Wednesday, 5 September 2012

India Needs to do Much More for Fool-proof Security From the Seas

A roundtable discussion on "Maritime Terrorism and its Implications for India", organised by Observer Research Foundation on August 8, 2012, brought out various lacunae in ensuring a fool proof security against terrorism from sea, and suggested that the experiences of other nations on this regard could be a starting point that India could emulate in addition to the measures it had already taken.

Chairing the discussion, former High Court Justice S.D. Dave introduced the subject, tracing India's experience with maritime terrorism. He highlighted the cases of the 1993 serial blasts and the November 2008 terrorist siege in Mumbai where the seas were used as a conduit in both the instances. In 1993, seas were used to smuggle in the explosive materials, RDX, while in 2008, it was used by the ten terrorists to reach the Indian shores.

Dr. PK Ghosh, Senior Fellow; ORF, traced the evolution of maritime terrorism. He observed that the nature of terror from the seas have changed over a period of time. In the initial days, all activities were focused on carrying out attacks that targeted ships of various types, whereas lately, it has been observed that terrorist groups are using the seas to meet their logistical needs in transporting both men and material.

Dr. Ghosh also highlighted the maritime capabilities of various terrorist organisations operating in the area and the level of motivation to carry out attacks. The organisations that were analysed included the Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf Group of Philippines, Jemaah Islamiah of Indonesia and the Moro Islamic Front amongst others. He also mentioned that the pirates who operated Somalia had developed close linkages with terrorists (Al-Shabab and the al-Qaeda) and were being trained by them to replicate the erstwhile Sea Tigers of the LTTE. He said this would provide a dangerous mix of terrorism and piracy.

Mr. Rana Banerji, a former Special Secretary at the Cabinet Secretariat, described the various security facets of the seas. He began by demarcating the difference between piracy and maritime terrorism, citing the various interpretations and definitions that are followed the world over to describe terrorism and piracy. He mainly focussed on intelligence and intelligence related issues that India faces in addressing the issue of maritime terrorism.

Mr. Banarji said that the nature of the problem required not only intelligence gathering capabilities that relied on technology but also on-the-ground human resources. It was on this note that he highlighted the difficulties that are being faced by India. The primary shortcoming was that the Indian coastline is crowded with both civilian population and strategic installations, resulting in limiting the monitoring capabilities of the security agencies. He said the flow of information had been a mixed bag with instances of inaccurate intelligence or incomplete intelligence being complemented by incompetent and indifferent officials at the ground.

A senior official from the defence establishment talked about the various measures that have been taken by the government to address the security concerns of the nation. He said post 2008 Mumbai incident, a number of measures had been taken to overcome the lacunae. These included setting up of coastal security agencies in the form of Maritime Police by the respective state governments, the setting up of tracking and monitoring facilities along the coast line and varying surveillance capabilities. He said there is also an increasing level of interaction between coastal populace and the fishing community.

He said the government has also been providing the fishing community with equipment that will enable the security agencies to track and monitor fishing vessels that ply along the Indian coastline. This has been accompanied by distributing distress alert equipment, which will facilitate the state to initiate both search and rescue operations as well as counter terrorism operations on the open seas.

During the discussion, it was pointed out by experts that there are difficulties in administering more than two lakh fishing fleet of the nation. The discussion also revealed the problems arising out of the lack of a uniformed system of registration of fishing vessels.

Experts also drew the attention into the limitations and drawbacks of the measures initiated by the government. The primary shortcoming was the issue of human resources. It was pointed out that the men who constitute the newly-formed Maritime Police either lacked motivation or were reluctant to carry out their duties owing to a number of reasons. The maritime force also lacked the requisite capabilities to function optimally and the resources that are there at their disposal are not being utilised as intended, it was pointed out.

On the other hand, it was pointed out that there are as many as 18 government agencies and institutions that were involved with the policy implementation in the maritime domain. This had proved to be a hurdle within the government in addressing the security considerations that required seamless integration. However, by setting up the MAC (multi-agency centre), JOCs (Joint Operation Centres in the three Naval Commands) and other similar institution at various levels, the government had been successful in overcoming this hurdle to an extent, creating a degree of cohesion. But much more needs to be done. And it was suggested that the experiences of other nations on this regard could be a starting point that India could emulate in addition to the measures it had already taken.

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