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Inside Jinnah Naval Base Ormara: Diary of an 'embedded' journalist

Published Apr 29, 2016 01:01pm

This is the third installment of a three-part travelogue. Read the first and second parts.


DAY 3

0700hrs: Today, we arrive in time to board an ATR transport aircraft, this time Ormara-bound, where the navy has established its secondary headquarters. Ormara is a half-hour flight from Karachi. Hence, the crew skips tea. From boarding the aircraft to the pilot's briefing on turbulence, the proceedings are the same as the first day.

The sea near Ormara is clear unlike Karachi's which is hazardous for natural habitats.
The sea near Ormara is clear unlike Karachi's which is hazardous for natural habitats.

We land in the middle of nowhere in Ormara. The only structure we glimpse is the air movement building.

The façade of the building reads, "Ormara Naval Air Base", but the inscription on the backside of the same building reads, "Ormara Air Port".

This incongruity seems a reflection of the development in Balochistan — where both the armed forces and the civil administration claim to develop the province but seem to be repeating the same thing over and over again with minor cosmetic changes.

Two sides of the same building.
Two sides of the same building.

1000hrs: Jinnah Naval Base (JNB) Ormara is the Navy’s prized possession — their long-term investment planning.

Located 350km from Karachi and 250km from Gwadar, JNB is a natural overwatch of the sea route — the primary point for enforcing maritime security.

Unlike Gwadar or Karachi, which harbour commercial activities, the Jinnah base only serves the purpose of defence.

The naval base is built at the foot of a cliff, giving it a natural camouflage, and providing the Navy with cover and rapid-strike abilities.

Visible from an airplane above, the 1,700 foot-high cliff has a distinct hammer-like appearance as it is surrounded by the sea on three sides. The men in the Navy call it "the hammerhead" and Jinnah Naval Base makes the best use of this natural camouflage.

A view of Ormara from the top of RDS Mianwali.
A view of Ormara from the top of RDS Mianwali.

1300hrs: Our schedule in Ormara is hectic. We are told that we are in a race against time and would have to depart for Karachi early because the connecting flight from there would take Islamabad-based journalists back to the capital.

We end up running and shuttling from one building to another.

A smartly turned-out parade at Cadet College Ormara. The college has inducted three batches after its establishment in 2012.
A smartly turned-out parade at Cadet College Ormara. The college has inducted three batches after its establishment in 2012.

The buildings that we visit include Ormara Cadet College, Ormara Model School and the PNS Darman Jah Hospital.

It is only at the hospital that I sit down to catch my breath — first, because I'm tired of running, and second, because a pungent smell is making me queasy and nostalgic all at once. Hospitals have a unique odour. While I can't quite describe the smell, it's the same in practically every hospital.

An official tells me that nearly 200 locals visit the hospital daily for check-ups, out of whom 10 are admitted on average.

Most of the students at Cadet College Ormara are locals.
Most of the students at Cadet College Ormara are locals.

"Darman Jah" is a Balochi word which means "the place of healing". Sitting there, I meet a local Chacha Khuda Baksh, who has come to see a doctor. A retired police havaldar, he has been living in the area for years.

The Navy provides free medical facilities to locals, and Chacha Khuda Baksh is there to avail it like many others.

He appreciates the Navy’s efforts to provide locals with facilities they have never dreamt of.

PNS Darman Jah provides free medical facilities to locals in Ormara.
PNS Darman Jah provides free medical facilities to locals in Ormara.

While we converse, I notice that Khuda Baksh has a prescription in his hand, which means that his check-up is over and he is waiting to get medicines. But this process has been halted due to our "high-profile visit".

I assure him that we are already in a hurry and would be leaving shortly, after which he would be able to get his medicines from the store.

Hearing this, he cracks up and hugs me, saying: "you are our guest here, I can wait the whole day for you."

It strikes me that Pakistanis are all pretty much the same everywhere — caring and hospitable.

On that note, I say goodbye to Chacha Khuda Baksh and rush towards the vehicle where everyone is waiting.

Chacha Khuda Baksh, a retired police Havaldar, has been living in Ormara for years.
Chacha Khuda Baksh, a retired police Havaldar, has been living in Ormara for years.

1500hrs: In Ormara everything is in the "dorray chal" mode — even lunch.

We have five-minute smoke breaks and brief ten-minute pitstops throughout the day. Things become interesting when the commanding officer at Ormara asks us to "wind up" our lunch in five minutes.

It's past me how one can "wind up" their lunch in five minutes. But heeding the officer, we gulp down our food quickly.

A school run by the Navy in Ormara provides equal opportunities of quality education to local children.
A school run by the Navy in Ormara provides equal opportunities of quality education to local children.

As we run back to our plane bound for Karachi, we notice two packed boxes being loaded into the aircraft.

A fellow journalist jokingly asks the officers present there, "Are you guys loading mangoes into the aircraft?"

For a moment, they don’t grasp the question. But when they do, there is a burst of laughter. After all, mangoes have been charged with bringing down an aircraft in the past.

The treacherous road towards the top of Hammerhead, RDS Mianwali.
The treacherous road towards the top of Hammerhead, RDS Mianwali.

1700hrs: The flight back to Karachi marks the end of our three-day training (read: trip) aimed at highlighting development projects taken up by the navy and showcasing their combat-readiness and ability to counter external threats.

My takeaway from the trip is that it's not easy for the civilian government to keep up with the pace of the military establishment. Both parties need to realise this difference in operations and respect it.

It is a procedural requirement for the military to furnish all cantonments they build with facilities — a practice the civil establishment is lagging behind in.

The military is undoubtedly making efforts to provide locals living near their settlements with the basic necessities of life. By doing so, it is extending a favour to the civil administration and this by no means relieves the civilian establishment from performing its job or placating people's miseries.

What should however be clear to everyone is that the military's developmental works can only bring long-term sustainability if the civil administration has a role to play in it.

When the armed forces decide to develop a place, they leave no stone unturned.
When the armed forces decide to develop a place, they leave no stone unturned.


A troupe of 50 journalists, courtesy of the Naval Directorate of Public Relations, were taken on a trip to visit the Navy installations along Balochistan’s coastal belt in Gwadar and Pasni.