It’s time to be serious…
By Maj Gen (Retd) Afsir Karim, AVSM
In spite of the new equipment and strategies to strengthening the coastline security after 26/11, the government agencies responsible for coastal security continue to be indifferent and complacent about the dangers. The degree of alertness required is lacking. Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Police in coastal states jointly cannot ensure coastal security.
The Indian Navy is responsible for surveillance on the high seas along the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Coast Guard operates in the territorial waters, to protect the coastline. It has a fleet of specialised vessels and aircrafts for aerial surveillance. Marine Police is responsible for patrolling shallow waters close to the shoreline.
Naval and Coast Guard personnel operate round the clock to man the Joint Operation Centres (JOC) at Mumbai, Kochi, Visakhapatnam, and Port Blair to coordinate the coastal security operations. The State Marine Police, Customs, Intelligence Bureau and Port police also network with these centres.
After 2008, the security of the coastal areas was significantly strengthened, to contain the threat of non-state actors. The needs of all the maritime stakeholders- the State and Central agencies and the fishing community needed dovetailing into the coastal security apparatus. Navy, Coast Guard and State Police teams conducted awareness campaigns in the coastal villages. The fishermen were briefed about terrorist threats from the sea and told to keep a lookout for strangers in their fishing areas. These led to many successful interceptions in the recent past.
The security arrangements in all coastal states and the Island territories are regularly reviewed to highlight threats from non-state actor’s elements across the seas. The Indian Navy has been conducting coastal security exercises along with the Coast Guard, Marine Police, Customs, and Immigration and Port Authorities. All likely scenarios like hijacking of fishing crafts, beach landing of terrorists and stowaways on ships need attention.
Despite the elaborate security arrangement, several reports suggest that we our coastline is not entirely secure against terrorist infiltration and attacks from Pakistan and its proxies. Readers may recall the national tragedy of 26/11 when Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Toeba (LET) infiltrated into Mumbai without any difficulty and continued the dance of death for almost three days.
The radars and another surveillance equipment planned for the coastline are yet to be fully operational. The sanctioned strength of police stations for coastal security also is yet to be functional. There is also an acute shortage of patrol boats, other equipment, trained personnel and training facilities.
Surprisingly even after several attacks and pronouncements about the new security network we remain as vulnerable and dangerously indifferent to coastal security. These gaping loopholes in coastal defence and security grid are the open invitation to the LET and other Pakistan-based terrorist groups to attack from the sea. Are we waiting to be surprised another time?
In our country, we have all the human and technical capabilities but lack proactive and pre-emptive thinking ability. This is the main reason we delay doings things that are to be done to create a foolproof coastal security grid and pre-empt attacks. Building intelligence assets in Pakistan is not easy. This hinders planning and prompt follow-up action, but we are also unable to disseminate real-time information provided by global counter-terrorist agencies.
The situation on the ground is alarming. Despite various intelligence reports about impending terrorist attacks from al-Qaeda and its associates in Pakistan, we have not been able to streamline the security apparatus after the 26/11 attack. Instead of tweaking the security system already in place, different government agencies are finding excuses for inaction and delays.
Is another attack on the scale of 26/11 in a big coastal town possible? Pakistani Taliban supported by al-Qaeda has declared its intentions to target India. They may select a big coastal city like Kochi this time that will give them maximum publicity.
The Islamic terrorists are capable of launching a spectacular attack with the support of the ISI of Pakistan and SI. They use only one weapon, a weapon of death, and we will have to use the same weapon against them, if they mount another attack. These elements know only one language- the language of force, they must face forceful retaliation if the dare enter our country.
In this situation not only the Government and agencies but even ordinary people need to be vigilant to foil the terrorist attacks and their plans for sabotage and subversion. The initial urgency for creating new training facilities, procuring fast speed boats and sophisticated equipment and better co-ordination among the counter-terrorist agencies has evaporated. Unchallenged entry of ghost ships adrift in the sea opposite Mumbai harbours a couple of years ago only proves how vulnerable we still are to innovative terrorist attacks.
It is alarming fact that the electronic alert system around which the entire patrolling system depends on is not yet operational. Reports say now Navy is testing an automatic identification system which will alert the authorities if any unregistered boat enters a port.
Why expectations of securing our coastline have not kept pace with new dangers that are lurking on our borders? Why our coastal areas are inadequately protected does anyone have an answer?
Major General Afsir Karim, AVSM, commanded a Para Battalion during the Indo-Pak War in 1971. An expert on terrorism and internal security, he was a Member, National Security Advisory Board and has authored several books on military studies and strategic affairs. He is a graduate from the Defense Services Staff College DSSC, Wellington and the National Defence College NDC.