Rackets, threats and good sense

Handling the Nigerian kerfuffle in Goa

Only the credulous will be surprised that there are a number of organised criminal groups involved in the drug trafficking business in Goa. Russian, Israeli, Nigerian, Chinese and presumably local syndicates have carved out the market geographically, in terms of the drugs peddled and so on. Again, only the credulous will believe that this state of affairs can exist without connivance of the local politicians and law enforcement authorities. As Mayabhushan Nagvenkar reported in FirstPost last month, a report tabled in the state legislative assembly says as much.

It is in this context that we must see the murder of a Nigerian and the subsequent events it triggered. To be sure, not all Nigerians in Goa are involved in drug smuggling, just as not all Goans are anti-Nigerian racists. Yet the existence of Nigerian criminals, crooked cops, corrupt politicians and racist Goans is undeniable in this case.

On Thursday, a mob of over 200 irate Nigerians, who police allege are part of a narcotics gang, blocked a national highway for several hours and attacked locals and policemen, protesting the murder of their compatriot, allegedly by a local rival gang operating from Chapora, a coastal village and “hub” for the drug trade.

What followed the blockade was a bloody and sordid episode where one Nigerian was nearly beaten to death in police presence and a sustained outpouring of racist tripe against the ebony-skinned Africans on the social media network, the mainstream media as well as the public at-large.[Nagvenkar/DNA]

Policing in India is not known for its sensitivity or, well, discrimination. After the state government ordered a ‘crackdown’, police have been out and about the place looking for foreigners and verifying their papers. Now, because there are a number of foreigners — of several nationalities — in Goa without proper documentation, the business of police verification has caused, as of now, something bigger than a kerfuffle and smaller than an upheaval.

It is a diplomat’s job to be concerned about the well-being of a country’s citizens in foreign lands. Given the consular problems concerning Nigerians in India — from undertrials to deportees –, accusations of maltreatment by Indian authorities and further accusations of racist attitudes, it is fair for the Nigerian consular officials to take a proactive role in managing the tensions in Goa.

What Jacob Nwadidia, reportedly a Nigerian consular attache in India, said transgresses all norms of civilised diplomacy. If the Goa state government’s crackdown does not stop in 24 hours, he threatened, “that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria.”

If you have heard of the order of the authorities, especially Michael Lobo who is the MLA of Calangute, I am giving him 24 hours from tonight to cancel his ‘order’ that Nigerians should be thrown out on to the streets. If he does not cancel (it), I am telling you that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria. And I’m serious about it. India is five hours ahead of Nigeria. There is still enough time to reach my headquarters and tell the Nigerian government that Nigerians in Goa have been thrown out on the street,” he said.

“If Michael Lobo does not cancel that ‘order’ I am telling you that news will come that Indians in Nigeria have been thrown out on the street. That’s what I’m telling you and I mean what I’ve said,” he told Herald. Referring to the ongoing police verification drive in Parra and surrounding areas, he added: “Police should stop from going house to house to eject and evict Nigerians. If that does not stop in 24 hours then Indians should bear responsibility for what happens in Nigeria,” he said.

“There are only 50,000 Nigerians in India but over one million Indians live in Nigeria. Several thousand Indians will be on the streets if forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop,” Jacob Nwadidia is reported to have said.[Herald]

If Mr Nwadidia indeed made the threats as several media reports indicate, New Delhi should declare him persona non grata and expel him. Diplomats don’t threaten mass violence against innocent people. Thugs do. The Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi would do well to repudiate the comments made by one of its officials.

Mr Nwadidia was not only wrong in form but also wrong on facts. According to the Indian High Commission in Abuja, the size of the Indian community in Nigeria is around 35,000 persons, of which 25,000 are Indian citizens and the remaining persons of Indian origin. India has demonstrated that it can evacuate such numbers of its nationals if the need arises.

The threat is especially dangerous because of Nigeria’s deteriorating security situation. In January this year, the Indian mission issued a security advisory noting that “Indians living in Nigeria came under unprecedented level of insecurity and were, occasionally, unfortunate victims” and calling upon nationals to take precautions.

In a subsequent advisory issued in May it said

“(in the recent past), security situation in some parts of Nigeria has deteriorated. There have been violent incidents in the north, north-centre and north-east of the country. A sharp increase in cases of kidnappings in coastal belt, particularly by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, has also been noted. These instances of insecurity have occasionally involved Indian nationals as unfortunate victims. While in most cases they were passive victims of a situation or a criminal conspiracy, there are cases when they were specifically targeted for kidnapping or physical harm.”[IHC Abuja]

India is among Nigeria’s top trading partners, not least due to oil and gas imports. Indian companies are increasing their investments in West Africa and Nigeria is a big recipient of Indian investment. Last year, 40,000 Nigerians received visas to visit India. The nature of bilateral relations indicates that there is a lot that the two countries have to lose if irresponsible talk leads to violence on the ground. If memories of Idi Amin’s actions against ethnic Indians are brought up to scare the Indian government, the Nigerian government can’t be unaware of the more proximate example of Robert Mugabe’s ruinous policies in Zimbabwe.

It is unclear if the Goa government is committed to a clean-up of the criminal activity in the state. If so, expect more such kerfuffles involving other foreigners. Given the international effects, the government ought to employ a lot more sophistication in its law enforcement activities. Beyond that, it would be out of place for one of India’s most open-minded and cosmopolitan states to allow racist sentiments to dominate the public discourse over this issue.

For New Delhi’s part, action against the errant Mr Nwadidia ought to signal its rejection of the suggestion that Nigeria is holding Indian nationals hostage. That should get saner heads into the equation.

How India and the US can be geoeconomic partners

A bloggingheads discussion with Dan Runde, Center for Strategic and International Studies

The reality of radical Islam

…is that it doesn’t accept compromises

It is one thing for the United States to attempt to recycle a strategy that worked in Iraq and consider applying it in Afghanistan. As Joshua Foust argued in the July 2008 issue of Pragati, that model is unlikely to yield comparable results in Afghanistan because of differences in socio-economic structure, historical paths and geo-political neighbourhoods. While we hope that it listens to good sense, you can’t deny the Obama administration a chance to learn by making big mistakes.

But it is entirely another thing to provide a kind of intellectual cover for what is essentially an exercise in wishful pragmatism by advancing an argument—as Fareed Zakaria has done—that the world should learn to live with radical Islam, because “not all (radical Islamists) advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world—in fact, most do not.” Actually, this argument is invalidated by his very next sentence—when Mr Zakaria argues that “no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the past 10 years—including 9/11.” It is breathtaking to see a person of Mr Zakaria’s intelligence engage in such poor sophistry: by his logic, even Osama bin Laden has not participated in any significant terrorist attack over the last decade either.

The fundamental mistake Mr Zakaria makes is to conflate Islam and radical Islam. He is right when he argues that emphasising “the variety of groups, movements and motives within (the Muslim) world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West.” But the sentence is illogical—for if there are a variety of groups, movements and motives then there can be a battle between the West and some of them. And there is. It exists regardless of whether the West wants it or not—because radical Islam defines itself by that battle. How then can the rest—and this includes moderate Muslim societies—learn to live with it?

Mr Zakaria points to the fact that radical Islamic parties are currently on the wane in Nigeria—one solitary example that is an exception to the norm—to build a case that this will invariably be the case elsewhere in the world. It’s hard to believe that radical Islamic parties (as opposed to moderate Islamic parties operating in institutional democracies) will relinquish power once they are voted out of office. To believe this would be to ignore the observed fact that radical Islamists define political success in being able to set-up a revolutionary state like Iran, the Mullah Omar-led Afghanistan or Pakistan’s Swat. It’s almost always a one-way street. What about Nigeria? Well, it isn’t over and time will tell.

That’s not all. Mr Zakaria suggests that the world can live with most radical Islamists as the latter do not pose an external threat to their neighbours and to the West. Well a case can be made that what radical Islamists do within their borders—in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan (a word missing from Mr Zakaria’s essay)—is itself a threat to international security. But it is hard to find a radical Islamist state that does not have an external agenda. So what caused Mullah Omar’s Taliban to host al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups? Why does Iran support Hizbollah? Why did Pashtuns and Pakistani Punjabis fight the jihad in India, Iraq and elsewhere?

Pick a radical Islamist organisation. It is likely to have one or both goals—territorial and religious-ideological. It is the mixing of the two that makes compromise impossible.

Mr Zakaria’s arguments are dangerous because they undermine the very internal opposition to radical Islam within the Muslim world that he claims the West should work with. Once the United States begins to negotiate with the ‘good’ Taliban, the moderate Afghans will be done for. So why is it that the surviving moderate Awami National Party (ANP) leaders can’t venture out of their homes in Swat? Because the Pakistani government struck a deal with the Taliban. Those who are opposed to the radical Islamist agenda should do the opposite. It is understandable why the Pakistani government won’t do the correct thing, but why should the United States bolster its strategic adversary?

The truth is that you can’t stop worrying and learn to live with radical Islam. It has to be countered and contained, and ultimately defeated. The tactical exigencies of the war in Af-Pak, important as they are, should not be allowed to cloud our understanding of the big picture. While it is important to prove Mr bin Laden wrong when he “constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement”, it is important to do so without doing Mr bin Laden’s job for him.

Related Post: Why India must export its Islam

Indian submarine says an unfriendly hello to Chinese destroyers

So an Indian submarine was caught snooping around the two ships that China sent on an anti-piracy mission to the Gulf of Aden. The South China Morning Post (subscription only | available here) reports that the two ships and the Indian submarine were "locked in a tense standoff for at least half and hour" on January 15th. (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran)

According to the report—the Indian submarine tried to jam the warships’ sonar systems, and tried to evade them by diving deeper. But it was "eventually" cornered and force to surface. In the meantime, the Chinese ships activated their anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters and prepared their torpedoes for action.

That’s how the movie ended. But what the Chinese naval strategists will be worrying about is "just when did this movie start"? They will also be worrying about whether the ending was somehow or the other scripted by the Indians.

In any case, as the SCMP points out, while "provocative and unfriendly" such an incident is hardly unusual. China knows this all too well, given that its submarines buzzed a US naval carrier group and its ‘fishing boats’ travel on two thousand mile fishing expeditions.

Given how rare it is to see a Chinese destroyer in the Arabian Sea, it is understandable that the Indian navy wanted to have a closer look. And even if the SCMP might not have all the details right, the message from this incident cannot be lost on the international community. Not least in Beijing.

Related Link: Pragmatic Euphony on the China and the military equation

The curious incident of the US Navy in Somalia

Tackling piracy off Somalia might not be in US interests

One of the points that came up in recent off-blog discussions with a fellow INI blogger was the rather curious surge in piracy off Somalia’s coast during a period when the US Navy had a significant deployment in the region. Yesterday’s post suggested that “the US navy’s reluctance to take a more forceful stand against Somali pirates is intriguing.”

Some cynics responded by saying that this is so that American private military companies can benefit by providing security services to the world’s shipping companies. Beyond that ready explanation—it is traditionally used to explain most US foreign policy decisions—the question is whether there are deeper strategic reasons motivating the US Navy’s posture in this theatre.

Galrahn at Information Dissemination (one of the best blogs on naval affairs) offers a realist explanation. He argues that “Somali piracy is not counter to US interests in Somalia.”

The United States is essentially allowing Somalia to remain an ungoverned country because the status quo gives us more freedom of action in fighting al Qaeda and other extremist terrorism allies in Somalia. Piracy is a side effect, and not necessarily a terrible side effect, of that strategy…The pirates are not only commercial in nature, but they are enemies of the Islamic extremists that represent the enemy of the United States. It sounds crazy to say, but the pirates are essentially the secular, liberal capitalists of Somalia, and the United States would prefer to deal WITH not AGAINST those types of people.[Information Dissemination]

On the face of it, this is a reasonable conclusion. It explains why the Pentagon spokesman held forth about a holistic approach, when a case can easily be made that piracy can be contained by purely military means. But it is unclear why the United States is so sure that piracy will remain the domain of liberal, secular capitalist Somalis. As a tactic, piracy can help the Islamist militias to secure funds and weapons. As a strategy, it could help open a new front in al-Qaeda’s war against the West. Unless the US Navy can be selective and calibrate its go-easy policy on pirates, there could be unpleasant, unintended consequences for its own interests.

But Galrahn’s other point—that the go-easy policy makes other countries realise the need to update international law to tackle the such threats in the twenty-first century is more valid. But it is hard to accept that American attitudes are driven by grand strategy. For any sufficiently advanced grand strategic explanation is indistinguishable from post-fact rationalisation.

Questioning the holistic approach

The problem of piracy off Somalia can be contained by purely military means

The US defence department spokesman has contended that “you could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it’s not going to ever solve this problem…It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development.”

That’s a fashionable thing to say these days. And it’s true in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where the US armed forces are fighting a counter-insurgency war.

The situation off the Somalian coast is different. A long-running civil war in that country has resulted in anarchy, which in turn has allowed the unchecked growth of sea-borne piracy in the waters off its coast. Piracy can be contained without necessarily having to stabilise Somalia.

It is possible to tackle piracy by purely military means. If the world’s navies devote an adequate amount of assets to the problem, and equip their commanders with the adequate rules of engagement, piracy can be stamped out. For if budding pirates notice that nine out of ten pirates don’t make it back from their first voyage, they might turn to other vocations—perhaps even warlordism and armed robbery on land. While Somalia’s problems won’t go away, they won’t directly threaten the world’s seaborne trade.

Solving Somalia’s problems does need a holistic approach. Solving the piracy problem, however, does not. But the US navy’s reluctance to take a more forceful stand against Somali pirates is intriguing.

Strengthening India’s naval presence off Somalia

Remaining sensitive to the maritime balance of power

How success changes things. It was only a couple of months ago that Defence Minister A K Antony said that “as a policy, the government would not carry out hot pursuit of pirates, as it had wider implications.” Today, on the back of INS Tabar’s stellar performance, the Indian government has let it be known that not only will the naval presence be strengthened, but that it has allowed the navy to conduct hot pursuit into Somalian waters.

No, is not the Indian Navy that has come of age—rather, India’s political leadership has—with much kicking and screaming—shockingly realised how military capability can be used to advance India’s geopolitical interests.

That the INS Mysore, a Delhi-class destroyer will join and eventually replace the Tabar is a good thing. So is the decision to deploy an aircraft for aerial reconnaissance. For while there is much celebration on the Tabar’s sinking of a pirate mother ship, it remains exposed to asymmetrical warfare at sea. The Somali pirates are aggressive and their rocket-propelled grenades could cause some damage to naval assets. Explosive-laden speedboats could be used to ram naval ships if they are off-guard. But the naval ships’ weapons have greater range and superior firepower. Therefore the capability to engage pirate vessels while remaining outside their range is a source of tactical advantage. Aerial reconnaissance is one way to augment this capability. Another way is to coordinate with international navies patrolling those waters.

Coordination is also useful is to optimise patrolling arrangements. While coordination is necessary, placing the flotilla under a UN flag is unlikely to be the answer. The idea of a UN command has surfaced again. That is a dogmatic approach and adds the deadweight of bureaucratic and political control that is both unnecessary and counterproductive. If the UN peacekeeping has failed on land, there is no reason why it will succeed at sea. As we have argued it is timely for India to rethink the entire policy on overseas military deployments to ensure that these are effective, and serve the national interest. Another issue—as highlighted in our policy brief—is for the armed forces to develop “cooperation capital” that will allow them to coordinate with those of other countries on such missions.

Finally, commenting on the issue, the Indian Express asserts that “international naval presence in the region will work to everyone’s advantage”. The developments in Somalia do not support this conclusion, nor does it stand up to scrutiny. Much depends on the identity, capabilities and intention of the international naval presence in the region—India must remain sensitive to the maritime balance of power in the Indian Ocean region, and not get carried away by a rare moment in history where the world’s major powers appear to have a shared interest in one theatre.

INS Tabar sinks pirate ship

More naval action off Somalia

The Puntland pirates are getting bolder. This week, they seized a large Saudi oil tanker and a Hong Kong owned ship carrying foodgrains to Iran. (linkthanks ST and Harsh Gupta)

That should explain the reason why they are picking the wrong fights. When challenged by the INS Tabar, pirates retorted that they would blow up the Indian ship. In the ensuing firefight, the Tabar sank the pirates’ mother ship, but some got away in the accompanying speedboats.

Now, taking out a mother ship is a very good thing. But the marine theatre is also getting more dangerous.

Update: For those of you who want something more than the terse official account of what happened, Gautam John suggests the masala version on Digg .

“Steady, number two. Retarget the #2 gun for that field artillery piece, air burst. Concentrate everything else on that hole.” The guns continue to fire. The artillery piece on the Somali freighter fires again, missing by 20 feet, then falls silent as the unshielded crew become victims of precision anti-personnel airburst munitions.

“Bring us about to one eight zero and slow to 10 knots. I’d rather not get any closer for now in case their muni-” The captain’s words are cut off by a bright flash as the ammo stores ignite and detonate on the other ship. A ring of distortion races outwards from the stricken vessel at the speed of sound. As it hits the Indian vessel, everything aboard rattles and the crew winces at the sharp report of exploding armaments. The Somali ship, now almost completely lifeless, breaks in half and begins to sink as secondary explosions erupt. [Chairboy/Digg]

My op-ed in Mint: On overseas military deployments

The need for a policy framework for unilateral action

In today’s Mint, Sushant & I call for a policy review on overseas military deployments:

…the emerging security environment and India’s increasingly global interests are likely to make the need for such deployments more frequent. Yet the current policy is dogmatic: Foreign deployments are contingent on being part of a UN mission. This is not only untenable, it also opens the door to an abdication of responsibility to protect India’s interests.

India must be ready to act unilaterally, but only dispatch forces to theatres—such as Somalia, Afghanistan or tsunami-hit littorals on the Indian Ocean—where its interests are at stake. Guidelines need to be developed to achieve twin objectives: strategic alignment with India’s geopolitical goals and operational flexibility for military commanders. [Mint]

Get the rest at Mint.