By Muhammad Azam Khan
A very few individuals in the annals of Pakistan’s military history can be credited for leaving behind an illustrious legacy and a lasting impression on human minds. Late Admiral Karamat Rehman Niazi was one such personality. He was a gifted person by nature-an impressive blend of sagacity and foresight.
Admiral Niazi, former Chief of the Naval Staff Pakistan Navy (March 22, 1979 to March 21, 1983) stands amongst few who could convert such a sterling remarkable mix of human qualities into physical form. His achievements far outshine his contemporaries. He was an iconic figure definitely far ahead of his times.
The Admiral left for his eternal abode on April 4, 2021. He made an indelible imprint on the minds of those who knew him; served with him or else were his subordinates in some capacity. His operational acumen, peerless professional judgement, paradigm shift in naval officers training were all monumental in shape and effect. Instead of spending millions on overseas advanced professional training courses of officers, he instituted these to be conducted locally.
It provided tremendous impetus in expanding the reservoir of specialist officers within the service. To cut further drain on expenditures, the late Naval Chief established a special fund. The fund was used to hire local professional experts for different training centers within Pakistan Navy. This amount would have too gone to hire overseas training personnel.
His name late Admiral Karamat Rehman Niazi is synonymous with a major navy wide exercise now regularly held in Pakistan Navy and code-named “Sea Spark”. This exercise was first introduced in 1980-81 and conducted in the North Arabian Sea. The entire fleet including the aviation wing of Pakistan Navy participated in the over two-week-long maneuvers.
The exercise has since become an integral endeavor undertaken by Pakistan Navy on annual basis or as decided. Admiral K R Niazi’s clear-headedness, unconventional thinking, and desire to navigate through uncharted waters to advance the cause of service, often left many dumbfounded. He did this throughout the entire length of his career and while holding important positions in the service.
In his watch as Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Niazi closely coordinated and where needed reinforced issues of national security as well. This was at the height of the Afghan war in early 80s. He was the main driving force to bring Pakistan Navy and Peoples Liberation Army (Navy) closer. It was again his foresight that enabled Pakistan Navy to expand its diplomatic network overseas.
This materialised in drawing in ever new regional navies in sending their prospective trainees to Pakistan. Of particular significance was the deepening of the ties with the Royal Saudi Naval Force. It ushered in a new era of officers and sailors training in various institutes of Pakistan navy. This was over and above the conduct of joint naval exercises and high-tech weapon firings like Harpoon missiles.
In former Admiral, Pakistan Navy and indeed the country has lost a man of wisdom and vision. He was a veteran of two wars, 1965 and 1971 and played a central role in battles fought in the North Arabian Sea. As the founding member of submarine service, Admiral K R Niazi had the singular distinction of becoming the first commanding officer of submarine, Ghazi in June 1964. Gifted under the US Aid program, PNS Ghazi was also the first submarine to enter service in Pakistan Navy. Pakistan also became the first country in the region to acquire and operate a submarine. Earlier in 1963 he received submarine operations training in the United States.
It was Ghazi commanded by then Lt Commander Karamat Rehman Niazi that constantly patrolled between Bombay and Kutch coast and instilled fear in the hearts of the enemy during the war in 1965. The submarine effectively held the Indian Navy at bay. Fear of submarine attack resulted in Indian Navy’s only aircraft carrier tied up inside Bombay harbour. Later, in 1971 war as Commander of submarines squadron, it was in his watch that PN submarine Hangor sank Indian Frigate, INS Khukri on the night of 8 and 9 December off Indian coast of Kathiawar (Gujarat).
Gwadar port on Makran coast of the North Arabian Sea was first conceived by Admiral Niazi as a locale for future naval expansion. In his capacity as Commander Pakistan fleet between 1977 and 1978, Admiral Niazi often took his fleet of ships and submarines to Gwadar. The fleet anchored and stayed in the Gwadar Bay for days. He envisioned Gwadar to be the best choice for Pakistan and Pakistan Navy besides being an alternate to Karachi.
With barely any port facilities, the scantly populated Gwadar town then represented a picture of mud mountains and sand dunes, with gusty winds blowing all through the evenings. Officers and men on-board ships and submarines were led ashore on boats for survey and to be familiarized with the rugged terrain. Gwadar of today, bustling with activity underpins and holds future of CPEC. It reminds one and all who knew him of a sapling once planted by the late Admiral and now ripened as full grown tree.
Born on April 30, 1930 in District Hoshiarpur in East Punjab, Admiral K R Niazi was the eighth Chief of Naval Staff of Pakistan. He joined Royal Pakistan Navy in November 1948. Following initial training at Britain’s Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, the Admiral earned his commission in Executive Branch of Pakistan Navy in January 1951.
It was beginning of a distinguished career. It was to span over four decades. The Admiral held numerous command and staff appointments. He was the first Commander of Submarine Squadron and later served as Director Submarines at Naval Headquarters as well. His career afloat saw him command submarine Ghazi besides front line destroyers and minesweepers. He also commanded a destroyer squadron. Upon elevation to flag rank, the Admiral served as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Operations), Commander Pakistan Fleet, and Vice Chief of the Naval Staff.
Admiral Niazi is now gone, but his spiritual presence will continue to guide and illuminate the paths of future generations of Pakistan Navy officers and men. He was the founder of submarine service and its valiant traditions in the Pakistan navy.
His unconventional thinking, leading cross country runs in Gwadar as commander of Pakistan Fleet, his vision and changing the way officers are trained in Pakistan besides winning over-friendly navies for training and joint exercises are lasting imprints he left on the way Pakistan Navy conducts business, during peace, crisis and war. He will be remembered as a true son of the soil, one who could produce local solutions to complex problems.