Will somebody please tell us if Indias Coastline is safe?

December 7th, 2008 - 11:19 am ICT by ANI  

By Prem Prakash
New Delhi, Dec 7 (ANI): In the aftermath of the commando attack on Mumbai — I refuse to treat it as a terror attack– a war or words has been unleashed among those who should all have in the first instance protected Mumbai. The whole thing is unseemly. The media too has been dragged into the controversy; next time something similar happens, they want to arm themselves to gag the media?
A nation that does not remember history is bound to suffer. In its heyday, the Mughal Empire, particularly during the reign of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan, was the richest in the world. The whole world set out to find where India was. That is how so many countries; including the United States were discovered.
A significant event that happened during the period was the presentation of credentials by Sir Thomas Roe to Emperor Jehangir. At that time, the Portuguese had established themselves in Goa, Daman and Diu on the west coast of India, and dominated the Arabian Sea.
The Mughal Empire controlled Surat from where it could trade with the rest of the world. Soon, it found that the Portuguese were waylaying the Mughal Emperors trading ships and forcing the authorities in charge of those ships to pay heavy protection money to carry on with their journey.
When presenting his credentials, Sir Thomas Roe pointedly told Emperor Jehangir that his ruler was the Lord of the Seas. That struck a chord with the Emperor and his court. So far, the Portuguese had been claiming to be the lords of the high seas. That there was someone else who could control the Portuguese was of interest to the Mughals.
The Moghul Emperor and his bureaucracy were tired of the Portuguese. In a matter of days, a vessel named the Jehangir set sail from Surat. An approach was made to Thomas Roe to provide protection to the Jehangir, even though the west coast was clearly under the sway of Portuguese. The British lived up to their claim and the history from then on took a twist.
Now lets fast-forward to the 21st century. The commando attack on Mumbai has demonstrated that in spite of claims, Indias west coast is vulnerable even today. We are told that India has a blue water navy and a well-equipped coast guard.
Claims apart, ever since Independence, the west coast has been an area where smugglers have a free run. They did roaring business during the licence permit raj.
Ships from Dubai and other parts of the Gulf made regular runs to the west coast to not just deliver gold, but also other goodies as well. These were openly sold on the pavements of Bombay. Clearly there were people in the Indian administration — be they from the Customs or other agencies — who knew all about this and were beneficiaries of this illegal activity.
The excuse has been that our coastline was too long. Over the years, the nation has spent heavily in strengthening the navy, and created the Coast Guard as a special force.. For all that expenditure what have we got? In 1993, the terrorists were able to land RDX and create mayhem in Mumbai. They have proved again in November this year that the sea route is a safe route for not just the terrorists, as also for well-trained commandos.
It is high time that the people of India are taken into confidence about the real facts. A little over a year ago, a television channel had run a series of programmes to show the nation that Indias coast line could be easily breached.
Incognito, the TV crew had landed a consignment and managed to carry it all the way to Mumbai unchecked and unchallenged anywhere. There was no credible response from the government to this revelation.
That the intelligence agencies advised the Navy and others of an impending attack is not relevant at all. The simple fact that stares us all in the face is that the west coast which was open to smugglers and criminals of all sorts for all these years, has now been used by enemy commandos to carry out a devastating attack.
One could accept the excuse of a surprise during a war. The United States, the worlds most powerful nation, suffered from this surprise element when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, wreaking havoc on the US Pacific fleet.
If some one is trying to tell us that what happened in Mumbai had a surprise element, I am afraid that does not convince this author. We all knew that there were elements in Pakistan who had made Mumbai, Indias financial capital, their target. Why did the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Marine Police fail in their duty to protect the city in the face of this knowledge?
The Navy may need more ships, submarines, and aircraft carriers. The Coast Guard may need more ships and surveillance aircraft. Why are they not taking more energetic steps in (a) keeping the nation informed of their short comings and (b) who is holding up the process of equipping them properly. It does not behove an India of 21st century to be in the same state as was India of Jehangirs period.
The coastline of India is important, but the nation also needs to know if her offshore territories, notably the Andaman Islands and Laccadive islands, are safe and protected. The Chinese have been building up in that area and want to control the Indian Ocean. Do we have sufficient naval and air strength out there to protect Indias territory there? More importantly, the Andaman Islands are our outpost in South East Asia and makes Indonesia our close neighbour.
There are going to be several more questions and issues raised in the days ahead. Mumbai commando attacks are as much of a watershed in Indian securitys history as was the 1962 attack by China on Indias borders. No one can fudge this issue any more yes, no one, for even Jawaharlal Nehru had to take all corrective steps post 1962 to secure Indias defences.
We now need a clear answer if Indias coast and her off shore islands are safe in the hands of the present government and the kind of defence forces and intelligence agencies we have. If not, then, the corrective steps need to start right now and heads need to roll from the agencies that failed Mumbai. (ANI)

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