Sunday, April 22, 2012
At a time when the European Union (EU) is increasingly shedding its earlier mandate, essentially born and brought up as a trade block, to a more strategic political entity of sorts, the 27-nation group is vehemently pursing strategies to durably engage India to counter pirate attacks in the crucial Gulf of Aden and large parts of the Indian Ocean.
The developments unfold at a time when the EU, through a formal multi-lateral mandate put in place about a week ago, has armed itself with powers to blow off and neutralise pirate bases on shore in Somalia without actually putting its boots on the ground for an offensive against sea pirates.
The yearning to engage India more than ever before comes at a time when the Council of the EU recently decided to extend its flagship “operation Atalanta’’ under the European Naval Force Somalia (EU-NAVFOR) off the coast of Somalia and Indian Ocean by another two years up to 2014. Interestingly, the pullout deadline for the EU more or less coincides with the deadline set for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
On specifics, the EU wants India on board with more naval deployment in the area to check piracy in the region. It’s keen on a wider participation with India on securing UN World Food Programme vessels.
Deccan Herald spoke to Admiral Duncan Potts, the Operations Commander of the EU Naval Force, at the NAVFORCE headquarters in London on Friday. He said the mandate is to expand the operation in the area given that the pullout deadline has been extended and also to engage with India on a more meaningful role in the Indian Ocean.
Admiral Duncon Potts said the NAVFOR is now authorised to even blow off and neutralise bunkers, supply lines, fuel and ammunition stock of pirates on shore without having to put the boots on the Somalia shore.
Despite the best of efforts, at least 27 pirate attacks have taken place just in the first quarter of 2012 in the 2.13 square million miles of sea area under surveillance by the force.
The EU wish list also includes seeking Indian expertise in regional maritime capacity building. Talks are already under way and the EU has extended an invitation to top level delegates to visit its headquarters in Brussels for further talks early this summer.
Earlier in Brussels, David O Sullivian, the Chief Operating Officer of the European External Agency Service (EEAS), said the vigour with which the EU would want to seek India’s cooperation — not just on counter piracy but also in cyber space and counter-terrorism — is far greater than before. “The EU is not just an economic block but a decisive tool of political integration,” he told Deccan Herald in Brussels. Up to 95 per cent of EU member states trade volume is transported by sea.
Both the EU and India are in an advanced stage of deliberations to reach common ground on signing an extradition treaty.