Analysis and Recommendations
28 Aug 2019
London United Kingdom
See What Exactly Happens
At 1030hrs LT, the Deendayal Port Trust, India, released a warning to vessels stating they have received intelligence indicating that ‘Pakistan trained commandos’ have entered the Gulf of Kutch through the Harami Nala Creek area. The warning claims that the units are believed to be trained in ‘underwater attacks,’ and urges all vessels within the area to exercise the ‘utmost measures in security.’ The warning follows reports made two days prior that Indian Border Security Force agents had discovered two abandoned (single engine) Pakistani fishing vessels along the Indo-Pak boarder near the Kutch district of Gujarat (although no suspicious circumstances were highlighted at the time).
2019 has seen escalated tensions between India and Pakistan, centered upon the region of Kashmir. On 14 Feb 19, the Kashmir separatist terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a military convoy that killed over 40 Indian soldiers. In retaliation on 26 Feb 19, 12 Indian fighter jets attacked a location in Pakistan, reportedly killing 350 members of the JEM. In response, Pakistan launched a retaliatory airstrike, during which an Indian MiG-21 Bison was shot down and its pilot taken prisoner by the Pakistan military, before being released on 1 Mar 19.
On 5 Aug 19, the Indian government announced that the special autonomous status of Kashmir was to be revoked, with the region being reorganized as a Union Territory. Subsequently, local political leaders were arrested, and a communications blackout and curfew were imposed. In the first weeks of Aug 19 over 35,000 Indian troops have been deployed to the region. The Pakistani government has since announced that it would consider options to counter what it regards to be the illegal actions of the Indian government. India’s decision is subject to a legal challenge, and the Indian Supreme Court has deferred a decision until October.
Pakistan has also announced its intention to challenge India’s decision to abrogate the special status of Kashmir in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The release of such an alert and the manner of its distribution gives rise to concerns around its authenticity and integrity. The warning, seen by Dryad, appears to have been an internal distribution instructing agents to inform all vessels under their charge of the situation and exercise enhanced security precautions accordingly. The alert appears to have been released in isolation, and has not been accompanied by any change in the ISPS level for Kandla port, nor has there been any official government statement regarding the information.
The wording of the report, which references Pakistani “trained” commandos, stops short of a direct accusation that Pakistani forces were operating within the Gulf of Kutch area. Additionally, the assertion made that the commando forces are suspected of being ‘trained in underwater attacks’ clearly seeks to invoke fears of state sponsored sabotage against commercial shipping, as was recently seen within the Persian Gulf. Whilst the Port Trust holds responsibility to release timely information concerning any potential risks and threats to vessels within the immediate area, to release an alert of this nature, without any official government backed statement or evidence, risks significant damage to the Port Trust and its commercial interests, therefore the nature of the release and its intended purpose is in question.
There is currently no evidence to verify that Pakistani military forces are operating within the Gulf of Kutch area. Furthermore, there is currently no credible narrative that would see Pakistani military forces operating against multi-national commercial shipping in this area. No direct link has been made in the alert with the recent reports of single engine fishing boats found by Boarder Security Forces two days prior. However, it has been suggested that this signals the source of concerns of a Pakistani infiltration. Were this to be the case, the abandoning of boats in this manner would be a significant tactical failure on the part of a potential ‘special forces’ operation, and would not be commensurate with what is currently understood of Pakistani specialist maritime capabilities.
Whilst tensions between Pakistan and India remain heightened due to the ongoing removal of the special autonomous status of the Jummu and Kashmir area, any involvement of Pakistani Special Forces in the manner suggested within the alert, would significantly undermine the stated legal challenge by Pakistan against India via the ICJ. India and Pakistan have a legacy of conflict over the Kashmir, but the nature of conflict has been limited to strikes against military instillations and targets. If Pakistani Special Forces were to target international shipping interests within the Kandla Port area, this would represent a significant departure from the established model of limited conflict. Indeed, this would be such a severe escalation, that any direct attribution could risk significant international sanctions, widespread condemnation and heighten the risk the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan.
A consideration of the timelines and situational factors surrounding both the alert itself, and context of its release, are enough to cast significant doubt as to the integrity of the information. The release of security information for commercial entities by Port Trust authorities remains a delicate balance between a need to inform and a need to preserve rational advice. At this time, Dryad advises that all clients operating in the region should keep informed of developments, apply normal security precautions, monitor and follow all official announcements. There are currently no requirements for enhanced security measures.