In the not-so-distant Nairobi, the levers of what could become one of the most critical wars of our times are being pulled. The Kenyan military forces have launched themselves into Somalian territory, hitherto under the possession of the radical terror group, Al Shabab. Climbing north, the Kenyans have only recently clarified that their intention is wipe out the terror groups and pirates operating from Somalian coast upto Kismayo. That is precisely where a window emerges for the willing nations to capitalise and alter the unfortunate scenario prevailing for Somalia and the world.
The Associated Press (AP) reporting from the conflict zone has quoted Kenyan military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir as saying, “We are going to be there until the (Somali government) has effectively reduced the capacity of al-Shabab to fire a single round. We want to ensure there is no al-Shabab. We want to destroy all their weapons. This provides a vantage point for us to clear al-Shabab and pirates from the Somali coast in Kismayo.”
What does it hold for India?
The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral NK Verma, speaking very recently at the US Naval War college stated that 53 Indian seafarers have been presently held by the Somalian pirates. Totally, almost 300 seafarers on 09 ships to this day continue to live under the shadow of these modern-day pirates. Additionally, this menace has forced us (and governments world over) to initiate measures like allowing armed guards on board merchant ships, making modifications in terms of Best Management Practices (BMPs) etc.
On the other front, the Union Ministry of Shipping is fighting hard at international forums to revoke the War Risk Insurance (WRI) imposed on vessels traversing off the western seaboard of India. A decision on this subject is yet to be taken and thus all the negatives of the WRI are sticking on to us.
Lastly, since October 2008, Indian Navy (IN) has been consistently deploying one warship in the Gulf of Aden and one for patrolling off Seychelles, Maldives and other friendly states, towards warding the pirates off. This is significant contribution given the pressing commitments at home vis-a-vis threats emanating from marine terrorism.
India only stands to gain with the uprooting of piracy.
Global effects of Piracy
According to a working paper issued by the One Earth Future group in December 2010 (available on: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/sites/default/files/documents_old/The_Economic_Cost_of_Piracy_Full_Report.pdf), up to $ 12 billion per year is the amount being diverted towards handling piracy. This cost includes aspects like ransom, insurance premium, deployment of almost 50 naval ships under three formations along with independently acting navies like ours, setting up of piracy deterrent organisations, re-routing of ships and cost to the economies among other things.
When one compares this to the situation in Libya, earlier this year, the later pales out. And yet it attracted the world’s attention. Reason being that whatever was happening in Libya under Gaddafi affected Libyans. But what happens now in Somalia will affect the world.
‘It is an opportunity’
Several calls & messages to the MEA’s External Publicity division and its boss, Vishnu Prakash failed to evoke a response, for over two days. Informally speaking, an MEA official who was present at the recently concluded India Brazil South Africa (IBSA) summit said that IBSAMAR (IBSA Maritime Cooperation) involving the three navies might discuss this issue. But that apart, nothing else was discussed.
However, this lukewarm response was not something that was echoed by veterans who felt that the war initiated in Somalia can be better utilised. Said Ambassador Rajendra Abhyankar, who has served as the Indian Ambassador to EU, Turkey and Syria among others in his diplomatic career, “There is an opportunity for India, no doubt. But instead of acting alone, which may seem confusing to Kenya and others, we may explore the IBSA as a stage. That apart, Kenya is a well-constituted country and we have good ties with them, so to assist them terms of material support for their purpose should not be an issue.”
Former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Arun Prakash stated that the present situation was indeed a window but doubted if mere military action would be enough. “You can’t simply bash them up and leave. India needs to spearhead action whereby not just militarily but even in terms of civil aid, we can rehabilitate the Somalian society,” he added.
There are also fears that if India remains paralysed by inaction, this stage could well be devoured by more active nations like China.
India has often stated that it has a stake in a stable and prosperous Somalia. However, when it comes to action there has been little to offer.
If India’s present disinterest in the conflict is not a proof enough, then the below par performance, when it came to assisting the Horn of Africa region in fighting drought and famine (described by the UNHCR as the worst in the last 60 years) gives us an indication enough.