New Delhi’s vision for Indian Ocean Region

Updated: Feb 16, 2021 12:27 PM

In the past we have had passive policies. Now India has taken a different approach; we are being proactive. We have lifted our veil and are no longer pretending that we can export defence equipment. We are actually doing it.

Eastern Ladakh, India and China decided to disengage at Pangong Lake, Indian Ocean region, Indian Ocean region defence ministers’ conclave, Indian Ocean Rim Association ( Pacific and south China Sea India has made great strides in missile technology and it goes without saying that many nations are interested in our state-of-the-art missiles. (PTI Image)

By Frank Rausan Pereira

After a protracted stand-off in Eastern Ladakh, India and China have decided to disengage at Pangong Lake. This comes as pleasant news in 2021 after a very tough 2020. We must take great pride in the fact that we did not back down. We were subtle, yet courageous in our approach and showed tremendous grit. Our resolute approach forced the Chinese to do something they don’t usually do – ‘back down’. As positive as the development is, it does not mean that the threat is over. History has shown us that we should never take the Chinese at face value. There is a great deal of mistrust. We have to be cautious and keep our guard up; prepared for any eventuality.

It is best that we give the pullback time and see how it proceeds. While the disengagement takes its due course, New Delhi has been focusing on dealing with the Chinese threat from other quarters. India’s commitment to take on Beijing at multiple fronts, either directly or through multilateral platforms like the Quad, must be appreciated. Giving importance to another crucial theatre – the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) shows how serious we are.

Earlier in February India hosted the Indian Ocean region defence ministers’ conclave; it was done on the sidelines of a marquee event the Aero India 2021, thus highlighting the significance of the conclave itself. The conclave was attended by dignitaries of over 20 nations. The idea was to showcase India’s weapons, missiles, electronic warfare systems and defence capabilities. In doing so India has made further strides in reaching out to smaller nations in the IOR.

China has been increasing its profile and trying to create problems for India in the region. It has been reaching out to our neighbours and building a false narrative that they cannot manage their security by themselves and offering capacity and capabilities at moderate prices. Small as these nations may be, but they are independent and sovereign nations. They do not like to be dictated to and want to move away from Beijing’s or Washington’s sphere of influence. This is where India comes in and that is why holding the conclave was important.

To the rest of the world the Pacific and South China Sea hold more significance, but for India it is the Indian Ocean to the west, that is, till the shores of Africa that is of most importance. Nations around the world are concerned about China’s growing influence. It’s not like India has woken up to the Chinese threat only now. In 1997 India led the formation of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which now has 23 members with the inclusion of France. IORA wasn’t a security establishment; it was a functional collaboration for sustainable development, economy, trade and social development. What we have done now, is that we have given it a security dimension by linking it to our Indo-Pacific policy. By calling the conclave an IOR event, we have stayed away from the historical baggage of IORA.

In the past we have had passive policies. Now India has taken a different approach; we are being proactive. The message to the smaller countries is loud and clear – “let us work together”. Let us not fall prey to being exploited and India is there to help. We have lifted our veil and are no longer pretending that we can export defence equipment. We are saying that we are exporting and we want to do it robustly. Us offering our military capabilities and willingness to cooperate and share the best of what we have will not only help our friends, it also sends out a message to China that the Indian Ocean Team is together and will not be taken for granted.

A wide spectrum of military hardware and platforms are on the table or in the pipeline for export. India has made great strides in missile technology and it goes without saying that many nations are interested in our state-of-the-art missiles. On top of the list is the BrahMos missile, it is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world that can be launched from a submarine, ships, aircraft or land. The missile is a joint collaboration between India and Russia. Then there are the other missiles – Akash – ground to air, Akshay – air to air and Nag – Anti tank missile. Apart from missiles there have been enquiries for Swathi weapon locating radars, which provide fast, automatic and accurate location of enemy weapons like mortars, shells and rockets in its 50-km range. Dhanush – Artillery gun, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) which is in its final stage of trials, just to name a few out of a list of over 100.

India has done remarkably well in the naval domain as well. From commissioning our first patrol boat INS Ajay in 1961 and INS Nilgiri, our first frigate in 1972, to now having built and commissioned a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), India has come a long way. It is indeed a remarkable achievement as the INS Arihant is the first SSBN to have been built by a country other than one of the P5 nations. India will also commission an indigenously built aircraft carrier in a year or so. Apart from this the Indian Navy has given boats to Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives, a submarine to Myanmar and several vessels to Sri Lanka. India is also a key player for providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the IOR – the tsunami of 2004 is a sterling example. Every time there is a cyclone we are the first responders. The Indian navy is a blue water navy and a modern navy; but the biggest problem is we are stretched. We still have a long way to go to catch up to the might of China.

What is working for us at the moment is that we have been upright with our friends. Unlike the Chinese we have never asserted or blackmailed anyone. In contrast Beijing has used every dirty trick in the book. They have honey-trapped senior officials, used coercion, entrapped economies in a vicious cycle of debt, browbeaten smaller nations and enticed corrupt politicians with money. These are the reasons why India is looked at as a reliable partner and a friend. We have tremendous goodwill; it’s time we convert that to gains. The only way we can do that is to ensure that we progress financially and become an economic superpower. That will sort out our strategic and security concerns as well. Military exports are one of many things that we need to do.

(The author is a Senior Anchor with a public broadcaster. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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