Let's navigate risky waters
We have come to expect opaque pronouncements from him. But even by his standards, external affairs minister SM Krishna's statement that India did whatever it could to secure the release of the six Indian sailors aboard the MV Suez seemed highly tangential. At the same time, he has thanked Pakistan for its very active role in getting the crew of the hijacked ship freed.india Updated: Jun 26, 2011 21:29 IST
We have come to expect opaque pronouncements from him. But even by his standards, external affairs minister SM Krishna's statement that India did whatever it could to secure the release of the six Indian sailors aboard the MV Suez seemed highly tangential. At the same time, he has thanked Pakistan for its very active role in getting the crew of the hijacked ship freed.
To give credit where it is due, it was the Pakistani Ansar Burney Trust which paid the ransom which the Somali pirates who had held the hostages for over 10 months asked for and it was Pakistani warships which escorted the vessel to safe harbour. We can only thank our lucky stars that Pakistan took this initiative given our resounding inaction ever since our sailors were taken hostage.
There was total indifference on the part of officialdom on dealing with the situation, largely perhaps due to the lack of any clear-cut policy on hostages. Coming as this did against the backdrop of the foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, it certainly made for good public relations for the latter.
Though, once again to Pakistan's credit, it did not seek to capitalise on its role in the release of Indian sailors. Such incidents are likely to happen again given the ferocity and tenacity of Somalian pirates in that area.
Once pirates have boarded the ship, the options for securing the release of hostages narrow. This means that the best bet would be to ensure that pirates don't reach the ship in the first place. Given that Pakistan made this large-hearted gesture, it might be worth India's while to suggest joint patrolling of the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast.
Since maritime policy dictates that passenger and cargo ships cannot carry arms, preventive action would seem the best choice. It is here that we need to put territoriality aside and work towards maximising our patrolling efforts in the region.
China's efforts in the Straits of Malacca which once was beset by the pirate menace have paid off. Today, the Straits provide safe passage for ships. Paying a king's ransom for freeing ships each time is staggeringly prohibitive.
If India and Pakistan take the initiative, they can bring other affected countries on board. It is only when the pirates realise that there is a unified effort against them that they will think twice before venturing into risky waters.
This could be the time for a diplomatic move from India, though it would be better if it were not couched in the usual ambiguity so dear to our external affairs minister.