By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
The recent decision of the Indian Government to export arms and ammunition to Armenia during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has not to be merely taken as an exercise to enhance the defence exports wherein it is targeting approximately 35,000cr export by the year 2025.
In the year gone by, India exported defence related equipment a little over 10,000cr and the same is being relentlessly progressed further. Requisite barriers are being removed, private sector is being encouraged for defence manufacturing and exports and defence related imports are also being reduced.
In the light of these indicators , it may seem obvious to some that the recent decision of Indian Government to export defence equipment close to 2000cr on a Government to Government model to include indigenous PINAKA Multi barrel rocket launchers, anti tank launchers and a wide range of ammunition and other warlike stores is merely a defence export enhancing activity but detailed analysis will indicate that India has decided to come out of its conventional shackles and is willing to take stakes at the international stage to further its national interests.
Armenia came into being as an independent state on 21 Sep 1991 after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. As a country, it has been balancing its relationship between Russia on one hand and with the USA and the West on the other hand. It has been a founding member of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) with Russia but at the same time, it has also been part of certain NATO groupings but not being part of NATO as yet.
While Azerbaijan has also tried to balance its relations with the West and Russia, Turkey as well as Pakistan- strong opponents of India- have been strong supporters of Azerbaijan. Despite positive overtures of India for better and positive relationship with Pakistan as well as Turkey, both have continued their open criticism of India in regional as well as international forums on a regular basis.
Provision and supply of warlike stores, arms and ammunition to Armenia at the time of active conflict relates to a different kind of international messaging by India. While Indian defence establishments as well as private sector working in the defence domain have exported defence and warlike stores to close to 40 countries in the world, this export is not only special in terms of its value and timings but also in terms of the nature of the equipment.
India has already exported its Swathi radar to Armenia earlier that too during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan but the said radar was a weapon locating radar and no major fire power delivery weapon systems were included. As against that, the current consignment includes major fire power systems along with ammunition which may have a favourable outcome for Armenia in the ongoing conflict. This export, thereafter, has following major connotations:
• India has been primarily participating in troop deployments under UN mandate. It has turned down even USA’s request in 2003 to participate in the Iraq stabilisation force without a UN mandate.
• India has been assisting its neighbours based on their request like it did in the case of Sri Lanka and Maldives. The support was both in terms of troops and the equipment.
• Like all other major defence equipment exporting countries including USA and Russia, India may export the defence equipment even to opposing countries but it is yet to reach that stage.
• Armenian defence export is indicative of India being on the side of Armenia in an open manner while an active conflict continues between Armenia and Azerbaijan. By implication, India has chosen to oppose Azerbaijan and its all weather supporters to include Turkey and Pakistan.
• The Indian approach to being an ‘inward looking’ country has finally changed. Not only in the political and diplomatic domain, India has been leveraging its military capability as well to further its national interest that too on the international stage.
• Armenia has been supportive of the Indian stance on Kashmir and considers the entire state of J&K as part of India. This assistance to Armenia at its critical need time will further cement this bond.
• Turkey has been opposing India and Indian policies off late due to its open support to Pakistan. The century-old relations have soured in recent years as it has opposed abrogation of Article 370 in J&K taking the Pakistani side not only in open forums but also in the United Nations. The recent meeting between the PMs of both countries during the recently concluded SCO summit has not resulted in improved relations to the level desired. Armenian defence export by India is, therefore, also a strong message to Turkey to mend its ways. Similar messaging has been given by India by supporting Syria too.
• Pakistan is also dead against Armenia and is siding with Azerbaijan. With recent support from the US, Pakistan has been emboldened and is opposing India on all the forums despite facing severe economic and existential challenges. India’s defence export to Armenia is also a message for Pakistan as well as those opposed to Indian interests. India is now willing to take sides rather than following the ‘Non aligned’ approach and the side it chooses is based on its national interest alone.
India has already demonstrated its diplomatic ability to tread a path aligned to its national interest whether it is in the case of China on the LAC in the Eastern Ladakh, standing with Russia during the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a reliable friend for a country which had openly supported India during the 1971 operations as well as during UN votes.
While India has shown its willingness to improve its engagement with USA further, US sale of F-16 related spares under the garb of counter terrorist operations well as statement of US Ambassador to Pakistan related to POK have not gone well with India. The best part is that the Indian nation has matured now to state the facts more directly even with the USA.
Armenian defence export by India has propelled India at international level in the military domain. It will not be surprising if India of tomorrow becomes a part of some security alliance with some countries to preserve and further its national interests. India’s Armenian moment declares the unambiguous arrival of India on the international stage.
Author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.
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