"In conjointly fighting terrorism, we ought to make it loud and clear that no idea, no cause whatsoever, can justify terrorism. Questions like 'good' or 'bad' terrorism should not be entertained for such distinctions are colored and tainted by bias, prejudice and narrow thinking. Terrorists belong to no religion for they are not apostles of peace but messengers of death and destruction."
- Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Former President of India Securing Indian Maritime Borders
The steady rise of India as a result of the extensive reforms and economic growth in the range of eight to nine percent per annum has set the stage for economic, political and security engagement amongst the IOR countries. With the emergence of Indian and Chinese influence in the region, the Indian Ocean is projected to match the Pacific in geo-strategic importance. Keeping these realities in mind, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was initiated by Indian Navy in 2008. This has provided a regional forum through which the Navies of the littoral states of IOR can meet periodically and engage one another constructively through the creation and promotion of regionally relevant mechanisms, events and activities. With the security environment engulfing the seascape with threats of maritime terrorism, the role for India has assumed greater significance.
A vast number of island territories stretches across the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Some of these, in the Nicobar group, are in fact, geographically closer to Indonesia and Malaysia than to the Indian mainland. This extended coastline requires adequate policing and surveillance. At sea, unlike on the land border, outposts or fences cannot be erected.
India has a vast EEZ and the offshore sector contributes nearly 65% and 70% of India's crude oil and natural gas products respectively. Most of the hydrocarbon industry is located close to their offshore oil installations. It is therefore obvious that all these assets are extremely vulnerable to attacks from the sea.
Today 95% of the world trade is carried out by sea. Handling of trade depends, largely on the port infrastructure. India has 13 major, 185 intermediate and minor ports which handle 170 million tonnes of cargo. Of this, a mere ten percent utilizes coastal shipping and the rest is overseas, with more than a 100 ships passing through India's area of interest each day. Also, ten million tonnes of fish catch takes place in the Indian Ocean per annum. Now, the fishermen go where there is fish. They routinely cross across virtual boundaries, for example, in the Palk Bay, over to the Sri Lankan side, etc. Similarly the Sri Lankan boats cross over into the Indian side of the IMBL in the Gulf of Mannar. A couple of patrolling IN and ICG ships in addition to warships are unable to counter such large numbers despite concerted efforts because of the sheer numbers.
The fishing hamlets close to the IMBL and the most volatile trespassing zone off Sir Creek area share an interesting fact. A prized catch in these waters is of "Lal Pari", the red snapper fish, considered a delicacy that breeds in the confluence of fresh water of Indus meeting the saline water of Arabian Sea. It is perhaps the lure of this prize catch that draws the fishermen to disregard IMBL restrictions. Likewise, a large number of Indian fishing boats have been apprehended by Pak MSA. The use of any of these captured boats to infiltrate across the IMBL cannot be ruled out. 419 boats from Fisheries department are placed at Pak custody.
The IOR is home to nations, diverse in terms of geography, history and economy. Religion, ideologies and political systems are key triggering aspects in this region. Sensitive installations along the coast such as BARC in Mumbai, Kalpakkam nuclear power plant in Chennai, Mumbai High offshore oil facility, Chandipur, sea missile testing region in Orissa and the Equatorial Rocket Launching Station at Thumba and Goa Shipyard are believed to be in the targeting list of terrorists. Thus, the Indian Coast today is being exploited by terrorists for influencing the terror on land and to attack high value targets for political impact and to spread terror amongst the population. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the coastal security challenges and vulnerabilities to evolve a policy of cooperative engagement, not only within the country, but also in the region to arrive at strategic options in prosecuting these threats like conventional naval confrontation, sneak terrorist attacks, hostage-takings, hijacking oil tankers, deliberate pollution of the coast, smuggling of - weapons, narcotics, raw material for chemical and biological warfare to suicide attacks on ships at sea or anchor; India's maritime threats are indeed varied.
Unlike the land border, there are no outposts at sea. 'Operation Water Rat' by CNN IBN for example, had exposed the glaring loopholes in 2006 in the coastal security setup. The 26 Nov 2008 assault on India's commercial capital has stripped the nation out of complacency and exposed the fragile 'Indian coastal security architecture.' A porous coastline, touching nine states and four union territories, and a vast EEZ is proving to be difficult to patrol.
Nearly 1,200 uninhabited islands in our seas pose a major security threat as these are being scanned by terror outfits. Although the vulnerability of these islands has been discussed in every high-level meeting, not many in the security establishment are sure whether these uninhabited tracts are actually free from jihadi elements.
Smuggling of narcotics and gun-running generates huge amounts of money that fuels terrorism amongst other things. The arms supply for the LTTE movement was funnelled through in this manner across the Bay of Bengal. Many such vessels have been apprehended over the years of LTTE's existence, but the Sea-tigers of the LTTE had amply demonstrated that the coasts could prove easy ingress points despite substantial patrolling. Given her history, demographics and pluralistic society, India is especially vulnerable to similar targeting by similar non-state actors. Clearly, it is necessary to take issues of maritime security far more seriously than has been done though far.
Offshore platforms engaged in exploitation of oil and gases are quite vulnerable to clandestine attack. The only security being provided is, by slow hired fishing boats to prevent unauthorized vessels from closing the platforms to less than 500 meters. The offshore infrastructure of India presently consists of more than 25 Process platforms, 125 Well platforms and more than 3000 km of pipeline on the seabed. Any disruption in oil production can have a snowballing effect on the nation's economy.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and private security organizations manage the security of various Indian ports. With Mundra port in Gujarat being the first port of call for any ship coming from Pakistan it is highly prone to terrorist attacks. While the security personnel employed at Mundra are ex-army, they are not permitted to use firearms. The ICG and Marine police are constantly patrolling these areas but they lack equipment and boats for any effective security. Most of the ports and harbors in India suffer a similar, pathetic state of security infrastructure and are highly vulnerable.
To be able to act decisively it is necessary to have what was termed by Admiral Suresh Mehta as 'Actionable Intelligence'. The external agency- Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) & the internal agency- Intelligence Bureau (IB) need to share specific, actionable and effective intelligence. This has been a serious lacuna, at least partially attributable to turf wars. Often, vital intelligence gets camouflaged in the undecipherable maze of bureaucratic procedures. To say that cohesion between various agencies leaves a lot to be desired would be an understatement.
Hence, it is incumbent that adequate maritime forces be provided to strengthen the security of Nation.
- SOYEL ROY