Wednesday, August 8, 2012



Humanitarian laws make no distinction on grounds of religion and ethnicity. Nor do they make any distinction between legal and illegal residents. Even a dangerous criminal, including terrorist suspects, are entitled to food and medical assistance when they are in the custody of the police.

2. Under international laws, every State has a right to prevent illegal migration through legitimate means. It can fence the border, deploy the army and empower the army to shoot at individuals seeking to cross the border illegally. If despite these measures some people manage to cross the border illegally, the State has a right to arrest and deport them in accordance with the due process of the law.

3. However, so long as those illegals are in our territory, the State cannot escape the responsibility for protecting them from acts of violence and extending to them food and medical assistance under the international humanitarian laws.

4.There are disturbing reports of the non-observance of humanitarian obligations not only by the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, but also by the Government of Assam in India in respect of the Muslims, perceived as illegal entrants, who have been affected by recent incidents of anti-Muslim violence in this area.

5.The Rohingya Muslims affected by the recent clashes between  the Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar have been complaining that they have been denied humanitarian assistance by the Myanmar Government and Army on the ground that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Some Western Governments such as that of France have urged the Myanmar Government to attend to the humanitarian plight of the Rohingyas.

6. The Bangladesh Government has not only refused to extend any humanitarian assistance to new entrants fleeing the violence in the Rakhine State, but has even ordered the suspension of humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas who had crossed over in the 1990s and are living in camps as registered refugees. Since the last week of July, it has ordered two French and one British humanitarian organisations to suspend the supply of humanitarian assistance to past entrants from Myanmar due to a fear that this could  induce more Rohingyas to re-enter Bangladesh from Myanmar. The US Government and the UN High Commission for Refugees, Geneva, have expressed concern over this and urged the Bangladesh Government to reverse the suspension.

7. The recent incidents of violence in the Kokrajhar and adjoining Bodo areas of Assam have led to a large number of Muslim victims of the incidents taking shelter in relief camps set up by the authorities. There is a disturbing impression that the local authorities are seeking to make a distinction between Muslim victims who are our citizens and victims who are illegals who had come to Indian territory from Bangladesh. If true, such a distinction will be unwise, counterproductive and unsustainable under international humanitarian laws.

8. India has always had an exemplary record in observing humanitarian laws and in meeting humanitarian obligations. We have legitimate fears regarding possible threats to our national security and integrity due to the presence of a large number of Bangladeshi illegals in our territory. We have every right to deal with them in accordance with the law. Till we are able to do so, we should not derogate from our humanitarian obligations to those in our territory by making an unsustainable distinction in the distribution of humanitarian relief.

9. Impressions among the Muslim victims of violence in this region that the States and Governments concerned have been following a policy of discrimination against the Muslim victims in the matter of humanitarian relief could drive some of them into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist and other extremist organisations active in the affected areas.( 9-8-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )



Fresh clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims  were reported on August 6,2012, from the Kyauktaw township in the Rakhine State of Myanmar bordering Bangladesh. The violence was triggered off by  claims of  the alleged recovery of some guns from a boat belonging to some Rohingyas by Arakanese Buddhists belonging to the village Ywar Nyar.

2. The Buddhists undertook searches for guns suspected to have been smuggled in by the Rohingyas following an incident in which some Rohingyas were accused by the Buddhists of burning down a Buddhist-owned rice factory in the Taung Pauk village.

3. The violence led to the burning down of houses belonging to both the communities in  Apauk Wa, Shwe Haling, Gut Pi Taung and Ywar Nyar villages. Earlier, the situation in the Kyauktaw area started getting serious on August 2, 2012, the full moon day of Buddhist Lent, when a group of Rohingyas allegedly destroyed an Arakanese Buddhist-owned bus station.

4. The 88 Generation Students Group sent a team to the Rakhine State to make an on the spot study of the situation. On its return to Yangon, Ko Ko Gyi, its leader, said he would be prepared to support the call of the UN Special Rapporteur For Myanmar for a Truth Commission to find out the truth provided it enquired into the allegations made by the Buddhists as well as the Rohingya Muslims and its enquiry covered not only allegations of violations of the human rights of the two communities, but also Myanmar’s concerns over the impact of the Rohingya problem on Myanmar’s national security.

5.Ko Ko Gyi said: “We found during our trip to Arakan State that local Arakanese aid groups put up signboards saying ‘Unwelcome UN and NGOs Aid’ in front of their refugee camps. This will continue to happen if [the UN] treats local people unequally.”

6.In a statement issued in Paris on August 6,French Deputy Foreign Minister Vincent Floreani called on Myanmar to find a peaceful solution to the  conflict in the Rakhine State. He said: “We call on the Burmese authorities to protect all civilian populations, without discrimination, and to investigate possible abuses.”  Meanwhile, there were reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan will travel to Myanmar on August 9 to meet President Thein Sein and discuss how to provide humanitarian aid to the displaced.

7. Prominent members of the Buddhist community in the Rakhine State have expressed their unhappiness over what they allege as the pressure being exercised by Catholic and other Christian organisations on Western Governments to exercise pressure on the Myanmar Government to show a more sympathetic and accommodating attitude to the Rohingya Muslims.

8.The United States has endorsed an appeal of the UN High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR),Geneva, urging the Bangladesh Government to reverse its order asking two French and one British humanitarian relief organisation to stop providing relief to any fresh group of Rohingyas illegally crossing over into Bangladesh. The Bangladesh’s contention is that these organisations had been permitted to provide relief to Rohingyas who had crossed over in the past and who are registered as refugees.

9.The three organisations ordered to stop the distribution of humanitarian relief are France’s  Doctors Without Borders and  Action Against Hunger and the UK’s Muslim Aid, all of which had set up humanitarian relief distribution centres in  Cox’s Bazar, near the border with Myanmar.

10.The Bangladesh  authorities have  said their country is already struggling to cope with the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled ethnic violence in the 1990s and are living in camps near Cox’s Bazar. They say the NGOs are undermining the government’s efforts to deter more refugees from entering the country.

11.In a statement issued on August 7, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” over the Bangladesh ban. The same day, the UNHCR appealed to Bangladesh “to ensure that NGO assistance continues to be provided to unregistered people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. If the order is implemented, it will have a serious humanitarian impact on some 40,000 unregistered people who had fled Myanmar in recent years and settled in the Leda and Kutupalong makeshift sites.”

12. Sentu Mian, an official of the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Bangladesh Government, said the aid provided by these three organisations to Rohingyas had served to encourage an influx of refugees from the latest clashes between the  Muslims and the Buddhists. He added: “We found that they [the NGOs] have offered rations and financial support to unregistered Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. These activities work against the interests of Bangladesh and so we decided to impose a ban on them.”

13.The Dhaka Police are reported to have arrested  nine Rohingyas  who had been brought in by agents. Monirul Islam of the Detective Branch of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told the local media that an investigation was underway regarding hundreds of stolen passports, in a case believed to have “a Rohingya link.”

14.In the meanwhile, the local media in the Rakhine State has alleged that Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakr Bashir, who is currently imprisoned for supporting a jihadi training camp in Aceh, northern Sumatra, has  demanded that the Myanmar  Government stop harming Muslims or face the anger of his fighters. While the Muslim Governments of the region have been cautious in their statements on the situation in the Rakhine State, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Jemaah Islamiya of Indonesia have reportedly expressed their solidarity with the Rohingyas. (8-8-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )



( Based on observations made by me at the inaugural session of a seminar on Maritime Security and Challenges in the Indian Ocean Region jointly organised on August 8,2012, by  the Stella Maris College, Chennai, and the Centre for Asia Studies, Chennai, at the Stella Maris College)

Maritime security, which was a two-dimensional concept before 2000 focussing essentially on likely threats and challenges from State actors and pirates, has now become a three dimensional concept as a result of the increasing threats of maritime terrorism with a global or trans-national reach.

2.Till 2000, the concept  was seen largely through the prism of possible confrontations and conflicts between the competing interests of State actors in the region such  as between India and Pakistan or  between India and China or  between the US and China.

3.The attack by an explosive-laden boat of Al Qaeda against US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October,2000, and the unsuccessful attempt by Al Qaeda to blow up and sink a French oil tanker Limburg in the same area in October,2002, expanded the scope of the concept to cover likely future threats to maritime trade and navigation and to sensitive coastal establishments from non-State actors with the motivation and capability for attacking targets on or from the seas.

4. The interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects arrested during the investigation of the attacks on USS Cole and Limburg revealed the plans of Al Qaeda to target maritime choke points like the Straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz and the Malacca Straits by blowing up sea-borne vessels laden with explosives and container ships to block the choke points.

5. As a result, maritime counter-terrorism became an important component of maritime security. Counter-piracy was an important component of maritime security even before 2000 due to the activities of pirates based in the ASEAN countries in the Malacca Straits, but the threat was limited in scope due to the fact that the pirates operating in the South-East Asian region, despite being well-equipped in modern means of communications, had a  limited capability for operating in high seas far from the Malacca Straits.

6. The advent of the Somali pirates in the post-2005 years totally changed the complexion of piracy and the complexity of counter-piracy operations. The Somali pirates, though not as well equipped as the pirates of South-East Asia in modern means of communication, demonstrated a capability for operating in high seas far away from their bases in Somalia through the technique of using small boats launched from mother ships. Consequently, the techniques of counter-piracy called for a capability to deal with sea-borne non-State actors off the coast as well as in high seas.

7. The degradation of the capabilities of Al Qaeda in recent years as a result of the relentless campaign of attrition waged by the US against it and the strengthening of maritime security measures relating to ports and container traffic have prevented the major threats to maritime security  from Al Qaeda apprehended in the wake of the attacks on USS Cole and Limburg from materialising.

8.However, new threats have arisen from attempts of other terrorist organisations to copy-cat Al Qaeda’s acquisition of a capability for maritime terrorism. The sea-borne attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba on targets in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, showed that the capability for maritime terrorism is no longer confined to Al Qaeda alone. Moreover, the role of the State of Pakistan in helping the LET to carry out a devastating  sea-borne terrorist attack on targets in Mumbai underlined the new threats from State-sponsored maritime terrorism.

9.The conventional naval techniques and capabilities developed over the years to protect ourselves against threats from State actors and their navies would no longer be sufficient to protect ourselves against maritime threats from non-state actors, whether it be terrorists or pirates, and their State-sponsors. Naval doctrines now have to contend with threats from State as well as non-State maritime actors.

10. Dealing with threats from non-State actors, who pose a threat to the maritime security of many nations, calls for techniques based on mutual assistance and intelligence sharing among the navies of the affected countries. Despite political differences and competing economic interests among the State actors, they find it necessary to engage and co-operate with each other to face and neutralise threats from the non-State actors.

11. Despite  the continuing border dispute and despite suspicions and apprehensions over the implications to India of China’s strategic co-operation with Pakistan  and the implications to China of India’s strategic co-operation with Vietnam, the Indian and Chinese navies have found ways of co-operating with each other in dealing with the Somali pirates. There is a triangular co-operation mechanism involving the Navies of India, China and Japan and there is a talk of the South Korean Navy being brought into this co-operation mechanism. The serious differences between China and Japan on the question of sovereignty over the East China Sea islands have not come in the way of ideas towards a counter-piracy strategy based on mutual assistance and intelligence sharing.

12.A reference to the coming into shape of a trilateral co-operation mechanism was made by Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, the retiring chief of the Indian Navy, in his final briefing of the Indian media at New Delhi on August 7,2012. According to “The Hindu” of August 8,2012, he said: “ Our anti-piracy operations have thus far been co-ordinated trilaterally with the Chinese and Japanese and, in the near future, this initiative could include the South Korean Navy.”

13.Engagement and co-operation against maritime terrorism has not made the same progress as co-operation against the Somali pirates because of the role of Pakistan in sponsoring organisations such as the LET, which pose a threat to our maritime security. Unless and until Pakistan gives up its policy of using terrorism as a weapon against India, the scope for co-operation between the Indian and Chinese Navies against Pakistani terrorist organisations taking to sea-borne terrorism will remain limited. There is, however, scope for co-operation between the Navies of India and China against global  terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda when they operate on or from the seas.

14.Engagement and co-operation against non-State actors  should not be allowed to weaken our national will and determination to assert our national core interests against State actors. One has to see the activism of the Chinese and US Navies in the South China Sea area in this context. The US has not allowed its developing economic and other cooperation with China to come in the way of the assertion of its national interests in the Pacific and East and South China Seas. Similarly, China has not allowed its co-operation with the ASEAN countries in various fields to come in the way of an assertion of its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea islands.

15. Thus, one finds the evolution of a new naval doctrine in different countries of the region based on the twin pillars of engagement and co-operation to the extent possible against threats from non-State actors and assertion of national interests against State actors without allowing the importance of engagement and co-operation against non-State actors weaken the national will and determination to assert national interests against State actors endangering such interests.

16.Our naval doctrine to deal with the three dimensions of maritime security should provide for capabilities that would enable us to deal effectively with threats from non-State actors, by our acting either alone or in co-operation with other navies, and threats from State actors to our national interests. While discussing Maritime Threats and Challenges, one has to clearly identify likely threats from State as well as non-State actors and the techniques required for dealing  with them. The ability of our Navy to deal with the three-dimensional threat to our maritime security will depend on the back-up support from our intelligence agencies.

17. There is a need for not only a new and smart naval doctrine to deal with the three components of maritime security, but  also  for a new and smart intelligence doctrine to enable the R&AW , the Directorate-General of Naval Intelligence and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) provide effective back-up support to the Navy and the Coast Guard.

18. Unfortunately, the R&AW continues to be largely a land-struck intelligence agency using traditional police methods of collecting, analysing and assessing intelligence. It does not have an adequate understanding of the sea and sea-borne threats and does not have the capability for collecting intelligence about them. The importance of imparting a sea-borne orientation to the R&AW has not received much attention. This state of affairs needs to be corrected without further loss of time.

19. We have had many Task Forces to look into our capabilities for dealing with threats to our national security---whether such threats be from the land, the seas or the air. In view of the rapidly changing dimensions of the threats to maritime security,  the time has come for a separate Task Force to deal exclusively with threats to our maritime security. It should identify the doctrinal, strategic and tactical deficiencies relating to our maritime capabilities and recommend measures to remove those deficiencies. (8-8-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )