Narco Jihad through Lakshadweep
Lakshadweep, a group of islands in the Arabian Sea has been in news, rather controversy owing to politico-religious reasons. The politico-religious posturing of the agitators is actually a strategic conspiracy against India. It would be correct to say that India’s third front is clashing with the strategic interests of the country.
300 kms away from the Indian mainland, these group of islands in area is only 32 sq kms and a population of meager 65,000. Though miniscule in terms of area and population, insignificant with regard to overall electoral outcomes, Lakshadweep’s strategic location and religious posturing has magnified implications for India. Though removed from the Indian mainland, these islands impinge directly on the coastal and maritime security of India.
Using faith to Kill Strategic Interests
The present controversy arose when the Administrator of Lakshadweep Praful K Patel, a representative of the Union Government proposed some legal and administrative reforms. These reforms included ban of consumption of beef, and lifting ban on consumption of alcoholic beverages. It also included to de-incentivizing the citizens with more than two children from pursing a legislative career, with the emphasis and caveat of ‘future’. At present alcoholic beverages are allowed only on Bangram Atoll, which is an inhabited, and hence does not impact on so-called Muslim sensitivities. Lakshadweep has more than 10 such inhabited islands.
The administrative and legal proposals of the Administrator was purely motivated by economic development of the area, security of the people and the strategic interests of India. There is little doubt that communal colour was imparted to these proposals by vested interests to kill the strategic interests of India.
Journalist Ayub Rana, and her ilk of incorrigible India baiters have taken recourse to foreign media to kill India’s strategic interests. Rana used the medium of Al-Jazira to portray the proposal as ‘anti-Muslims’. She conflated her agenda with ecology. Ecology has become the last refuge of anti-nationals and scoundrels.
Arabian Sea versus Indian Ocean
It would also be wrong to say that Lakshadweep is critical to the security of the entire region, particularly the Western Indian Ocean region. The population in Lakshadweep is 97 percent Muslim, which is a result of Arab influence. Before the advent of the European powers, the Arabs control the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. Its normally the case that when a particular area undergoes change of faith, a lot of divine theories and stories are fabricated. Lakshadweep is no exception. No one will ever attribute change of faith to reasons of fear and financial inducement. It is also given that change of faith is predicated on enmity of the old faith. In this regard, Indonesia is an exception. The inimical feeling gives rise to radicalization. Lakshadweep, Maldives, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are victims of this reality.
It is also a truism of history that trade and faith (mazhab) have operated as conjoined twins. This is also a reality that Lakshadweep was located between the trade route extending from Malabar Coast to the Red Sea. Even today, it is strategically located between the trade route between India and the Persian Gulf. This is what brought the Arabs to these islands with their new faith. Later, Portuguese also made an entry. Towards the close of the 18th century, it was also ruled by Tipu Sultan, who eventually gave way to the East India Company. The Company acquired these group of islands through the ‘instrument of loan’ or ‘debt trap’ diplomacy, just as the Chinese have done with respect to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. The moot question therefore is – will the trade routes and changing geopolitical contours decide nationhood in India?
These islands at one time were almost sequestered, therefore Muslims here had little or no communication with the outside world. Now with the present boom in communication facilities, Muslim island countries like Maldives and Muslim majority island territories like Lakshadweep are no longer insulated from Pan-Islam.
The fact that Arabian Sea is the part of the Indian Ocean should never be lost sight of the very name of the Ocean is derived from the word ‘India’, which is synonymous with ‘Indus’, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindustan’. However, in the context of Lakshadweep, the Arabian sea is at odds with the Indian Ocean.
Is Islamic Economy the Answer?
Lakshadweep, Maldives and Chagos archipelagos are part of the same Oceanic ridge. Maldives, which has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Mala Dweep’ (chain of islands), is a Muslim majority country just like the Indian union territory of Lakshadweep. Nearly 15 lakhs international tourists visit Maldives every year. On the other hand, Lakshadweep has insignificant tourism. One major tourist attraction apart from the natural beauty of Maldivian islands, is the availability of alcoholic beverages. International tourists after all, come for relaxation and adventure, not the least for spiritual reasons. This is despite the fact that Islamic radicalization in Maldives is a growing phenomenon, but it is also a fact that Maldives cannot breathe without tourism. The tourism sector employs more than 25,000 Maldivians. Various Maldivian dispensations despite their varying Islamic proclivities, realized the realities, and weighed the options and decided to jettison Islamic pretentions. The present dispensation of Saudi Arabia is now treading the same path. It plans to open several tourist resorts in the Red Sea region. These resorts will not be subjected to any of these Islamic pretentions. The dispensation has also decided to invest 30 billion dollars in entertainment industry over the next 10 years.
Maldives and Lakshadweep are two archipelagos in the same region. While tourism thrives in Maldives and feeds the citizens, Islam smothers tourism in Lakshadweep. How can Lakshadweep sustain the double face of Islamic beliefs? How can desert Islam decide the nature of Island Islam in Lakshadweep? After all, Indonesia also has its brand of ‘Islam’, it is intriguing why should Indian Muslims be repulsive to it?
Any patriotic leader should be concerned with social development and national interests, and strives for it. Praful K Patel did the same with the set of legal and administrative proposals. In 2020, Prime Minister Modi during his Independence Day speech from ramparts of Red Fort declared his resolve to develop some 1800 Indian islands. He also announced to provide Optical Fibre Connectivity between Lakshadweep and Indian mainland.
Strategic Importance of Lakshadweep
This 32 sq km archipelago comprising 12 atolls, 3 reefs and 5 submerged banks bestows 20,000 sq km territorial waters and 400,000 sq km EEZ upon India. It is a given fact that the maritime footprints and horizons of India are increasing in consonance with strategic influence. The Indian landmass divides the Indian Ocean in two clear halves, i.e. Western Indian Ocean and the Eastern Indian Ocean. Just as A&N islands are crucial for India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’, Lakshadweep in the Western Indian Ocean is important with regard to West Asia, the African Coast and the Suez. The Western Indian Ocean constitutes the energy lifeline to India. The criticality of this part of the Indian Ocean accentuates in view of the Chinese presence in Gwadar and Djibouti.
Lakshadweep should not viewed in isolation, it has to be conflated with the evolving Indian maritime structure, like the Duqm Port in Oman, Chabahar in Iran and Karavar Naval Base in India’s Western Coast. The Duqm port of Oman is located on the north-western tip of the Indian Ocean, providing access to the Red Sea. Its an alternative to Chabahar. In the recent times Iran’s posturing has been tentative with regard to Chabahar and the increasing Chinese activities has been a cause of concern for India. West Asia is important to India not only in terms of diaspora and energy reserves, but also because of the challenge posed by increasing Chinese presence. India has no option but to act as a countervailing power to this presence, otherwise the Indian strategic maneuver space in the Indian Ocean will be restricted with its attendant adverse consequences for QUAD and Indo-Pacific Strategy.
The complementarity of Lakshadweep to the Karavar Base in the Indian maritime structure of the Western Indian Ocean needs to be overemphasized. The first phase of Karavar Base was completed in 1995 and the second phase is likely to be completed by next year. Once fully operational, the Karavar Naval Base will be the largest, East of Suez.
Just as A&N islands are touted as India’s Aircraft Carrier in the Eastern Indian Ocean, the same sobriquet can be adduced to Lakshadweep in Western Indian Ocean. At present, the Agatti Airfield in Lakshadweep is capable of facilitating medium range aircraft like Dornier. Nevertheless, with the increase in its size, it will be able to host Boeing-737 as well as P8I. Consequently, our patrolling and surveillance capability will increase manifold. This strategic attribute of Lakshadweep was recognized by the British, just before transfer of power to India in 1947. Two months before in June 1947, the Planning Staff of the British Army wrote to the British government: “… the Lakshadweep islands assume strategic importance from the airport point of view … if we cannot retain all facilities in India … they would be essential for our reinforcement and support route to Australia, New Zealand and Far East.” Essentially, it is another version of Indo-Pacific strategy, wherein Japan is considered the belligerent power and China the benign power. Now the roles have reversed.
The most critical strategic attribute of Lakshadweep, is its location, stride the 9 degree channel, which is 200 km wide and links the Persian Gulf and East Asia. All Pacific bound cargo ships traverse through this channel. Therefore, for successful Indo-Pacific strategy, the upgradation of Lakshadweep needs to be accomplished at war-footing. With the Chinese presence at Hambantota in Sri Lanka, the imperative becomes all the more acute. It may be mentioned that Hambantota is a stride the Asian and European shipping routes from Suez to Malacca, wherein 36000 ships and 4500 oil tankers transit annually. The undersea optical fibre connectivity project from Chennai to Port Blair was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi in August 2020. This will be linked to Lakshadweep and Japan as well. This will enable the monitoring of China’s maritime activity in Hambantota, Colombo Port City in Maldives, and Bay of Bengal. Hence, Lakshadweep needs to be fully integrated to Indian Navy’s South-Western Command at Kochi.
The 26/11 attack on Mumbai was the first maritime jihadi war in the modern times. Following this attack, India carried out a comprehensive review of coastal and island security. As a consequence, the vulnerability of Lakshadweep was found to be of great concern. Samudri Jihad is not for capture of territory. Island territories such as Lakshadweep can be used as a base to destabilize the mainland economically and physically by jihadi means. In the reckoning of jihadi organizations, which includes the Pakistani State, the vastness of the Indian Ocean provides huge scope for Narco Jihad. The frequency, scope and magnitude of this jihad against India is increasing.
The new emphasis of Jaish-e-Mohammmad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is on Samudri Jihad. The curriculum and the training details for this kind of jihad in Pakistan is in public domain.
Three months ago, on 18 March 2021, Indian Coast Guard intercepted three vessels in the vicinity of Lakshadweep and recovered drugs worth Rs.3,000 crores. The 19 crew members were equipped with 5 AK-47s and 1000 rounds. 13 days before the Indian Coast Guard had intercepted a Sri Lankan vessel Akarsha Duwa near the Minicoy Island and recovered 2000 kg of high grade heroin and 60 kg hashish. In November 2020, another Sri Lankan board Shenaya Duwa was intercepted by Coast Guard and drugs worth Rs.1,000 crores were recovered, which included 99 kgs of heroin.
Who is the recipient of drug money?
In just five months, i.e. between November 2020 and March 2021, drugs worth Rs.5,000 crores were ceased, which is three times more than the annual budget of Lakshadweep. Who was to consume these 5000 crores? Is it Popular Front of India (PFI)? Or is it the ultra-leftists through the PFI? Or is it the LeT and Islamic State Khorasan through the PFI? Was it to fund Shaheen Bagh type agitations? Was it for the purposes of West Bengal elections? Was it for China orchestrated biological warfare in India? Was it for sustenance of jihadi groups in Pakistan? And finally, was it for all the reasons as stated above? It appears that those who are opposing Praful K Patel’s proposal are part of this large drug syndicate.
Going by human intelligence, an unimpeachable technical intelligence, there is little doubt that in the Narco Jihad network structure, Pakistan is at the center. Jihadi elements in Maldives and Sri Lanka are very much part of this syndicate. It may be emphasized that as far as operations of this syndicate is concerned, the 8 degree channel, which is maritime boundary between India and Maldives is hardly of any consequence. Nor the 540 km distance any deterrence. This syndicate in Sri Lanka and Maldives is deeply linked with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. On 28 March 2021, Islamic State jihadis targeted a patrol boat on the Gan Island of Maldives. They have been targeting foreign tourists as well. On 6 May, during Ramzan they targeted Ex-President and Present Speaker of the Assembly, President Nasheed. Through their magazine, Al Naba, the Islamic State has taken responsibility for all these attacks. President Nasheed is concerned closer to India and a bêtenoire for China.
All around Maldives and Sri Lanka, there is a ecosystem, which has been created for Narco Jihad against India.
Islamic Fundamentalism in Lakshadweep
Use of religion for anti-India posturing is not new in Lakshadweep. Secularism is only a pretence. They don’t even consider Gandhi as a symbol of secularism. If indeed they did, they would not have opposed the installation of his statue in the Kavaratti island. The occasion was Gandhi Jyanti in 2010. The Islamic fundamentalists made such a hue and cry. They violently opposed on the plea that statues are anti-Islam. Did not Gandhi say, Ishwar, Allah Tero Naam? Even this as per Islamic tenets is un-Islamic. The ship, Amindivi, which carried this statue came back with it to Kochi. People, who oppose the statue of Gandhi because of their fundamentalist Islamic perceptions, can certainly not be said to belong to mainstream. If Lakshadweep did not have a Muslim majority, there would have been absolutely no problem. Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan pass a resolution in Kerala legislature against the reform proposals in Lakshadweep and term them as ‘Saffronization’ or ‘Bhagwakaran’. Well, he seems to have no issues with ‘Red-ization’ (Lalikaran), or ‘Green-ization’ (Islamikaran).
It may be mentioned that the Muslims in Kerala and Lakshadweep belong to the same cultural and linguistic stock. So radicalization in Kerala or Malabar Coast is bound to have impact on Lakshadweep.
In February 2012, jihadis attacked the museum in Male and destroyed all the pre-Islamic historical artifacts. Most of them were related to their Buddhist past. It may be mentioned that till 12th century AD, Maldivians were Buddhist. More than 30 Buddhist statues belonging to the period between 6th and 12th century were destroyed. They also destroyed, the statue of the Hindu Lord of Sea, Makar. During the same period, the 17th SAARC Summit was organized in Maldives. The member countries has presented monuments as gesture of goodwill. They too were destroyed by the jihadis. The jihadis demanded that the services of Israel Airlines be stopped. They of course, were opposed to alcohol and swimsuits. They were more concerned about the health of Ummah rather than the economic health of Maldives.
With reference to Lakshadweep, we can ignore the examples of Maldives at our own peril, because both are part of the same jihadi ecosystem. Just as jihadi from Kerala joined ranks with the Islamic State in Syria and Afghanistan, so did some Maldivians. As per statistics, out of 423 Maldivians, who tried to join the Islamic State in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan 171 were successful.
Faith not above Hindustan
Pakistan has always eyed Lakshadweep because of its Muslim majority. This island territory, it felt was critical as a staging post for sustenance of East Pakistan. But before Jinnah could persuade the British, Sardar Patel moved in the Indian Navy. Regional geopolitics since then has changed. The emphasis has shifted to jihadism. Today, jihadis owing allegiance to pan-Islam and supported by Pakistan, in the garb of faith and secularism, are peddling the Pakistani agenda.
This is exactly the way radicalization in Kashmir mutated in pan-Islamism, separatism and finally in jihadism. The murderous face of pan-Islam became evident when the Hindus were hounded out of Kashmir in 1991. Why should we permit Lakshadweep to become next Kashmir?
The jihadis in Kerala have linked with the jihadis in Kashmir, jihadis in Kabul and the jihadis in Colombo. Will the link extend to Lakshadweep as well?
By RSN SINGH
(The writer is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW)