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How Hormuz Tensions Would Impact Goa

Nandkumar M Kamat

There is an Arab saying- “If All the World were a Golden Ring, Hormuz would be the Jewel in it”. Albuquerque wanted that jewel before he could capture the crown (Goa) in AD 1510. Goa had ancient maritime trade relations with Persian Gulf. A colony of Persian horse traders was located in sixth century at Chimbel.

Millions of Persian horses of high pedigree were exported for 1,500 years to ports in Goa from imperial Satavahana period to end of the Adilshahi regime in AD 1510.  The  traders from Goa reached the courts of big markets in the Deccan with these horses.  But all these ancient links may not help peace loving Goans employed in the gulf countries in the wake of a war.

As far as strait of Hormuz/Hormoz (Ormuz for the Portuguese) is concerned for Goa the wheel of history is turning a full circle from the day Afonco de Albuquerue’s conquered the strategic island of Hormuz in October 1507. A road in Panaji ‘Rua De Ormuz” was named much later to commemorate the victory in an intensely fought naval battle. Panaji has the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and the same name was given by the Portuguese to the fort they built on island of Hormuz.

Now the global attention is focussed on strait of Hormuz and developments around it may have serious repercussions for Goa. USA and UK may plan to impose selective blockade of the mouth of the Persian Gulf to strangulate Islamic Republic of Iran. Has anyone thought about the impact of a limited war in Persian gulf on more than one lakh Goans and the rest of the Indians especially from Kerala employed in that region?

 This is an issue of urgent public importance and needs to be put on agenda of Goa legislative assembly and the Parliament of India for a focussed discussion. No lessons have been learnt from the past crisis in Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen requiring urgent evacuation and assistance of overseas Indians. The coming weeks are very dangerous for the littoral region around the Arabian Sea- from mouth of the Red Sea – Persian Gulf to Sri Lanka. The trajectory of events so far and especially after recent capture of a British tanker by revolutionary guards of Iran, clearly indicate that a war like situation is developing in the Persian Gulf. Strait of Hormuz is in news and Goans need to feel very much concerned about it because neither government of India nor government of Goa has prepared a worst-case scenario requiring safety, security and smooth evacuation of overseas Indians in the region. Can we imagine the consequences of return of thousands of Goans from the gulf countries in the wake of a limited but intense war?

Is government of Goa ready to deal with such a critical situation considering present state of our domestic economy, stretched public finances, collapsing infrastructure, rising unemployment, unresolved environmental issues, rising commodity prices and the inflating public debt?

American President is rolling his sleeves to hit the Islamic Republic Of Iran in a possible joint USA-UK-Israel military and naval operations. Donal Trump thinks that he would be a hero in the eyes of the American people if he brings Iran to its knees. He thinks that would help him in re-election in 2020 by riding on a jingoistic, nationalist wave. Feeling notionally safer in its territories and shielded by Patriot and other anti-missile batteries, Israel under the hawkish PM Netanyahu may launch pinpoint laser guided missile strikes to destroy the Iranian Uranium enrichment facilities, its nuclear reactors.

USA, UK may simultaneously open a second front in Persian Gulf to attack the key military and naval installations of Iran. Except Russia, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, France and few other countries of no consequence there are no friends left for Iran. India having ancient relations with Iran may appear sympathetic but would not be able to help much. The fate of 13 Indian sailors on captured British tanker is not yet known. The collateral damage would also take a heavy civilian toll. It is difficult to predict what Iran would do in retaliation but none of its Sunni Muslim neighbours would feel safe.

Decisions on war and peace are made by the top Iranian religious leaders. Any suicidal decisions by the Iranian leadership would escalate the situation and the domino effect would hit all the Asian oil-based economies. Iran may not only launch a missile counterattack on Israel but may target the friends and allies of USA, UK and NATO around the Persian Gulf. Already Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting an ugly, prolonged and destructive proxy war in Yemen. It has only benefitted the global armaments industry. After it is attacked Iran would be compelled to hit Saudi Arabia’s main land targets.

Gulf countries having animosity towards Iran may not be spared. That would hit the gulf Goans very hard. The whole situation in Persian Gulf could spin out of control. Till the matter is resolved by UN security council the intense regional conflagration would create a complete chaos in the region. The war like situation could bring normal life, trade, commerce, business, navigation, air traffic,  international shipping in the region to a halt. The employers of gulf Goans could direct them to temporarily leave the countries where they are presently employed. It would take months or years before the situation returns to normalcy but no such possibilities are seen if Donald Trump gets a second term in November 2020.

Goa’s well known Indo-Portuguese historian Fatima Gracias in 2000 had done a detail study of Goan migrations (Goans away from Goa. Migration to the Middle East. In: Lusotopie, n°7, 2000. Lusophonies asiatiques, Asiatiques en lusophonies) which the government would find useful. The new NRI commissioner former MP Narendra Sawaikar may find his hands full if a conflagration erupts in the Persian Gulf. He must keep all the machinery ready for any worst-case scenario. More than one lakh Goans are employed in Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and other gulf countries.

Goans should be very worried – including those who work abroad on different ships in different capacities. Many are employed on oil carrying tankers. A crisis situation reminding Goans of the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq is developing. International community needs to intervene to prevent a war like situation or a serious conflagration. Government of Goa need to factor in all possibilities and be ready.

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