Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let’s fight pirates together: US to India

Washington has offered New Delhi a bilateral maritime security framework involving joint mechanisms against piracy in the sea lanes from the Gulf of Aden to Strait of Malacca, multi-lateral exercises and close cooperation between the two Navies in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Official sources told The Sunday Express that the American proposal, in the form of a non-paper, was given to the Ministry of Defence in Delhi before the Indo-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) meeting in Washington on March 3-4. Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar assured his US counterpart Michelle Flournoy that India would look into the proposal during the DPG meeting. The paper was to be discussed at the April 6 second strategic dialogue meeting between Defence Minister A K Antony and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates which has now been postponed.
The paper has been referred to the Indian Naval Headquarters. The Indian and US Navies have increased bilateral cooperation, with American ships supplying fuel to Indian Navy ships no less than 44 times in the recent past.
Although the Americans operate multi-national task forces, CTF 150 and 151, against terrorists, gunrunners and pirates in the Indian Ocean, the latest proposal is a bilateral one with the focus on increasing maritime security in the region.
The key element of this non-paper is to fight Somali pirates, who are now operating just 500 nautical miles from the Indian coastline and are increasing their activity in the Nine Degree Channel off Lakshadweep.
While New Delhi is still studying the paper, the bilateral cooperation, even if limited to fighting piracy, involves issues like sharing of secure codes, logistics and command and control. During the Afghan war post-9/11, India was coordinating with the American Pacific fleet to escort oil tankers through the Strait of Malacca. With Somali pirates mixed up
with terrorist groups like Al Shahab, the so-called Taliban of Somalia, and Al Qaeda, there is strong reason for bilateral cooperative mechanisms given the expanse of the Indian Ocean and the choke points that could spike up the global oil market in case of a terrorist attack.
The Indian Navy, on its part, has beefed up patrolling of its coastline in conjunction with the Coast Guard and is also independently escorting ships in the pirate infested area. In fact, Chinese-Malay freelancers operating on high seas are now offering mercenary protection to merchant tankers and private long range yachts.