INDIAN OCEAN REGION WATCH
In 2009, Robert D Kaplan noted that geography dictates and determines the “critical trend in world politics”. Anyone looking at the map of the Indian Ocean would not miss the geostrategic location of peninsular India whose three shores are lapped by the waves from the seas in the Indian Ocean. A keen politico-economic observer would also notice that India and many of the region’s other littorals are home to some of the largest consumer societies in the world.
For long, China has felt contained and boxed within the limited sea room in West Pacific inside the series of island chains to China’s east. To a large extent, this ‘centuries of containment’ has fueled Beijing’s strong desire to gain access to the wide and open expanse that is offered by the Indian Ocean. It has manifested into her two-ocean strategy which has been in play for nearly two decades. Thus, with a long-term business and colonial interest in mind, when Chinese naval vessels arrived in the Gulf of Aden in 2009, they ruffled the largely peaceful waters of the Indian Ocean, sans piracy in the western seas. Their arrival added fuel to fire as they sold missiles systems to competing littoral states, who until then had been balancing well between peace and turmoil. Looking out for ‘friends with benefits’, China found a natural ally in Pakistan whose relationships with the United States were rapidly souring at that stage. Business relationships were consolidated quickly into strategic ties, with Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) touted as a jewel in China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy in the Indian Ocean. Even after being in play for five years and not accruing any economic benefit, Pakistan continues to dream that its subscription to BRI provides it strategic depth against India.
China remained fully cognizant that in comparison to India or United States, it is in a weaker position in the Indian Ocean. Its official dismissal of any plans for creating military bases overseas has been a ploy to buy time. Many Chinese scholars have argued that use of port services and ad hoc logistic support facilities in ports, such as Gwadar, is only a step towards establishing permanent naval base(s). Given their economic benefits, scholars in Beijing are now advocating that establishment of overseas naval bases is China’s right. Under guise of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China is today deeply entrenched in Pakistan’s affairs and has entangled the host nation in its economic fishnet. Blinded by its relationship with China and its deep-seated hatred towards India, Pakistan is under completely misplaced impression that the sales of warships, aircraft and submarines from its ‘all weather friend’ is for Pakistan’s good and for bringing peace to Indian Ocean!
As recent as June 25 this year, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) yet again denied removal of Pakistan from its ‘grey list’ because of ‘deficiencies’ observed in Pakistan’s mechanism to pluck terrorism financing. With Pakistan’s continuation in the ‘grey list’, Islamabad is unable to receive any substantial financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) or the European Union. This has further aggravated problems for the debt-ridden nation, whose already precarious financial situation is nose-diving into Beijing’s debt trap. Islamabad is finding itself in a perilous state in dealing with China. Pakistan’s debt-ridden diplomacy has jeopardised even its territorial integrity as land and infrastructure has been doled out freely to multiple Chinese State Managed Enterprises. It is unfortunate that the country is now also becoming devoid of strategic autonomy in thoughts and action.
Earlier this year in January, one of Pakistan’s Naval Ship Nasr had set sail from Karachi to visit Djibouti and Sudan, both along north western coast of Africa. Media in Islamabad was prompt to tout this deployment as an initiative to explore new options for engagement. Presumably the deployment was a part of a previously unheard foreign policy initiative called ‘Engage Africa Policy’! Most surprising was the media’s statement that the deployment was tailored to assist the vulnerable population affected by natural disasters in the host countries! For a country whose economy is unable to make ends meet without grants and capital investments from Beijing, and where at least 10 million people have been added each year in below poverty line status for the last three years, to deliver provisions to countries presumed to be in destitute, didn’t stand to any logic unless Islamabad’s hands were tied and their lips sealed. Perhaps the deployment of Nasr to the two African nations was dictated by Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’. Given the exponentially high degree of economic debt that Islamabad has today from China, the likelihood of Beijing directing Islamabad to act in its subjugation remains high!
China is well entrenched in Pakistan’s affairs and is leaving no option aside to enhance its footprint in Indian Ocean. After making a windfall in politics, business, infrastructure and even agriculture inside Pakistan, Beijing is now persuading, directing and dictating tunes for Islamabad to dance too. So blinded is Pakistan in pursuing its single point anti-India agenda, that it is unable to see that the Chinese ships, submarines and aircrafts which it is (will be) receiving at ‘friendly prices’ are coming at a huge price of losing its own independence of thought and actions. The comments of the Chief of Naval Staff of the Pakistan Navy, Admiral M Amjad Khan Niazi, published in the Chinese daily, Global Times, in early February this year prior hosting a multi-lateral exercise, Aman-21, were seminal in this context. The Admiral was all praise for the Chinese Navy and championed the presence of this extra-regional naval force in the Indian Ocean to meet region’s maritime security requirements. He elaborated on series of weapons, sensors, combat systems and platforms which are being doled out to Islamabad. He, however, remained blaringly silent on the cost of these expensive toys and how his country’s debt-ridden economy would pay for them. The Admiral surely couldn’t be so naïve to not realise the cost of autonomy to his navy for such deals!!
Beijing’s model for investing in projects using own overcapacity, establishing port facilities, and doling out military hardware is now a well know colonialism ploy through economic debt. And the polity in Islamabad is simply choosing to ignore the consequences of Beijing’s ‘friendship actions’ to Pakistan’s sovereignty. Perhaps, we are witnessing the first stage of Pakistan’s Navy being re-established as “China’s Flotilla of Pakistan”!!
This article has been sent to the editor by Shree Pandey, who is political analyst and a keen observer of South Asian region.
COVID-19 – A Disaster Management baggage or A National Security Concern?
As COVID-19 cases start to intensify again after a short and peaceful interlude, the viral disease again stresses the issue that whether the disease is just a mere health emergency confided to its medical liabilities, or is it a National Security concern at large as it ostensibly affects the decisive decade i.e., 2020-2030. The Covid outbreak has conveniently presented an opportunity to reconsider the current emergency and disaster-response authorities. Not only has the disease threatened the well-being of the nation and its population but also has diverted the attention and resources of the government away from other national security threats. Hence, it is necessary for a country like India to explore and amend the old statutory framework that simply negates the healthcare challenges as national security threats. Furthermore, the geographical challenges which India anticipates with respect to China in terms of war increases manifold ever since the controversy regarding Covid-virus being synthesized in Wuhan’s lab has surfaced. The controversy did not gain major traction with WHO and other global authorities brushing it away by calling it a baseless narrative. However, if at all there is a possibility of the virus being intentionally homegrown or domestically synthesized, India should put its guards up against a major biological war.
It was on March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump invoked the National Emergency Act and the Stafford Act in response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first time that a leader of a State equated a Health crisis to a National Emergency. Needless to say, the risks of Covid were exceedingly high and the casualties caused were also unparalleled. Therefore, as the well-being of the nation was threatened and the attention and resources of the government were diverted into one single crisis as opposed to other major risks, calling it a National Security concern is simply textbook-accurate. However, the current US Federal Law is rusted when it comes to dealing with high-risk virus outbreaks that have catastrophic consequences. While it acknowledges that disease outbreaks as potential threats to national security, the orientation however is statutorily limited in preparation and prevention but has absolutely no strategical way out once the disease spreads domestically. The organization of emergency response in Federal Law presently is unilateral as opposed to the disease in hand which is rather multi-lateral.
Covid-19 has not yet perished and it is highly unlikely that it is the last one of its kind. Future diseases with more serious casualties are likely to occur again as also attested by Bill Gates in one of his Ted Talks Speeches. Hence it is necessary that disaster response and national security should not be branched into two separate paradigms by the policymakers and must be conjoined into one. Acknowledging public health crisis naturally constitutes national security and is, therefore, an important conceptual step. Hence as for the US, the Federal Law must fill up the gaps that Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on. For instance, invoking National Emergency Act was surely a brilliant move but it lacked execution. It was not exactly Congress but the law, in general, that was weak. The nature of the said statute is such that the Federal structure takes a back seat when the provision is invoked and consequently the states are left with a very large leadership vacuum which is an absolute necessity in response to such a crisis., As a result, President Donald Trump and his cabinet were widely criticized for this move as the underlying statutory framework limits the federal government’s involvement in disaster response.
On the other hand, New Zealand under the able leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern garnered lavish global praise for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly well. While, thinkers and authorities like Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations believe that the nation has an advantage of a relatively isolated location which invariably means that the country has far fewer visitors from China or other infected areas. In addition, the director also contended that the country is also small and rich with a population widely spread out, and therefore, the success of Kiwis cannot be replicated in a populous country like the US. However, the arguments appear to be mere evasive assumptions, and credit to New Zealand’s administration must be given on all accounts, especially for taking immediate cognizance of the disease, unlike President Donald Trump who completely trivialized the issue when it first surfaced.
India’s imminent need to take cognizance of Bio-Warfare
With a strong sense of ‘We are in this together’ echoing around the world, there has been a fair share of blame game amongst the countries as well. While the infamous ‘virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology’ remains at the top of the ‘it’s your fault’ pyramid, the US remains second. And it’s China that has blamed the US Army for bringing the Virus to their country. Chinese diplomacy has simply rested its argument on the fact that the virus was engineered in the US and was deliberately sent to China to halt the country’s progress. The blame game will continue to exist suiting to different political spheres of distinct nations. However, it is imperative for India to consider, collocate and confidently approach the possibility of bioterrorism.
Indian military at large is not as technologically advanced as the militaries of China and the US. Although training programs concerning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, the programs are on the back burner stewing in their own resourceless gravy. Furthermore, the country has a wide population with health facilities already taking a knee due to this pandemic. Thus, the possibility of a bio-warfare happening is indicative of India already sitting on a virus time-bomb. Japan has already taken cognizance of the matter and has started building its response against a bio-terror attack. For the first time, the country has imported five types of live viruses – Ebola, Marburg, Lass, Crimean-Congo, and South American viruses to study detection and precaution measures. Something, which India does not actively intend to do.
Another reason why India must not dismiss the possibility of a bio-war attack in the near future is simply the rise in the number of Bio-genetics labs in the US, China, and other states. While Iran and North Korea are believed to possess chemical weapons, countries like the US, Europe, Russia, and Australia also have around 50 functioning or under-construction security labs solely for the study of dangerous pathogens and churn out efficient results for their respective countries. In addition, virus sensors are largely ineffective and hence it becomes increasingly easy for a terrorist to simply ferry a contagion to other countries. The said virus can be mixed with powders, and aerosol sprays or can be infected through main, envelopes, or newspapers.
Chemical weapons were recently used in Afghanistan where people were seen suffering from blisters, severe anxiety, etc. Pertinent to mention, China endorsing and recognizing the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the nation experiencing biochemical attack episodes projects a highly probable image of the former vehemently supplying the latter with weapons and armory. Therefore India, on all accounts, must not be an ostrich for biochemical or genetic warfare in the coming future. While the United Nations explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons, the regulations are only bound to the member countries and thus can easily be used by an adversary. Quoting the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, a country like India must be prepared for all kinds of threat.
Virginia Hall: The Dauntless Spy
Working as an Allied spy undercover was demanding. They pretended to be ordinary citizens, creating false names, documents, and cover stories while establishing confidence within secretive networks created through shared sorrow and purpose. And they did it all while fearing being found by French double agents, Nazi sympathisers, or the Gestapo. Many were apprehended and killed by gunshot or hanging.
Members of the French Resistance, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) fought complicated and sophisticated fights that helped reverse the course of World War II. Virginia Hall Goillot was one of their most notorious operators.
Hall worked with the SOE, OSS, and CIA for almost 20 years. Her French Resistance colleagues dubbed her La Dame Qui Boite or the woman who limps. The Gestapo eventually used the term in whispers about her victories against them. Fascination and intrigue were all she got – she was never arrested by the people who were after her. Even after her legendary career, she avoided discussing it.
Foray into the World of Spies
Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard Colleges for a short time. She then moved to Paris to study and fell in love with the country. She opted to pursue a career as a diplomat.
She wanted to be an ambassador, but the State Department turned her down despite her repeated applications. It’s worth noting that women made up only six out of 1,500 US ambassadors at the time. Hall was hired as a clerical assistant at a US consulate in Turkey. However, she shot herself in the foot while bird hunting. Her left leg was amputated below the knee due to gangrene. Her rehabilitation was arduous and painful, as she learnt to walk with a clumsy wooden limb. It was, however, a watershed moment. Her injury may have actually strengthened or reawakened her resilience, allowing her to do great things.
When Nazi Germany invaded France during World War II, Hall volunteered to drive an ambulance for the French. France was quickly surrounded and forced to evacuate to Britain. She was introduced to British intelligence after an accidental meeting with a spy. This one-legged American woman was among the first British spies dispatched into Nazi-occupied France in 1941 after receiving scant training. She pretended to be a New York Post reporter.
Cover tales are vital for any effective spy, not just to escape foreign foes but also to maintain secrets among peers in the case they are apprehended. People and families with legitimate names, real locations, and real occupations face huge reprisals from the Germans. The Gestapo’s standard practice was interrogation and torture, and many people’s spirits were broken. Because the United States was still a neutral nation in the war, Hall’s cover as a French-American stringer for the New York Post allowed her dispatches to be published unfiltered. Brigitte LeContre became her public persona, and her SOE reports were sent under a variety of codenames throughout the war, including Marie Monin, Diane, Germaine, and Nicolas.
Encounters with the Gestapo
There were setbacks, particularly in the beginning, when members of her network were apprehended and killed. Hall, on the other hand, was a natural spy, always one step ahead of the Gestapo, the German secret police. Virginia Hall was, to some extent, unnoticed. She was able to exploit the Gestapo’s chauvinism at the time. Neither the Germans nor the British believed that a woman could be a spy early in the war.
Hall was based in Lyon, a city in eastern France. She first sought refuge in a convent, where she persuaded nuns to assist her. She made friends with a female brothel owner and learned that French prostitutes had obtained intelligence from German troops. Hall arranged and provided safe shelters and intelligence to French resistance fighters. This was not overlooked. The Germans realised they were pursuing a hobbling lady.
Hall’s look was continually changing. In the course of an afternoon, she might be four distinct ladies with four different code names. Klaus Barbie, the notorious Gestapo officer known as “the Butcher of Lyon” for the thousands of people tortured and slain by his men in France, was the guy she was after. “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!” Barbie ordered “wanted” posters of Hall, which featured a drawing of her above the words “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!
Around the end of 1942, the Nazis appeared to be closing in on Hall. She narrowly escaped to Spain after a difficult trek that entailed travelling 50 miles in heavy snow through the rugged Pyrenees Mountains for three days. Hall was detained when she arrived in Spain because her passport lacked an entry stamp. She was liberated after six weeks and returned to the United Kingdom.
Back to France
The United States, on the other hand, was beefing up its own intelligence arm, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, which had little presence in France. The Americans required Hall, but Nazis were everywhere, making her job much more difficult.
In 1944 and 1945, Hall’s second tour in France was even more successful than the first. She ordered airdrops for the resistance fighters, who detonated bombs and destroyed railways. Villages were recaptured long before Allied forces marched deep into France. Hall’s network grew to 1,500 people at its peak, including a French-American soldier named Paul Goillot, who would later become her husband.
She relocated frequently, took numerous aliases, and used techniques unique to her character while working with the OSS. Gestapo and Nazi sympathisers were on the lookout for suspected spies as D-Day approached, and she was the most wanted. Hall pretended to be a milkmaid, dressed in ancient, flimsy clothes and bleached her naturally brown hair grey. During the day, she worked as a farmer in secret, and at night, she ran resistance missions. During some of the contacts, German troop movements and information were exchanged, while others included airdrops to the Maquis. Hall put the parachutes in a donkey cart and handled the supplies to obscure the evidence of the drops from adjacent surveillance teams.
And what did Hall say about the war? She never talked about it.
Both the British and the French privately acknowledged Hall’s assistance. President Harry Truman intended to honour Hall with a public ceremony at the White House. Hall declined, stating that she preferred to stay anonymous. The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to Hall by William Donovan, the OSS chief, making her the only civilian woman to win one during WWII. The only outsider at the wedding was Hall’s mother.
Hall subsequently went on to serve for the newly founded CIA, which succeeded the OSS, for 15 years, largely at the headquarters. These were not her most joyful days. She thrived on the adrenaline rush of acting on her own in the field during a battle. She was now mostly confined to a desk. Hall left the company in 1966 and never spoke publicly again. Her tale was kept hidden from the public until she died in Maryland in 1982. Much of her World War II work is still classified. Virginia’s bag radio, British ID, and several personal files are on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.
She rarely spoke of her wartime work, saying, “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”
Who rules Pakistan – Army, Prime Minister, or Money Lenders like China and USA?
Pakistani military establishment has always been an issue concerning the State’s democratic outlook. While most democracies in the world have a dedicated body of bureaucrats and auditors to handle projects regarding finance and development, Pakistan observes a tad different mechanism. For instance, new legislation was passed in the Pakistan National Assembly in 2020 to create a China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority that would be controlled by the Pakistan Army rather than the civilian bureaucracy. This creation of an army-run supranational authority mining bilateral relations with that of a nation like China makes it increasingly difficult to ascertain whether the country conforms to an army rule or not. Nations like India that are accustomed to the way of Pakistani Military’s operations in bureaucratic and diplomatic affairs have always shrugged their shoulders and hoped for the best. But now, since China and Pakistan share an exceedingly intimate relationship with the former pouring huge chunk of money and loaning resources to the latter, it would not be wrong to say that Pakistan is fueled by Chinese money which is certainly bad news for India. Since all of the basic operations are believed to be powered by China, needless to say, China just bought an army, with a State attached.
Military involvement in Governance and Bureaucracy
It is no longer a concealed fact that major administerial positions and offices are victims of continuous military dominance. The military dominion has led army men, both serving and retired to have comfortable posts in Pakistan’s bureaucracy. Even democratically elected leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto paved the way for appointing army men to some 83 posts at various levels. The former President Zia-ul-Haq went a step further and gave his assent to creating a Defense Services Selection Board to bring in-service officers into his government. Even under the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf brought in officers at every level, playing on the general presumption that the average military officer is better than his civilian counterpart. v
It was only the Imran Khan cabinet and tenure that dispraised the involvement of military officers in civilian posts. However, mere expressions of displeasure and disappointment lead to no substantial consequences. Excerpts of many government entities controlled by army men are still reported. Incidentally, Pakistan International Airlines is headed by an Air Marshall, heads of the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority include a Major General and a Brigadier, five federal ministers are closely linked to the military including Interior Minister Brigadier Ejaz Shah, the chairman of Port Qasim Authority is a retired Rear Admiral, and the Water and Power Development Authority is led by a retired Lt. Gen. The army forces and their allocations in the bureaucratic and diplomatic circuit are undeterred as of now. Especially since the departments are oiled by the Chinese Funds.
Time and again new legislations have been introduced in Parliament facilitating the military to fill up bureaucratic positions leading to political power erosion. For instance, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) is no longer under the control of the Prime Minster’s office as the government feels that the matter is too trivial for the chair’s attention. Furthermore, the amendment of the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010, ostensibly to satisfy the Financial Action Task Force enabling it to arrest without warrant empowering the investigating agencies manifold, with the sole intent to pressurize the opposition leaders into submission. The new internet censorship laws further elaborate on this narrative. Giving the State, unfettered powers to decide what construes as ‘extremism’ and ‘objectionable’ and later translating these brackets into arrests of major personalities such as Shakil ur Rehman, has ensured that the media stays silent during this power struggle. Ultimately, Parliament virtually caged, usually vocal and durable media tamed, and social media censored. Not much freedom is left in the state to channel the paper-inscribed ‘democracy’ on the ground, conditions akin to China.
Military Involvement in National Level Infrastructure
Dwelling deeper into the fine print, one would find that Pakistan owes almost its entire infrastructure to the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) again commanded and controlled by Major General. The organization is supposed to have an estimated annual income of $3.8 million with 56 companies attached to its name. The FWO is involved in building thermal and hydel power stations, airfields, and even major contributions to building and maintaining the Pakistan railways. Gold and copper mining further adds to the diversified portfolio. The revenues incurred by these are used to aid various corporate houses which are the outsourcers for these projects. Needless to say, these corporate houses are often run by politicians through their tertiary relatives and allies.
Along with infrastructural development, logistics and communications operations form another important parcel of the Army caravan. The National Logistics Cell managed by the Army has 6,500 civilians mostly retired servicemen managing more than 2000 heavy-duty vehicles. Furthermore, the Special Communications Organizations which recently completed the Pakistan-China Optical Fiber Cable project are also entirely run by the army.
Imran Khan’s Sacking a Statement?
The recent ousting of Imran Khan as Prime Minister has also ruffled some feathers as to whether the power really lies at the center. Historically, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was elected the PM in 1973 and launched a brutal army operation in Baluchistan in 1977 which led to major bloodshed in the country, he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a coup on the pretext of increased violence. Bhutto was later convicted for the murder of a political opponent and went to the gallows.
Zia assumed the office as a consequence of the coup and passed on some controversial provisions including dissolving the National Assembly and calling Pakistan a Sunni Islamist state. However, he had to call for elections under international pressure and selected Muhammad Khan Junejo as the next Prime Minister. However, the amendments made by Zia naturally weakened the powers of the ones in the cabinet and hence by virtue, the PM as well. Contrasting to what Zia expected from Junejo, the latter refused to accept the Army Chief’s orders like signing the Geneva Accords which later translated to the conflict in Afghanistan.
As a result, Zia again dissolved the parliament and dismissed Junejo from his Prime Ministerial ship. Democracy returned to Pakistan with Benazir Bhutto assuming office but her tenure also saw a brief timeline. It was again in 1997 when Democracy started tracing its steps back to Army rule when Nawaz Sharif appointed General Parwez Musharraf as the Army Chief. Their unified alliance launched many army operations against India including the Kargil war. However, despite their good bond, Sharif executed a failed attempt to oust Musharraf while he was on a flight. The government attesting to Nawaz’s intentions refused to let the Army Chief’s plane land. As a result, the army moved in swiftly, dethroned Sharif’s government and Musharraf assumed office and ruled Pakistan in 2007.
Imran Khan mirrors Nawaz Sharif as the former is also a political creature of the army. The then army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his close relation with Imran Khan-led to the latter’s instatement as the Prime Minister. However, the bond between the two led to deterioration in 2021 because of Khan’s shambolic governance, rampant inflation, and unemployment as the accusations undermined the army’s own standing. Furthermore, Khan’s visit to Russia during the Russia-Ukraine war was the final nail in the coffin which led to the opposition submitting the no-confidence motion, and Imran Khan was finally ousted on April 10. This, again affirms that Pakistan and its leaders in the Union are mere puppets at the hands of the army.
In addition to the aforementioned revenue sources and associated projects, the Pakistan Army has some 50 large businesses including sugar mills and stud farms, all forming a nice packet of money for the boys in uniform. With Pakistan slowly conforming to army rule, Beijing and even the US are delighted as firstly, it is easier to deal with one man in uniform rather than a squabbling mess of politicians. Secondly, China already has huge monetary investments in Pakistan and therefore, strong relations with the army would only mean more territorial nexus and manpower at the time of war. Thirdly, the US and its sharp sense of realism and a firm belief that the army is the guardian of national interest would make up for the better influence of Pakistan in the international circuit.
Battle off Samar: Pivotal Moment of Naval History
The United States and the Imperial Japanese Empire were at war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Campaign for the Philippines was one of the most important of these wars; many battles were fought during this campaign, the most notable of which was the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This fight was actually a series of conflicts fought at the same time, with the Battle of Samar being the most important of them all. The US was prepared to land troops on the island of Leyte, while the Japanese were plotting an attack on Admiral Halsey’s American fleet. Admiral Kurita’s centre force was the major force in this attack. The main American fleet would be drawn away by a separate northern force, leaving the island of Leyte vulnerable to attack. Only a tiny destroyer task force known as Taffy three stood in the way of the centre force. The Yamato, the Japanese centre force’s only ship, weighed more than the combined weight of Taffy’s three battleships. To win the war, the Americans would rely on pure bravery and steel balls.
The Battle off Samar
On the morning of October 25, 1944, a young Electrician’s Mate from Southern California stood on the flight deck, scanning the horizon for a Japanese fleet approaching his Task Force, Taffy 3, from a distance of 20 miles, as reported by the St. Lo’s antisubmarine patrol. The Japanese Admiral Takeo Kurita’s strong force of four battleships, eight cruisers, and 12 destroyers had just intercepted Bethard’s St. Lo and the rest of Taffy 3. On paper, the incoming Japanese fleet’s six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts were no match for the approaching Japanese fleet.
Despite this, the antisubmarine patrol deployed by Bethard’s St. Lo, armed only with depth charges, began an attack on the incoming enemy fleet’s lead elements. Under heavy antiaircraft fire, the American aircraft withdrew without causing any damage.
On the horizon, Bethard could see Japanese antiaircraft fire, and not long after, he heard the report of big naval weapons. At a range of 17 miles, the Japanese super battleship Yamato, the world’s largest warship, opened fire with her 18-inch main armament. The massive enemy shells began splattering about St. Lo and other American ships soon after. Huge splashes sprang up along the American ships’ wakes, vibrantly coloured with dye.
Knowing that a single hit from an enemy battleship could sink his small escort carrier, the commander of St. Lo manoeuvred his ship into and out of rain squalls to disguise his ship from Japanese range finders on battleships and cruisers getting increasingly closer. St. Lo bobbed and dodged amid the deluge of enemy shells, managing to launch all of her planes and strike back at the German fleet. Bethard sought refuge in the ship’s upper works, believing the Japanese were attempting to sink the flight deck and that he would be safe there. He could see the opposing ships’ fire and the gigantic battleship shells as they ripped through the air from his vantage point. “Out of the corner of my eye, here comes three, three big ole shells that went barely over the bow,” Bethard recalled. They were so close that one of the shell casings flopped over on our deck and shook there for a bit.”
The Japanese force began to close in 90 minutes after the combat began. The fight intensified as the range between ships moved closer, allowing the American destroyers to begin fire. Taffy 3’s valiant American destroyers and destroyer escorts closed in on their adversary and sparred at terrifyingly close range, often as near as 5,000 yards.
The destroyer Johnston (DD-557), commanded by Captain Ernest Evans, sped to flank speed, pulled full left rudder, and assaulted the Japanese at roughly 7:00 a.m. The Johnston was able to rake the larger Japanese cruiser Kumano with gunfire and score three torpedo hits, which blew the Japanese vessel’s bow off and just missed the battleship Kongo. As Johnston drew away from the befuddled Japanese cruiser force, she was hit by at least two 18-inch Yamato rounds, which slowed the ship significantly. Captain Evans, undeterred, ordered his little ship back into the fray and engaged at least eight enemy ships for over 60 minutes before his destroyer was mortally wounded by hostile gunfire. As the Johnston came to a halt, she was encircled by her adversary, who battered her until the order to abandon ship was given. Captain Evans was among the 186 crew members who perished when the brave little ship went down. Evans would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as commander of the Johnston. According to survivors floating in the ocean, the Japanese destroyer Yukikaze’s captain could be seen saluting the sinking American destroyer as she sailed by.
The majority of Taffy 3 was able to escape thanks to the activities of the Johnston and the courageous sacrifices of the crews of the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), as well as the destroyers Heermann (DD-532) and Hoel (DD-533). The Japanese retreated, believing they had run into the majority of the American fleet due to the severity of the destroyer and destroyer escorts’ defence. Sailors on the surviving American ships exhaled a sigh of relief as the Japanese moved away. However, St. Lo’s ordeal was about to begin.
The Return of the Japanese Fleet
The Japanese A6M5 Zero fighter arrived, part of the Shikishima Special Attack Unit, a special Japanese task group. The first designated kamikaze unit of the war was this special attack unit. Taffy 3’s escort carriers were subjected to a ferocious kamikaze bombardment over the following 40 minutes. The new and terrifying weapon damaged several escort carriers, including Bethard’s St. Lo.
The Japanese Zero that Bethard noticed approaching his ship was carrying a bomb, which it detonated before colliding with the St. Lo flight deck. “The bomb passed through our hardwood flight deck and exploded in the hangar deck,” says the narrator. We blew ourselves apart from there because we were gassing up planes, bombs out, no real protection, fire…the torpedo bay blew.”
The extreme heat of the initial explosions of both the Japanese bomb and the suicide plane rocked St. Lo, causing her aircraft ammunition to cook-off. Despite this, her crew remained adamant about putting out the fires and saving their ship. Following the first explosion, a second explosion blasted through the ship, “followed in a couple of seconds by a far more intense explosion, which rolled back a part of the flight deck…,” according to the after-action report. The second powerful explosion ripped more of the flight deck apart, as well as blowing the elevator shaft out of its shaft.” St. Lo had reached the end of his journey.
When Bethard was ordered to abandon ship, he dragged himself down a line over the starboard side and into the water. Another explosion occurred as he swam away from the ship, allowing water to flow into the escort carrier’s innards. St. Lo began to settle towards the stern, gently listing port before capsizing and sinking, earning the distinction of becoming the first American ship to be sunk by a kamikaze attack. Sadly, St. Lo would not be the only ship to succumb to the “divine wind” before the war ended.
Orville swam as far as he could from St. Lo before being picked up by the destroyer escort Dennis (DE-405), one of 746 survivors from an 889-man crew. Orville returned to Southern California after the war, married, had two kids, and graduated from USC with a degree in engineering in 1956. Bethard died in the year 2012.
Bethard’s ship, St. Lo, languished undiscovered for nearly 75 years off the shore of the Philippine island of Samar. On May 14, 2019, that changed. Bethard’s ship was discovered lying upright 4,376 metres beneath the surface of the Philippine Sea by investigators aboard Paul G. Allen’s Research Vessel Petrel. When you view her, you can see her battle scars: pieces of her hull have been torn out by explosions, her flight deck has a huge hole, and some of her antiaircraft armament is scattered on the seafloor. Despite this, she sits defiantly and proudly on her keel.
The battle’s aftermath was instantly apparent. The Japanese would never be able to conduct any significant naval operations again. The majority of the Japanese ships involved in the conflict would remain stranded in dry dock until the Battle of Okinawa, where the Yamato would be sunk. The US successfully invaded the island of Leyte, and they would eventually take over the remainder of the Philippines. This would open the way for the engagements of Iwo Jima and Okinawa on the Japanese mainland. The United States would have total command over the Pacific Ocean. The conflict also exposed the Japanese ships’ and naval officer corps’ flaws, including a lack of fire control systems, sloppy construction, inferior building materials, and inadequate ammunition. Rigidity, inadequate training, lack of awareness, lack of cohesiveness, and lack of logistical planning would be highlighted as Japanese officers’ flaws. The US was fortunate not to have suffered a disastrous defeat; Admiral Halsey was widely chastised for leaving the island of Leyte undefended, and Taffy three would be awarded a presidential unit commendation for courage during the combat.
What’s inside Imran Khan & Russia’s new trade Deal
The President of Pakistan, Imran Khan has been under a lot of scrutiny and microscopic scan for his bold and sweeping remarks against neighboring countries as well as other distant nations. The recent hustle-bustle around his style of governance was largely vocalized when under his leadership, Pakistan became the first country to officially sign a huge trade deal with Russia. The concerns weren’t entirely subject to the parties of the deal as it was against the timing of it. While Russia is a hardcore Federal authoritative republic that is bound to raise concerns when the said nation does business with a thoroughly democratic state as that Pakistan, the timing of the deal has received huge flak around the globe. The deal came at a time when Russia is facing a widespread uproar for waging war and invading Ukraine. The deal entails that Pakistan shall import 2 million tons of wheat and natural gas supplies from Russia.
The deal sends out an indirect and implied message to the world that the ongoing war has no bearing on Pakistan’s morals as it has vociferously pledged its allegiance to Russia. However, Imran Khan has stated that the deal was done strictly from a financial perspective to improve the already dwindling economy of Pakistan. Although he did hint at the fact that with time, the talks between the nations are likely to pan out more constructively rather than being categorized as a controversial discussion. Furthermore, Pakistan has also managed to further distance itself from US and EU states as the said states stand against Vladimir Putin and therefore are bound to stand against its new ally, Pakistan.
The said deal has also attracted attention from the World Bank and IMF, as they have also issued a joint statement condemning Moscow on its stance against Ukraine, whilst providing monetary assistance as well as awarding refugee status to the aggrieved in Ukraine and other countries. It is further imperative to mention that Pakistan has sought a bailout package from the IMF worth $1 billion out of its $6 billion loan program but the current deal with Russia is likely to affect IMF’s stance.
Pakistan’s Increased dependence on the World Bank and IMF
Ever since Pakistan’s independence and its continuous struggle with pressing democratic domestic concerns, the country has never really come up to terms with its deteriorating economy unlike the world around it which rapidly evolved. Reeling from the horrors of World War, United Nations and subsequent charters with respect to human rights were established. On the other hand, a set of institutions for governing global economic relations, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and International Trade Organization were set up. As a result, Pakistan was soon taken aback by the glittering developments in the international spectrum and became signatories of the UNDHR and even a member of IMF and World Bank by 1950.
The aftermaths of becoming signatories of the aforementioned governing bodies were equally reflected in Pakistan’s constitution. Furthermore, the nation also compromised its balanced approach towards maintaining the security of the rights of its citizens as well as the country’s commitment to free trade soon after the economic debacles of General Ayub Khans’ government from 1956-to 1959. Post-1959, Pakistan entered into 53 treaties with 48 different countries merely intending to lure foreign investments. Interestingly, three prominent arbitrations resulted in heavy losses to the Pakistani government which also resulted in multi-billion fines almost equal to IMF aid packages. The country since then has been trying to graph an upward trend in its already sorry state of economic affairs.
To keep the country afloat, Pakistan’s dependence on IMF assistance has risen in the last years with the growing external debt. The boulder of external financing requirements by Islamabad is as high as $30 billion. Therefore, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s visit to Russia on the eve of the Ukraine attack can prove to be lethal for the nation’s economic security especially when a joint statement by IMF and the World Bank condemning the attacks from Russia is already in place. The organizations have further called for coordinated international action to mitigate risks and navigate the treacherous period ahead as the Russia-Ukraine crisis intensified.
Fine and Sanctions
Post the Khan-Putin meeting, a 55-million-dollar fine was immediately levied on the National Bank of Pakistan’s New York Branch by the US regulatory authorities (US Federal Reserve, the Central Bank of the country, Superintendent of Financial Services of New York) on the grounds relating to non-compliance and anti-money laundering laws. The $55 million is pieced into two meals out of which the Federal Reserve accounts for 20.4 million and the New York State Department of Financial Services accounts for the rest 35 million. The regulatory bodies have served the NBP branch in furtherance of ‘significant deficiencies found in the ‘risk management and compliance with federal laws, rules, and regulations of the said branch. The authorities also attested the fact that an order instructing an investigation to be carried out for the same matter was out on March 4, 2021, in consequence, to which, the NBP branch agreed to fix the ‘deficiencies.’ The recent developments however are contrary to the agreement made by the bank and hence the fines are duly levied.
While the investigations were in play since 2021, a mammoth fine just after the Khan-Putin meeting in Russia cannot be construed as a coincidence rather a well-organized slap-back by America condemns the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and therefore has significant reservations against Pakistan chalking out a financial deal with Russia during such disturbing times.
Russia is also suffering through similar causalities as that of Pakistan concerning fines, bans, and sanctions. As a consequence of the war, The US has banned Russia from making any new foreign investment in Russia and also has imposed severe sanctions on chief Russian banks – Alfa Bank and Sberbank. In addition, the US has further served major sanctions on the critical major state (Russia)-owned enterprises. On the other hand, the UK has imposed sanctions on Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, and committed to ending all imports of Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022.
In addition to imposing sanctions on banks and refraining from investments from Russia, a ban on the export of dual-use goods i.e., both civilian and military goods is imposed by the UK, US, and EU along with banning both commercials as well as private flights. Furthermore, the US, UK, and EU have collectively sanctioned more than 1000 Russian individuals, chiefly businessmen and industrialists who have close ties with Kremlin. The UK has moreover limited the sale of ‘golden visas’ which allowed wealthy Russians to get British residency rights.
Western countries have also attacked the financial reserves of Russia by freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank to stop it from using its $630bn of foreign currency reserves. This has resulted in a significant slump in the value of the Russian Roble by 22% since the beginning of this year. As a result, the price of imported costs has been sky-rocketed leading to a 14% rise in Russia’s rate of inflation.
The future also seems bleak for Russia in terms of its foreign investments as the war and its ramifications are further sway the US, EU, and UK winds away from the country and the bans seem to be more stringent and rigid extending beyond the ambits of protectionary measures.
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