IN a space of 10 days, two gangs of suspected Somali pirates came to Junagadh and Jamnagar coast. The assistance of Interpol for information on the 32 Somali pirates is being sought. What this shows is that the menace of Somali piracy has only grown over the years. It is worth examining why has this happened despite the presence of a professional navy.
For over five years, our shipping companies have paid millions of dollars in ransom. Hundreds of Indian sailors have been abducted since February 2006, when Indian-owned and -manned dhow, MV Bhakti Sagar, was hijacked by Somali pirates. Despite action taken by Indian Navy and Coastguard, there is no let-up in the virulence of Somali piracy.
Admiral Arun Prakash, former Navy Chief, threw some light on the subject in an article he wrote for The Indian Express (April 20, 2011). The Somali pirates, he wrote, “have graduated from small skiffs and trawlers to using medium-sized captured merchant men as ‘mother ships,’ which allows them the freedom to extend their range up to 1,000-1,500 miles from home waters—right into India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The ransom has risen from a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars per ship and crew.”
And what has been the reaction of our government? Very little, despite the issuance of myriad platitudes. Prakash narrated the happenings in the highest quarters following the February 2006 hijack:
Naval Headquarters (NHQ) ordered the destroyer INS Mumbai, homeward bound from Oman, to alter course for Somalian waters…
While Mumbai was proceeding with all despatch, a heated debate raged in the cabinet secretary’s office about the advisability of sending a warship. At the end of these deliberations, the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) sent a written note to NHQ posing a set of rhetorical questions, which came as a revelation about the diffidence and lack of resolve that prevails at policy-making levels. Agonising about how our African and Middle-Eastern neighbours would react to what was termed as “muscle-flexing” by the Indian navy, the note vividly illustrated why India has earned the sobriquet of a “soft state.”
The essence of the note was contained in one plaintive query: “Will we sail a destroyer every time an Indian national is in trouble anywhere?” The Navy’s emphatic response—“Yes of course; if we have one available!”—went unheeded, and the warship had to be recalled. A few days later, the ship-owner paid ransom to the pirates, and 21 Indian citizens came home, without the Indian state or its powerful navy having lifted a finger to protect them.
It seems that the country’s foreign office not only has little regard for national interest but is also completely bereft of commonsense and logic. To begin with, there is no evidence of any serious political objection to action against piracy in the region. The Navy wanted to act against pirates, not against any nation. Secondly, it was dereliction of duty on the part of a pusillanimous government which refused to save the life and liberty of its own citizens.
One wonders if the perfidy of our foreign office mandarins is the result of sheer incompetence and insensitivity or there is more to it than meets the eye. American politician Adlai E. Stevenson once said, “A diplomat’s life is made up of three ingredients: protocol, Geritol, and alcohol.” Indian diplomacy certainly does not have any fourth ingredient. Apparently, our diplomat has no solicitude for the citizens of their own country whose tax money is used to pay his salary in the first place.
Many television anchors discuss the possibility of carrying out surgical attacks against Pakistan to execute Dawood Ibrahim and other terrorists. With a foreign office like the one we have, this is virtually impossible. If our diplomats are so scared of the repercussions of tough action against ordinary pirates, they will surely tremble with fear just imagining the prospects of the stink that Pakistani mendacity would raise in the wake of any effective action against jihad.