Saturday Sep 05

Making amends for earlier lapses

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Indian marine Security

India made history when she liberated and recognized the Republic of Bangladesh despite fierce international opposition from some of the Cold War superpowers. India took that strategic step because that was the right thing to do and suited India's long-term geopolitical interests as well as international humanitarian concerns. Though the doctrine of international intervention for safeguarding the responsibility to protect had not been codified by the UNGA or the UNSC at that time; India did act in sync with the spirit of the responsibility to protect (R2P).

Time has come for India to assert herself again and recognize diplomatically the break-away Republic of Somaliland, located on the Horn of Africa. It suits India's geopolitical interests as well as the international humanitarian concerns. Lack of a functioning central government in Somalia since the ouster of the Muhammed Siad Barre's government on January 26, 1991, has led to anarchy, clan/tribal warfare and war lords going berserk. There was an international intervention by George H W Bush in 1992, but the Americans exceeded their brief, faced a humiliating defeat and left in a huff. Since then various regional powers have intervened to uphold their narrow interests. Ethiopian invasion in 2006, backed by the US created Al Shabab. Somali civil war has killed approximately half a million people.

Somalia has become a fertile ground for recruitment by Al Qaeda and it local proxy Al Shabab. There is no peace in this war-torn land. Government is dysfunctional in central and southern Somalia. Somali pirates have created havoc in the Indian Ocean and commerce has been affected due to ongoing hijacking of merchant ships and their predominantly Asian and Indian crew. Ransom has been paid on numerous occasions on behalf of shipping companies, national governments and NGO to free up the kidnapped crew members of merchant ships. Al Shabab and Al Qaeda have noted with vengeance the Indian vigilance and naval patrolling in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and have vowed to target Indian interests. The Somali pirates are routinely making forays into Indian territorial waters and Indian Exclusive Economic Sea Zone. Some of these pirates have euphemistically called themselves as the self-styled "Volunteer Coast Guards of Somalia". They have brought misery to numerous middle class Indian families who have become victims of their ruthlessness and greed. Somali pirates have openly targeted India and refused to release any Indian sailors till their fellow Somali pirates under Indian custody are released. Make no mistake, these pirates are the naval wing of the nascent Islamic Emirate of Somalia under the tutelage of Al Qaeda and shepherded by Al Shabab. Beheading adversaries, chopping off hands, stoning women and girls to death, banning music, and implementing a strict Wahabi Islamic law is the ultimate aim of Al Shabab. UN sponsored "state building" and "peace keeping" have failed in Somalia which is now a lawless, failed nation with ongoing genocide.

In 2001, the wise and brave Somaliland nationals held a constitutional referendum and broke away from the failed state of Somalia. Republic of Somaliland is poor, but an oasis of peace in the Horn of Africa. The newly-emerged nation has few natural resources and its limited exports primarily include fish and livestock. They have adopted all the democratic ways and have held multiple elections at local, parliamentary and presidential elections since then. Last presidential elections were held in June, 2010, leading to peaceful and orderly transfer of power when the electorate rejected the incumbent president.

Somalia as a unified nation did not exist before 1947. Somaliland was a British protectorate and a paper colony and the rest of Somalia was an Italian colony. India must not shed her tears for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the failed state of Somalia that was essentially the creation of the imperialists. Time has come for India to not only diplomatically recognize the democratically elected government of the break-away Republic of Somaliland, but also enter into a formal strategic partnership agreement with that country. A bilateral friendship treaty between the two nations for a minimum duration of 99 years needs to be signed.

India needs to obtain a naval base in the Gulf of Aden in one of the sea ports of the Republic of Somaliland to provide naval surveillance to our merchant ships as well as Indian nationals working as crew in international marine merchant ships. India needs to assert her leadership in the region and not wait for international community to act. India must lead the international community in birth of this new nation and prevent the lawlessness and havoc created by the Somali pirates. India must learn from her mistakes of missed geopolitical opportunities and inaction in the past. It is better to act instead of letting the situation drift and allow hostile Asian nations upstage New Delhi again. India must take a pro-active approach strategically vis-à-vis diplomatic recognition of the Democratic Republic of Somaliland and defeat the hostile intentions of Al Qaeda and Al Shabab. India will safeguard her maritime security and long-term strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region by offering diplomatic recognition to the new nation of the Republic of Somaliland.

Dr. Adityanjee is the President of the Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi, and can be contacted at

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