Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fog of War: Italian Marines

The made-for-television jingoism surrounding the Italian marines case has made dispassionate analysis of what went wrong nearly impossible. Anyway, here's my theory of how and why two Indian fishermen ended up dead on February 15 2012. 

Much of what happened can be traced back to an anti-piracy manual released nearly two years earlier. The document is titled "Best Management Practice 3: Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and Arabian Sea Area". It was published in June 2010 by an international consortium of merchant shipping organisations and federations. Insiders call it 'BMP3' for short. Among other things, the manual plotted 'high risk areas' for piracy, gave advice on identifying a potential pirate vessel and what to do during a pirate attack.

Let's start with its definition of a 'High Risk Area'. Before BMP3 came out, merchant ships followed guidelines set by BMP2 (released in 2009). BMP2 advised vessels to inform maritime security authorities 4-5 days before they entered the HRA. In 2009, this was defined as an "area bound by 12 degrees North or 58 degrees East or 10 degrees South" (yellow on map below).

In 2010, in Section 2.3, BMP3 updated the HRA to include an area "bounded by Suez to the North, 10°S and 78°E". The significant extension of the HRA is seen in the red area on the map. 

View High Risk Area for Somali Piracy in a larger map or zoom out for a better view.

Merchant vessels were now forced to sail right up to Indian territorial waters to avoid the expanded HRA. In doing so they would often encounter Indian fishing vessels. 
On February 15 2012, at the time of the fatal shooting, the Enrica Lexie was roughly 22.5 nautical miles off the Indian coast. This falls within the HRA as updated by BMP3 (and its successor, BMP4, published in 2011). 

Now that we know why the Enrica Lexie was sailing so close to India, let's examine why the Marines on board had their fingers on the trigger. Here's what BMP3 says about the nature of pirate attacks:
- Pirates typically attack using two or more skiffs (Section 4.1)
- Pirate attacks increase following the release of hostages or after bad weather when pirates are unable to sail. (Section 3.6)

Given this context, let's look at other regional events that occurred before the shooting: 
- The Indian Coast Guard and Navy had arrested pirates operating near the coast a whole year before this. In short, the extension of the HRA in BMP3 was perfectly valid.
 - Roughly three weeks before the shooting, on 25 January, US Navy SEALS killed 9 pirates during the rescue of two western hostages in Somalia. Merchant ships would have been wary of their comrades wanting to make up for the lost ransom money or those wanting to avenge their deaths.
 - Five days before the shooting, on February 10, Somali pirates seized the Free Goddess, a bulk carrier. One report of that hijacking notes that weather conditions were "improving", and that pirates were "leaving the coast in greater numbers". The same report notes that having armed security teams on board and implementing the BMP had deterred most attacks. 
Any merchant ship passing through the HRA that night would have been on high alert.
The courts now need to decide whether the Italian marines operated within the rules of engagement. If they opened fire without a warning, they should be held accountable for the deaths. If sentenced to prison, it would not be unprecedented for them to serve their jail term back home. However, given all the context, as far as I am concerned, February 15 2012 was a tragedy waiting to happen. 

I'll end this post with two thoughts:
1. The Indian government is now petitioning international authorities to have the 'High Risk Area' pushed out to 65 deg East. This will mean fewer merchant vessels sailing through areas where Indian fishermen operate. However, Somali pirates do not heed international law. Allowing ships to drop their guard in places where the pirates still operate may prove unwise. This threat affects not just human security but global commerce. The correct response would be to increase ship and air patrols in the region. UPDATE: It would also be prudent to create standard operating procedures for fishing boats when they encounter merchant vessels. These could include a range of measures such as warning lights/flags, moving out of the path of larger ships, knowing and using the appropriate response to warning signals from ship crews, etc.

2. There is some precedent when it comes to soldiers harming foreign civilians while serving abroad in peace time. 

- In 1998, a US Marine Corps jet severed a cable car line in Italy, sending 20 people falling to their deaths. The jet was flying out of Italy's Aviano Air Base, a NATO station. The pilots faced a military trial back home. They were found 'not guilty' for involuntary manslaughter, but guilty on charges of 'obstruction of justice' and 'conduct unbecoming of an officer' as they had destroyed video evidence from the flight. Both were dismissed from service (hat-tip Kabir Taneja).

- In 2001, a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet sent to intercept it off Hainan Island, killing the latter's pilot. A second Chinese jet forced the spy plane to land, following which the PLA detained the 24 US crew members. They were released 10 days later - without charges - after diplomats worked on a face-saving solution. 

- Closer to home, Indian soldiers were indicted for sexual misconduct while serving as UN peacekeepers in Congo. The army took disciplinary action against one jawan, while three other men, including a major, were accuses of failing to retain control of their men. None of the soldiers stood trial in Congo. All of them (many more were investigated) faced a court of inquiry back in India. (hat-tip Jaskirat Singh Bawa).

The point of highlighting these cases is to show that such incidents are not uncommon. Thankfully, calmer heads have prevailed in this case too. Let's hope they continue to do so.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What if a Parsi were PM?

If you were ever curious, this is the sort of stuff Parsis forward to each other to have a laugh. Boy, am I proud to belong (at least in part) to a community that laughs this much at itself!

UPDATE: Someone I met requested that I make it clearer, since "this is the sort of stuff Parsis forward to each other" is vague. I have not written this piece. It was forwarded to me by an uncle. If anyone knows who the original author is please let me know and I'll happily add credit.

What if a Parsi were PM? 

Stop laughing. This is a very serious fantasy. 

There would be a Ministry Of Dhansakh. This would be known officially as the Ministry Of Diplomacy of course, serving up cauldrons of the good stuff to leaders of other countries.  Naturally, once they were stuffed senseless, they would sign treaties that benefitted the country immensely.

All car & bike owners who didn’t maintain their cars and bikes in an impeccable manner, would be summarily shot at dawn. Their vehicles would then be auctioned off, to find a home where they would be loved and taken care of, for the next hundred years.
Parliament would be home to some very un-parliamentary language. ‘Bhosri no’, ‘choothyo’, ‘bhangi’ and ‘lauro saalo’ would have to be explained to the translators of visiting dignitaries well in advance as being mere expressions of warmth and welcome. This would avoid anyone starting a nuclear war. 

Additionally, the PM would have to undergo sensitivity training to avoid calling President Obama, ‘te kaaro saalo’. This would also, it is hoped, avoid a nuclear war being started. Liquor companies would have to recalibrate their bottles, to account for Parsi Peg measures. Egg farmers would laugh all the way to the bank as the country discovered the glory of  ‘everything par eeda’. Life Insurance companies would moan about skyrocketing cholesterol levels, but such is life.

The national airline would be handed back to the Tatas. This would mean Air India would have hot bawi airhostesses with names like Roxane and Persis, instead of the current matronly, grumpy brigade in the sky. Accompanying them would be gay bawa pursers with names like Ronnie and Tempton. In-flight magazines would also have to explain to foreigners flying on board that, ‘kem che madarchod?’ is but the Captain’s friendly welcome as you enter the aircraft.

The suburbs of most cities would be bombed, razed and rebuilt, like baugs. This would allow non-parsis the right to host inter-baug games and give old men across the country, the right theyhad hitherto not enjoyed, to legitimately stare lasciviously at young girls thumping volleyballs across nets well into the night. The price of pacemakers would plummet, given their rising demand.
Our PM would know when to clap, if any symphony orchestra visited the country. He, or she, would also clap people into jail with a zero-tolerance attitude for corruption. The Army, Navy & Air Force Chiefs of Staff would have to deal with a boss who’d be even more finicky than them, about maintaining their tanks, ships & planes. Who knows how many Court Martials may occur for a spot of oil on a tarmac that ought not to have been there.

There’d be a permanent solution to Pakistan, Kashmir & Ayodhya. The first would be invaded and rejoined with our country, the second won over through Dhansakh Diplomacy and the third would be the disputed site being handed over to Zoroastrian Priests, to keep the peace between the two main communities as an amicable solution.

China’s attempts at building roads and train tracks near the Siachen border would be met with swift countermeasures. ACC and L&T would swing into action, to build a network of highways and tracks that would send the ‘cheena gadheros’ packing.

India would exert tremendous pressure upon Iran to behave itself in the Middle East. The Iranis of India would be commissioned to show the Iranis of Iran how to set up coffee shops around the world that served brun maska and sugary sweet tea, earning rich foreign exchange in return. This would get the mullahs very agitated, but the Brun Pao Spring would be irreversible. Embargos would be lifted (Obama would have to, else no more dhansakh) and Make My Trip would offer bumper low prices on Tempting Tehran package tours.

All terrorist negotiations would involve Parsi Mother In Laws. The terrorists would know when they were severely outclassed and give themselves up post haste. But that would only be in extreme circumstances. As a softer option, Shiamak Davar could be sent in with his troupe to gyrate to Kajra re. This mind-blowing experience would leave them separated from their Kalashnikovs - and even their sanity.

Everyone in India would learn how to play the piano. This would foster harmony in the neighborhood, people would drop in for sing-a-longs every evening and copious amounts of beer would be drunk. You can’t riot against people you’ve been drunk with after all.

A Parsi PM would hang out with the Queen back ‘home’ and convince her that the Kohinoor really ought to return back home to India. (Another fine example of Dhansakh Diplomacy at work.) A Parsi PM would laugh a lot, swear a lot, eat a lot, drink a lot and entertain like crazy. World leaders would swing by to India when they needed a good laugh. And good food.

The Jam-E-Jamshed would have a higher circulation than the Times Of India. Everyone would want to know about what the PM said in his own community newspaper first. The Times Of India would promptly rebrand Bombay Times to Bawa Times and throw a launch party with Tanaz Godiwalla catering to boot. Queenie Singh would sport a gara miniskirt. This would leave Parsi women fuming and Parsi men steaming.

Trains would run, planes would fly, the environment would get cleaner, the cities greener. Smoking would be stubbed out, poverty would be rubbed out. The Left would grumble, the Right would mumble, the middle would rumble contentedly.

The Judiciary would have incorruptible bawa Judges. In five years flat they’d expedite the zillions of cases that have clogged the courts. Any frivolous lawsuit would be dealt with a swift dismissal, any true plea for justice would be swiftly dispensed. The parallel system of goondagardi would lose its relevance as people believed in the system, the State once again.

A Parsi PM. Who’d crack the country up when he spoke in Hindi every Republic Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Who’d laugh the loudest himself when he was lampooned by the Comedy Store. Now that’s a happy thought for this Navroze. Into that heaven of completely benign lunacy, dear Father, let my Country awake.