CECIL VICTOR. Editorial.X.II.XVII
FISHERFOLK: PAWNS IN A FALSE
By Cecil Victor
Since the beginning of the year Pakistan has on two occasions released more than 450 Indian fishermen in what it tomtomed to be a “goodwill gesture”. At about the same time it presented the Indian security forces a ‘who dunnit’ in four abandoned fishingboats in the disputed Sir Creek area of Gujarat raising, once again, the spectre of terrorists infiltrating from the seaward side a la Mumbai in 2008.
On that occasion Indian fishermen on board the Kuber fishing boat were hijacked by a group of ten Pakistani terrorists. They were killed and the boat was used to approach Mumbai harbour. Inside Indian territorial waters they used inflatable dinghies to row into pre-designated landing points to rain havoc on India.
The planners and perpetrators of this dastardly act –Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed – are now in Pakistani protective custody one in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi enjoying full conjugal rights and other luxuries and Saeed in house arrest in a luxurious Lahore suburb. The law or anyone else cannot touch them. WHERE, THEN, IS THE GOODWILL GESTURE?
Why does the Government of India allow itself to be bamboozled by such Pakistani tactics time and again? Remember we invited the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence—the fountainhead of global terrorism -- to help us resolve the attack on the Pathankot airbase. We were told that there is not enough evidence to prove the case in a Pakistani court of law! And there is China standing in the wings to prevent India from obtaining a UN sanction against these terrorists.
While the exchange of fisherfolk captured by either side is a humanitarian gesture without doubt but why does India not have its guard up in the disputed Sir Creek region where Pakistan is clearly up to some fishy business. (Remember too the unsolicited advisory from the Pakistan Army Director General of Military Operations that a suspicious fishing boat with about 10 terrorists on board was on its way to India. The point is that if Pakistan knew of this why did it not stop it? Clearly it was a red herring in the ISI gameplan to keep India guessing.)
In spite of the lessons learned from the Mumbai attacks of 2008 and the train blasts in 2006 and 2003 or more recently in Uri, Pathankot and Udhampur there are wide loopholes that Pakistan is exploiting time and again.
On the seafront in particular the Indian Navy which is in overall control of seaward defence needs to revisit its security doctrines. The dual incidents of arrest of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy and the oil spill after the collision of two vessels off the Tamil Nadu coast underscore the gaping gaps and security lapses in maritime defences so close to the coastline (forget the dangers lurking further in the blue waters of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.)
First of all the Indian Coast Guard which has the responsibility of protecting the 7500 km Indian coastline and island territories in the strategic Andaman and Nicobar group in the east and the Lakshadweep group in the western seaboard, must equip itself to deal with multifarious requirements ranging from fish poaching, piracy, guns and drugs peddling and the growing threat of terrorism from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Southeast Asia.
India is in a fortunate position now of being able to manufacture its own fast attack craft. This facility should be fully utilized to increase its fleet of both inshore and offshore patrol vessel equipped with equipment to meet both military threats and marine protection against oilspills, etc.
But first of all it must decide that it must have a presence as a protective force when Indian fishermen go out to fish be it along the India-Pakistan maritime boundary or the India-Sri Lanka waters. No foreign navy should be allowed to arrest and maltreat Indian fishermen. That should be the bottomline.
In the first instance, in a gesture of goodneighbourliness especially to Sri Lanka, India must ensure that the problem of fishing in seas close to or across maritime boundaries should be avoided. Fishing is a major political issue in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka and so there should be a specific additional effort to avoid confrontation. One way to do this is to shepherd the Indian fishermen away from Sri Lankan territorial waters which are believed to be rich in all types of high value fish. This will underscore India’s good intention towards Sri Lanka and avoid the traumatic experience of being deprived of one’s boat and incarceration in a foreign jail. The Indian Coast Guard must enlarge its presence in and around the major fishing grounds to ensure protection from the Sri Lanka Navy.
In the specific case of Pakistan, the Indian Coast Guard must not only ensure that Indian fishermen are not troubled by Pakistani fishermen (many have been arrested and returned to Pakistan over the years). The mandate must also be clear that if it is a matter where the Indian maritime claimline lies, it will protect its right to non-interference in presence and fishing or exploitation of marine resources as the case may be.
Allowing fishermen to be used as pawns in a farcical charade of goodwill must end.
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