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Sri Lanka-Bangladesh-India Maritime Cooperation – OpEd

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Colombo Security Conclave is a greater regional initiative taken by India, Sri Lanka and Maldives simultaneously to tackle the maritime threat in Indian ocean. Then Sri Lankan defence secretary (Now President) Gotabaya Rajapaksa took this significatory initiative. In 2011, on the proposal of Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, the Colombo Security Conclave Alliance was formed with the countries of the Indian Ocean region. At first the alliance included Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. After that this alliance did not have much activity.

 The alliance has recently been reactivated by the rise in smuggling, arms trade, and human trafficking in the Indian Ocean. The head quarter has been established in 2020 in Sri Lankan capital city Colombo. Maritime threats matter really in this today’s modern world. Now Indian Ocean is a piece of interest amongst world players. The powers eye shifts towards Indian ocean. 

Analyst says, Maritime security and countering terrorism and other crimes in the Indian Ocean has emerged as a focus area for India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and the doctrine of Security and Growth for All in the Region (Sagar).

The main task of this alliance will be to maintain security in the sea area. Stop human trafficking and smuggling. The members of the alliance will also work on mutual humanitarian assistance. To this end, they will provide mutual training to the Navy and Coast Guard for the next one year.  Member states will conduct naval exercises that would be milestone for the region.

However, it is known to all Indian ocean gets it strategic significance for various region. It was a great maritime route for both Asian, European and African states for many years. The Indian Ocean has been considered as a hub of maritime connectivity project. China’s ‘String of Pearl’ project, India’s International North South Transport Project has been gone through this ocean. It is pertinent. Even the US government has transformed its strategy from Asia Pacific to Indo Pacific to include Indian ocean. Japan and India proposed ‘Cotton Route’ is also a big issue in the consideration. 

But there are some problems also. Trans national crime such as illegal narcotics trade, weapons and human trafficking issues, piracy, armed robbery, drug smuggling, illegal fishing, terrorism, environmental degradation issues are some concern issues. The Indian Ocean has been used as a safe passage by some evil players. States on the Indian ocean face these serious challenges every day.

Illegal drug trafficking from India and Afghanistan, Iran through Indian Ocean route is known to all. According to some sources, the UNODC has estimated that 54% of the heroin in India is produced domestically, while 45% originates from Afghanistan. India is particularly vulnerable to the southern route due to its western border with Pakistan. Near this border, in the western Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, is where many of the heroin seizures occur. In 2012, 105kg of drugs were seized, which had been trafficked from Pakistan along rail routes. In 2013 alone, the Indian Narcotics Control Bureau reported seizures totaling 4,609kg Data collected through seizures by various authorities has confirmed India as a transit country for Southeast Asia, West Africa and North America.

Bangladesh also faces significant problems due to drug trade through the Indian Ocean and India. The country suffers from illicit drug use among its population, such as in Dhaka where there are an estimated 2.5 million people using drugs. India is a large provider of heroin to the Bangladeshi market, and it is trafficked over the western and eastern borders. However, it is unclear whether the heroin originates from Afghanistan or India, as this data has not been sufficiently collected. Both India and Bangladesh are becoming ever more dependent on maritime trade, with these states importing over US$ 52 million and US$ 447 million respectively. Therefore, to function effectively they require an absence of maritime crime in order for trade to be uninterrupted, and for their economies to thrive.

Bangladesh faces Piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking in the Bay of Bengal. Although Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard are very active in the region, but the perpetrators are very clever and cunning. Rohingya crisis accelerated to worsen the situation. Various gangs are involved in these human trafficking process. It matters increasingly. Bangladeshi people are trafficked to Malaysia, Thailand, North Africa to Greece and Italy (Europe) through the marine route via Mediterranean Sea.

Many fishermen from Myanmar, India is involved in Illegal fishing in the Jurisdictional area under Bangladesh. So, Bangladesh faces economic loss to extract marine resources. Some armed groups kidnap Bangladeshi Fisherman for ransom. Basically, Fishing in the Sundarbans region becomes very dangerous. 

Sri Lanka has also faced an increase in heroin use within the country, as well as becoming a transit country for trafficking destined for other places. Much of the heroin entering Sri Lanka arrives on fishing boats or by air, often coming through India or Pakistan. The numbers of seizures which Sri Lankan authorities have conducted remains relatively small, meaning that the data collected is not always reliable. Smugglers in Sri Lanka have come from a variety of countries, including Pakistan, India, Iran and the Maldives.

Environmental degradation in the sea is common now. Climate change, sea level rising are some concerned issues. Trans transnational terrorist threat is seen as a serious threat.

Bangladesh is a rising South Asian Miracle. The country is developing under the leadership of its premier Sheikh Hasina. She focuses on blue economy. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the third ministerial conference titled “Promoting Sustainable Blue Economy — making the best use of opportunities from the Indian Ocean” of IORA at the InterContinental Dhaka in 2019. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, India can work together in this regard. All these states are member of some regional platform such as BIMSTEC and SAARC.

Not only Bangladesh, Countries like India, Sri Lanka, Maldives including all states across Indian ocean face the same problem. In the disaster period, regional cooperation is much needed. In Past, regional countries helped each other through various operation during the disaster moment.

Now Bangladesh got a regional platform to address these problems. To ensure better maritime time security, all regional countries should work together to tackle the problems. India and Sri Lanka have given its full support to this alliance. They have promised to hold bilateral or joint military exercises with each of the countries in the alliance.

Colombo Security Conclave is a platform. Bangladesh expects cooperation from other stake holders and wants to help others to face the challenge. 

Bangladesh with Mauritius and Seychelles are going to become full member of regional maritime security bloc. Media reports, currently serving as the group’s observers, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles joined the first meeting of national security advisers (NSA) of the CSC, hosted virtually by Sri Lanka on August 4, 2021. A meeting of the Security Conclave will be held next year in the Maldives where 3 observers will be members.

In this regard, a director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh said that this initiative has been supported to make the country’s maritime borders more secure. The waters of this area are very important for geopolitical reasons. There, countries like ours can collectively deal with geopolitical influences. At the same time, it will be able to protect the security of the sea. If Bangladesh gets full membership, then some more issues should be added to this alliance.

So, there are some opportunities for Bangladesh also other partners to focus on countering terrorism and extremism, trans-national crimes such as narcotics, weapons and human trafficking, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and protecting the maritime environment.

Reference:

The Global Afghan Opium Trade: A Threat Assessment (PDF) (Report). UNODC. 2011. p. 22,

Hossain & Islam, Delwar & Md.Shariful (2019). “Unfolding Bangladesh-India maritime connectivity in the Bay of Bengal region: a Bangladesh perspective”. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region. 15 (3): 347. 

(hindustantimes.com/india-news),  Rezaul H Laskar,Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles to join regional maritime security grouping, The Hindustan Times: 09.08.2021, Accessed 17.08.2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/bangladesh-mauritius-and-seychelles-to-join-regional-maritime-security-grouping-101628503515228.html

(www.financialexpress.com/defence), Huma Siddiqui, Colombo Security Conclave: Deputy NSAs to work towards maritime security and counter terrorism & radicalization, The Financial Express: 07.08.2021, Accessed 16.08.2021, https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/colombo-security-conclave-deputy-nsas-to-work-towards-maritime-security-and-counter-terrorism-radicalisation/2306229/

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Pathik Hasan

Pathik Hasan is a Dhaka-based NGO activist, researcher and freelance writer on contemporary international issues whose work has been published in many local and international publications. Academic background: BSS (Peace and Conflict Studies) and MSS (International Relations) under the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]

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