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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (December 2015)

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13 November 2015 will long be remembered for a Friday that brought chaos and carnage to Paris. Much like 11 September 2001 did to New York and some other cities of the United States. Both dates and events, would be recalled in history as the starting point of the endgame in the campaign against Islamic State and Al Qaeda respectively. While 11 September proved to be the trigger that launched the operation which culminated in Abbottabad on a hot May night in 2011, how post-Paris events unfold is anybody’s guess, as yet. But it is certain that the war on Islamic State will see fundamental changes.

The fundamental changes were to be expected after the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008. Many things changed in India’s anti-terror operations, especially against Lashkar-e-Taiba. Many of the changes remain hidden from the glare of publicity, while some are more visible. But what is certain is that India needed to change in many aspects, but most of all in how it manages the security of long coastline. The Mumbai attacks proved that coastal security was as important, if not more, than that of cities and installations in the hinterland. India has a unique geographical position in that it is virtually shaped like an aircraft carrier jutting into the Indian Ocean. And some of the most important international trade routes pass under its nose, eyes and ears. The responsibility of maintaining the sanctity of these trade routes is of the international community. And India being the nearest and the largest of the countries astride these routes makes it doubly responsible for ensuring safe passage for global cargo and passengers. As the most suitably located country India has to be the lead player in this structure. India’s contribution cannot be second to any other country. But to make that a reality there has to be an oceanic security grid in which India takes the lead.

For India to be the lead player it has to make greater effort and investments in its Navy and as a corollary its Coast Guard too. The economic benefits and imperatives of this enhanced funding are obvious, for the Indian growth story requires safe and secure global trade. What is also fundamental is national security imperatives. Any disruption, terrorist or otherwise, has a cascading effect on economic activities and as a result growth. Since India is a coastal country, overlooking Indian Ocean trade routes, has vital installations and cities on the sea and hence is vulnerable to attack from that direction, it is important to secure that front, immediately.

As the lead player in this scheme the Navy has to be bolstered greatly. Just as the Army is the centre of gravity when it comes to manning the land borders, the Navy must remain the key in terms of the oceanic borders. The mistakes that have been made on the land front must not be made in the seas. All border police forces were once under the command of Army officers, not just during hostilities. Now there is a piquant situation wherein an important service like the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, deployed on the Line of Actual Control, doesn’t come under the operational command of the local Army formation but reports directly to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The same was sought to be done with the Coast Guard, but that has been thwarted for the time being. It should be stopped completely.

Even as the Coast Guard is a separate service it has to maintain close relations with the Navy. After all both have to operate in the same terrain, so nothing better than to institutionalise cross attachments and postings of the two cadres. That way each gets to know the other better and operate better too. The same logic applies to India’s cooperation with the other friendly international navies. The International Fleet Review scheduled for February 2016 is a great contributor to that process.

Even as India must remain the lead player in the ocean that carries its name, it cannot operate all by itself. There are other countries that share the same vision of cooperation and growth, hence, all must be on the same wavelength. But for that to come to fruition India must first establish its own coastal security grid which couples the Navy, the Coast Guard and all agencies of the states which reside on the sea. The future is there and must be secured immediately.

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