Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Indian Maritime Security: A resurgent threat from Sri Lanka

New Delhi, February 11 Security analysts and senior diplomats are now getting increasingly concerned about the potential fallout of the conflict in Sri Lanka on Indian maritime security. The ongoing military action by the Sri Lankan forces continues to gain ground in the hitherto LTTE controlled areas of Sri Lanka like Kilinochchi, giving rise to fears in India that the LTTE cadres may try to escape to Tamilnadu. Experts fear that Indian sea blindness, exposed in the Mumbai attacks, has only partially lifted, and that the Southern coastline remains particularly vulnerable to infiltration by men and material.

Sri Lankan forces captured Prabhakaran’s bunker last week; the wily and dangerous LTTE Supremo is now said to be engaged in a desperate battle for survival, and given old links and support in parts of India, may send at least some of his followers here. Indian security experts believe that the LTTE is almost certainly in touch with extremist elements in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and that India will have to be extremely vigilant in patrolling its southern coastline. This coastline may be as penetrable as the one in Gujarat at the time of the Mumbai attacks last year, a fact used by terrorists to devastating effect.

The apprehensions come just a month and a half after a police operation was launched at Dhanushkodi and surrounding areas near Rameswaram after five bullet pockmarked and bloodstained abandoned boats were found on that southern Indian coast. At the time, intelligence officials confirmed that up to five unidentified bodies were also washed ashore, and Ramanathapuram DSP Velan had said that there was information that arms could have been smuggled into the country. It is thought that LTTE militants fleeing the recent Sri Lankan army offensive could have found their way to India. The LTTE has gotten increasingly anti Indian in the last couple of months, as can be seen from the organisation’s website; it is obviously angry at the relative lack of support it has received from Indian quarters, and is now desperately trying to create anti Indian sentiment in Tamil Nadu.

Thirty seven countries including India, US, the UK and the EU have declared the LTTE a terrorist organisation. With Prabhakaran coming under increasing international pressure, and with dwindling support even in Tamilnadu, the group may finally be on the verge of annihilation. Analysts point out, however, that the LTTE, which gave the world its first suicide bomber, has a phoenix like ability to rise from the ashes, and it would be premature to write it off. It may well form a caucus with extremist groups in Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Nepal, where the recent violence has not been linked to any religious group but has been as extremist in nature. India, in that eventuality, may find itself surrounded by neighbours with a significant presence of extremist anti Indian groups.

There are signs that India is taking the new threat seriously. Just a few days ago, Home Minister Chidambaram announced that the country was planning to constitute a "grassroot" coastal command under the Home Ministry to strengthen the country's Coast Guard in guaranteeing coastal security. “To counter the sea threat and ensure integrated security, the Centre has ambitious plans and the Coastal Command is part of it. The coastal force would keep vigil at the grassroot level," Chidambaram said, speaking in Kerala.
In connected developments, Indian external affairs Pranab Mukherjee has said to have spoken to his Sri Lankan counterpart during his recent visit to the country about the urgent need to capture Prabhakaran.
Another story doing the rounds: US defence major Raytheon is trying to sell its airborne standoff radar (ASTOR) as the ideal solution for Indian homeland security.


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