Need to re­vamp coastal se­cu­rity

Although in this lat­est episode, a ter­ror­ist at­tack has pos­si­bly been foiled through well co­or­di­nated ac­tion be­tween the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and the ICG, it is a grim re­minder that the threat to na­tional se­cu­rity from across the vast coast­line is real.

SP's MAI - - INTERNAL SECURITY VIEWPOINT -

As the New Year dawned, the na­tion was greeted with the news that a 26/11 type of at­tack by ter­ror­ists once again us­ing the sea route on the western seaboard had been averted dur­ing the night by the In­dian Coast Guard (ICG). Ap­par­ently, the Na­tional Tech­ni­cal Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NTRO), a re­cently cre­ated in­tel­li­gence agency of the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for tech­ni­cal in­tel­li­gence, for a pe­riod of 15 days, had been mon­i­tor­ing mo­bile phone con­ver­sa­tion amongst dif­fer­ent agen­cies in Pak­istan that were in­dica­tive of plans to launch a boat from Keti Bun­der, a small port near Karachi on its south­ern coast, on a clan­des­tine mis­sion sus­pected to be some­where along the In­dian coast­line. After the boat set sail, while con­tin­u­ing to mon­i­tor cell phone traf­fic, the NTRO alerted the ICG that im­me­di­ately launched their Dornier 228 mar­itime surveil­lance air­craft to lo­cate and track the boat which it did. The ICG had also di­verted a pa­trol ves­sel to in­ter­cept the boat. In a co­or­di­nated search and based on in­puts from the Dornier air­craft, at around mid­night of De­cem­ber 31, 2014, the ICG pa­trol ves­sel in­ter­cepted a pow­ered boat some 365 km south­west off Por­ban­dar on the coast of Gu­jarat. The boat was about eight km on the In­dian side of the mar­itime bound­ary with Pak­istan.

Il­lu­mi­nat­ing the boat by pow­er­ful search­lights, the crew of the ICG pa­trol ves­sel spot­ted four men on deck. As per re­ports from the ICG, the boat in­creased speed and tried to get away from the In­dian side of mar­itime bound­ary and the hot pur­suit con­tin­ued for nearly an hour. The boat did even­tu­ally stop after warn­ing shots were fired but the four-man crew dis­ap­peared be­low deck and prob­a­bly set the boat on fire which trig­gered a mas­sive ex­plo­sion blow­ing the boat to smithereens. No bod­ies or parts of the wrecked boat have yet been re­cov­ered.

This episode has un­canny sim­i­lar­ity with the one on Novem­ber 26, 2008, spon­sored by the In­terSer­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) of Pak­istan. On this fate­ful day, a band of 10 ter­ror­ists from Karachi came sail­ing across the Ara­bian Sea to launch their at­tack on Mumbai and held the fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal of In­dia hostage for 60 hours and left 166 peo­ple dead. This time too, the Pak­istani boat fol­lowed the same route and whether the four men in the ill-fated boat were tasked to re­peat 26/11 in Mumbai or cause may­hem in any other coastal city or were merely on a mis­sion to de­liver bombs, ex­plo­sives and au­to­matic weapons to their com­rades in In­dia, would have to be es­tab­lished through fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion and in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions. But the fact that the oc­cu­pants of the boat were in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the mar­itime se­cu­rity agency of Pak­istan is proof enough that this was an op­er­a­tion spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment of our hos­tile neigh­bour. One pos­si­bil­ity is that the mis­sion was to launch an at­tack on Por­ban­dar dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of a ma­jor base of the In­dian Navy sched­uled for Jan­uary 12 or to em­bar­rass the gov­ern­ment by dis­rupt­ing the Pravasi Bharatiya Di­vas an­nual fest com­menc­ing Jan­uary 7 where there would be a con­gre­ga­tion of a large num­ber of In­di­ans from the af­flu­ent business com­mu­nity liv­ing abroad.

What is of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance is that this mis­sion was launched by the ISI at a time when there is heavy shelling go­ing on across not only the line of con­trol but also across the in­ter­na­tional bor­der with Pak­istan. The mis­sion of the ex­plo­sive-laden boat in the Ara­bian Sea could thus be part of a larger game plan. But what is most in­trigu­ing is that de­spite ac­cu­rate, re­li­able and ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence be­ing avail­able, there was no ac­tion taken by the In­dian Navy. Hope­fully, the gov­ern­ment will ad­dress this is­sue to fur­ther strengthen coastal se­cu­rity.

In­dia has a coast­line of over 7,500 km, the ninth largest in the world which spreads across nine states and four Union ter­ri­to­ries. Among the coastal states, Gu­jarat has the largest coast­line of over 1,200 km. Pro­vid­ing fool­proof se­cu­rity for such a large coast­line that is un­der the con­trol of dif­fer­ent state gov­ern­ments and ad­min­is­tered by dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties has been prov­ing to be a for­mi­da­ble task. Although in this lat­est episode, a ter­ror­ist at­tack has pos­si­bly been foiled through well co­or­di­nated ac­tion be­tween the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and the ICG, it is a grim re­minder that the threat to na­tional se­cu­rity from across the vast coast­line is real. The lessons learnt after the 26/11 at­tack re­in­forced by those in this lat­est episode need to be im­ple­mented with se­ri­ous­ness and with­out fur­ther de­lay.

AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

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