’s visit to a foreign port would have been welcomed by the citizens. However the economic burden posed by these activities have quadrupled the fear of a complete breakdown of society. While the cost of fuel for such a long voyage is in itself a huge deterrent, the fact that the ships will be stopping at almost five to seven countries during the futile passage, has made matters worse.
Monetary Implications of this cruise
Let’s look at the basic requirement of a naval voyage. The mandatory requirements include buying stores, fuel/lubricants, undertaking necessary repairs, paying the crew in international currency etc. But is this all? Definitely not. Each stop at a foreign port will require a mandatory interaction with the diplomats, exchange of gifts, parties with great pomp and show to announce the naval ships’ arrival, preparation of native cuisines etc.…The expenditure is definitely mind boggling.
Who is paying for this?
All this is paid through already depleting foreign reserves. Therefore understandably, if news of such frivolous expenditure, especially in these trying times were to reach the general public there would be a furore, and a well justified one. But Pakistan’s Navy has been clever, or at least it thinks it has been.
Where normally, all port visits are turned to a media circus by the Navy, this time not a single press release is available on the open media. Why? Because of a stringent gag order on issuing media bites by the government. The Navy has warned cruising ships to conduct events without the presence of press. The aim apparently is to prevent citizens from becoming aware of this trip to Japan. Pakistan’s naval commanders seem to be relying on their belief (definitely flawed and misguided) that – ordinary Pakistani citizen are like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand – what it cannot see, does not exist!
In today’s world where information travels faster than light – there are enough people who monitor everything. Which is why hiding the journey of two huge warships was definitely worthless. As soon as a local net-hawker identified the movement of the naval ships – the world and entire Pakistan was made aware of the secret journey. The Maverick could not outfox these people.
Frivolous Spending in Desperate Times
While one may still be able to find an excuse for Navy’s foreign visits, but what about the inflating expenditure on the procurement and projects, which are of no immediate importance? As pointed out by social media users a few days earlier, the Pakistan navy has been planning to procure four Frigates (each from Turkey and China), four to eight Corvettes (from the Netherlands), eight submarines (from China) and almost ten new aircraft for its maritime fleet.
Which brings a very interesting scenario to light – the huge lack of communication between the Pakistan’s government and its navy. On one hand the government has been insisting on cutting down operating costs and even travel/fuel usage by every ministry and service, but on the other, the Armed Forces are on a shopping spree. And whose money are these forces using? The question that the citizens of Pakistan need to ask is despite the mushrooming economic crisis, why is there a need to undertake such frivolous expenditure/cruises? And if they are really necessary, why the extra effort to hide it?
Many Pakistanis have already started asking such questions, a mass outcry is not far. And while the Pak armed forces especially its navy may pretend to be blissfully unaware of their countrymen’s plight, they must realize that secret voyages will not help the deplorable situation of their country and their fellow countrymen.
This article has been contributed by Commander Abhishek Rathi (Retd), Indian Naval Officer
Commander Abhishek Rathi (Retd) is a retired executive officer and holds an experience of commanding two naval warships. He has a keen interest in maritime history and technology. The officer is also an avid nature photographer and likes traveling all across India for it.