November 21, 2008 10:35:51 pm
The Indian navy’s dramatic success in sinking a pirate “mother vessel” in the Gulf of Aden late on Tuesday night stands against a backdrop of aspiration and disappointment. The menace of maritime piracy off the Somali coast would cloud any premature celebration of national naval glory. Nor is this an occasion for rhetoric over the INS Tabar’s success, because any correct assessment of the significance of what the Talwar class stealth frigate has achieved would preclude silly jingoism. The Indian navy has not only asserted its autonomy and ability but has done so for a collective global good. The protection of international maritime trade, the safeguard of cargo ships and oil tankers in the high seas, call for a concerted international naval effort. And India has just overtaken the lead of the Royal navy in the region.
Unfortunately, this naval autonomy is still nascent and very limited in scope. The civilian leadership in India is yet to wake up to the changed international reality and opportunities that call for a larger Indian role in many spheres. Protecting commercial vessels from pirates is one of them, but a major entry point. The Tabar’s rescue of two vessels from pirates last week and its fusillade on Tuesday night are due in part to the cooperation of regional countries like Oman. Along with more regional states, the Indian navy also needs to collaborate with other navies. A single ship and a navy acting by itself cannot cover the 100,000 square miles vulnerable to piracy. The government has rightly begun considering force augmentation in the Gulf of Aden, and not just the deployment of a single maritime reconnaissance aircraft. But it needs to enhance the navy’s ability to coordinate with foreign warships in the region. It also needs to proactively work out logistical arrangements with governments there.
Through it all, India should focus on two important factors. First, we are acting for a collective good. Second, we have to mature out of our old “Indian Ocean mindset”. Acting in concert with others means we are involved in a naval grand coalition for an international cause and not a one-off, single-benefit action.
Besides, for long we have believed that if the big navies just sailed out of the Indian Ocean things would be peaceful. That belief was always unrealistic and utopian. In fact, international naval presence in the region will work to everyone’s advantage except the breakers of the peace. It is India’s call to engage its navy long term in this greater good. The future will vouch for what we gain in the process.
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