Unsafe harbour: Can someone yet again use the very sea lanes – used in 1993 and 2008 – to violate India’s territory and sovereignty?

By: | Published: December 4, 2018 1:14 AM

Can someone yet again use the very sea lanes—used in 1993 and 2008—to violate India’s territory and sovereignty?

India needs to take cue from the types of machines that could be operated by a desperado, state or non-state actor, through sea, taking advantage of the shallow water, porous shoreline and the universally-accepted fact that “a line cannot be strong everywhere.

Everyone today (in 2018) is talking of, and going overboard on, “10 years of Wednesday, 26/11/2008” Mumbai mayhem (remembrance day) perpetrated by Pakistan-state-sponsored “non-state actors,” killing hundreds of people in Mumbai. However, none is remembering, or talking about, that 2018 is also (silver jubilee of similar violent killings) “25 years of Friday, 12/03/1993,” which, too, massacred hundreds of innocent Indians in broad daylight, across several areas of Mumbai, through bomb blasts. Public memory being proverbially short, one needs to specifically remind that the bomb blasts of 12/03/1993, or “Mumbai mayhem-1” could easily be referred to as (predecessor) trial run of the (successor) “Mumbai mayhem-2” live machine gun bullets of 26/11/2008.

These two, together, constitute an extraordinarily horrific story of terror and terrorism, which have striking resemblance as well as difference. Thus, both 1993 and 2008 brutally exposed vulnerability of India’s coastal defence to attack through the sea. However, whereas India was attacked by Indians in 1993 through the sea; in 2008, India was attacked by foreigner Pakistanis through the sea—after having carefully mapped the tactics followed in 1993 by the ilk of Indian citizen Dawood Ibrahim. There was another difference. The 1993 blasts were the handiwork of smugglers of India who managed to land huge quantum of RDX, in the southern beach of Mumbai coastline, by bribing senior officials of federal and state government of India. And 2008, on the other hand, was a foreign invasion of India. A brazen violation of sovereignty, territory, geography of India by Pakistan, which could easily be construed as an “act of war.”

Amidst all this, however, one could invoke the colloquial Hindi proverb: “Diya tale andhera” (darkness underneath the lamp). Indeed, my invocation is in the context of the “sea sword arm” of India, the Western Naval Command in Mumbai, through which is penetrating the enemy of India. In a way, therefore, if 26/11/2008 was a broad daylight harbour penetration of urban India, 12/03/1993 constituted the breach of the desolate beach in the coastline of rural India.

The 2008 “harbour penetration” act also implied non-deployment of a single capital ship or even small combat vessel by the enemy. It was “mission successful” without any combat fatality. Mission accomplished without firing a single gunshot by the forces, although controlled and guided from remote, out-of-area, off-the-sea-lane armed forces base of the Pakistan state. Safely ensconced in an air-conditioned room of the commercial hub of Karachi. The idea succeeded owing to the implementation thereof. By inflicting maximum casualty, deep inside “target” enemy territory—with notionally zero-loss to attacking, non-deployed combatants at the expense of the expendable lashkars, fidayeens, ghazis who could easily be blamed for the act of invasion and destruction, as those of non-state actors.
The question, thus, is: What if, after the successful acts of bloodletting by (1993) indigenous smugglers and (2008) “non-state” assets against India, the enemy naval ship now plans to breach Indian naval defence through the same harbour? Through the very sea lanes of commerce, combat, communication lines of India? Impossible? Absurd? May be. Maybe not.

India needs to take cue from the types of machines that could be operated by a desperado, state or non-state actor, through sea, taking advantage of the shallow water, porous shoreline and the universally-accepted fact that “a line cannot be strong everywhere.” Here, instead of fully getting into the 21st century scenario, let’s traverse a few years to the rear. To (early) 1990s, when the Cold War ostensibly eclipsed; two Germanys defiantly became one, after a forcible four-decade separation; and the mighty (one) sovereign USSR broke into 15 independent states after seven decades.
It was the world where monumental changes were happening, and at electrifying speeds, yet there was in place a tactical preparation for application of weapons system of the “weak,” to deter or try to destroy the fleet of the strong, in harbour/dock; a la Pearl Harbour in miniature. From under the sea, rather than from the air, though.
Thus were preparing nine navies of Colombia, Italy, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sweden and Yugoslavia, with their midget (mini-sub) submarines to be deployed and operated in shallow waters, with limited endurance, range, personnel, capacity, weapons system, payload—all ranged between 50 and 150 tonnes. For harbour penetration of target enemy, on being launched (usually) from mother ship.

Interestingly, all the nine navies felt inferior in their own waters; hence suffering insecurity and inferiority complex at the prospect of bigger and stronger deployment of foreign boats in the vicinity. Colombia feared the US in her 950 nautical mile Caribbean Sea shoreline. In Italy’s case, it was profitable business owing to her being one of the few western nations manufacturing and selling midgets to third-world countries. For Libya, it was the use of (then) Yugoslavia-origin 1.4 full-load Mala-class midget submarine essentially for counter-attack, if threatened. For North Korea of the early 1990s, indigenously built midget was not a choice, but a compulsion. Sri Lanka also had to defend the many small creeks to maintain support and security of shallow draught fast craft from prying eyes of her own ethnic adversaries. Sweden’s 1,740-nautical mile coastline with Gulf of Bothnia, Baltic Sea, Oresund, Kattegatt and Skagerrak constituted a landlocked sea coast. Hence the need for midgets. For Yugoslavia, it was industry as well as security of the long Dalmatian shoreline facing the Adriatic Sea. Nevertheless, the industrial reputation of the Yugoslav midget was well known.
In India’s case, although the navy isn’t officially known to be midget user yet, Pakistan has been using midgets since the 1980s. And here lies the danger zone for the mighty “sword arm” of Mumbai-based Western Command. Especially in light of 12/03/1993 multiple-blast by smuggling gangsters and en masse macabre killings resorted to by seaborne invading Pakistanis on 26/11/2008.

Today’s Pakistan Navy operates at least three midgets of Italian Cosmos origin. With a “displacement of 120 tonnes,” as reported by Jane’s Fighting Ships 2017-2018, it has a “surface range of 2,200 nautical miles,” which clearly can cover India’s western seaboard with ease. However, its dived 60-nautical-mile range implies that it has to operate in tandem with a mother ship or has to resort to a “suicide mission,” a la Kamikaze Japanese air attacks. The moot point today is: The Pakistani midget “diving depth” has increased to “150 metres and can carry eight swimmers with two tonnes of explosives and two swimmer delivery vehicles.” Both the government and the Indian Navy may kindly note, and not allow “violence on India” history to repeat itself.

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