Upholding of the Maldivian constitution and continued peace in this strategically located archipelago is definitely in India’s interest. And are we prepared for the worst case scenarios?
The Indian establishment is in quandary as to where is Maldives headed, the media naturally agitated. The signs of fundamentalism seeping into this paradise of resorts have been there for some years now and the unrest has eventually manifested into the current situation where even some policemen have sided with the protestors and are openly clashing with the military on the streets.
The Maldivian National Forces have been concerned about increasing radicalism in the country for more than five years now since drugs started flowing into the country, youth started travelling to Pakistan for training by the Lashkar-e-Taeba (LeT) and burqas started appearing on the streets. More recently, the reformist agenda of ousted President Nasheed to modernize the Sunni Islamic archipelago had raised the hackles of the more conservative opposition backed by many conservative groups. Then came the total ban on liquor till it was realized that the wholly tourism dependent economy of the country will go for a six. Hence, consumption of liquor was permitted in resorts. Yesterday’s news talked of a 100 bottles of liquor found in the compound of the deposed President that could even fetch him a three year jail term.
A significant development three years back was declaration of Somali Piracy as national threat by Maldives, something that the world including India largely ignored. Maldives had every reason to do so as there were several incidents of Somali Pirates sneaking into Maldivian waters, resulting in clashes with the Maldivian Coast Guards. Does India recognize the enormity of the Somali Piracy problem beyond ensuring security to its shipping off the Somali coast?
The enormity of this threat needs to be viewed taking into account the range of operations of Somali pirates has expanded from 105 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia in 2005 to the present 1300 nautical miles leaning onto our very shores. More importantly, the base of the Somali Piracy lies in Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization that has been holding Somalia to ransom since 2009 and significantly has intimate links with Al Qaeda.
It is a known fact that in the heydays of the LTTE, Al Qaeda had sent a contingent for sea sabotage training under the naval wing of the LTTE. Despite the looming threat at sea, the world has not been able to provide a coordinated response to the growing problem of Somali piracy, the infrastructure of which appears to have consolidated with modules of a command trawler under which two-three other vessels operate. Yet, global powers like the US will understandably remain unconcerned till another USS Cole type incidence takes place.
India needs to recognize the repercussions of radicalism in Maldives. More importantly, we need to recognize the repercussions of the possibility of terrorist groups such as the Al Qaeda / LeT occupying any of the over 1000 uninhabited islands of Maldives and establishing covert operational bases there for targeting India. All this needs to be viewed in relation with the fast radicalizing Kerala and the Maoist insurgency running north of it including select Maoist cadres having advanced explosives training courtesy the LTTE.
The magnifying threat to South India in particular both by sea and air (with Bengaluru only an hour and a half flight away from Male) and India in general should be clear. You already have the NIA telling you the 13/7 blast mastermind was trained by Al Qaeda. Was India caught napping? Was India caught napping when the royal massacre in Nepal and the attempted coups occurred in Bangladesh?
More importantly, what should India do now?
You may ask the powers that be who in the past 65 years have functioned without a national security strategy and sans defining our national security objectives, keeping the military out of the strategic planning. Upholding of the Maldivian constitution and continued peace in this strategically located archipelago is definitely in India’s interest. In addition, we need to be prepared for the worst case scenarios as mentioned above and protect our national security interests.
Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army