Indian Navy wins friends, expands influence in Indian Ocean regionAugust 28th, 2008 - 1:55 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Aug 28 (IANS) Parallel to India’s rise as a global economic power, its navy is expanding its influence among the over 30 Indian Ocean countries with efficient delivery of aid during natural disasters.The effort, explained a senior officer, was also aimed at countering the growing influence of the Chinese Navy in what is known as the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that straddles from Africa to Australia.
The third largest body of water in the world and with 33 littoral states, the IOR is strategically important, with a large percentage of global trading ships passing through it.
Eighty percent of China’s and 65 percent of India’s oil is shipped through this region.
“Our aid diplomacy is aimed at gaining more influence in the IOR. And coupled with our ‘Look East’ policy, it is expected to help India gain (in the region),” the officer told IANS.
“We are helping African countries and countries like Mauritius in capacity building and capability enhancing. We would like to play a benevolent role in this area,” the officer added.
In May this year, as Cyclone Nargis battered neighbouring Myanmar leaving thousands dead, the Indian Navy was the first to send relief supplies.
Under “Operation Sahayata”, INS Rana and INS Kirpan offloaded sea-borne aid supplies at Yangon port.
It was the latest demonstration of the ability of the Indian Navy to rush aid in times of distress.
When tsunami struck in December 2004, although India suffered over 15,000 deaths and vast destruction, the Indian Navy was quick to rush aid to the Maldives as well as the worst-hit Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
About 1,000 Indian relief personnel and five naval ships were sent to Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo ports in Sri Lanka, with medical teams and immediate relief material.
“The fact that India could deploy its navy within 24 hours of the tsunami created ripples in the world, including in Washington,” pointed out analyst C. Uday Bhaskar of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
The Indian Air Force and navy helicopters ferried packed food, medicines and drinking water and undertook rescue operations in Sri Lanka. Two field hospitals were established in Galle and Colombo before any other aid could reach the island country.
“Post-tsunami we have learnt more lessons in relief operations. Each of our ships carries one logistic brick (a pre-packed container of emergency supplies), which is sufficient to cater to 200 people for 30 days. The brick includes a community kitchen and packaged food to provide immediate relief and succour,” an Indian Navy officer told IANS.
The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard also undertook relief work in the Maldives post-tsunami. Apart from conducting aerial surveys to search for survivors, India provided relief material.
In Indonesia, Indian ships offloaded emergency rations, medicines, tents and first-aid kits worth $1 million and established two field hospitals in the worst hit area, Aceh.
Said Bhaskar: “Traditionally aid is a potent tool of diplomacy. With a number of natural disasters hitting the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy has acquired a great edge.
“Moreover, engaging in capacity building and capability enhancing is the direct way of enhancing influence,” he added.
In February, the chiefs of a record number of 27 navies from the IOR took part in an Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in New Delhi in February this year.
“India’s move should be seen in the light of China’s interest in the region and the aid it has been showering on the nations to avoid a choking of its energy supplies,” the officer added.
China has financed the construction of Pakistan’s Gwadar port and the coastal highway linking the port to Karachi. The cost benefits to China of using Gwadar for western China’s imports and exports are evident.
China has helped refurbish the Chittagong port in Bangladesh. Beijing also gives billions of dollars in military aid to Myanmar.
Said the Indian officer: “Aid diplomacy as a tool furthered India’s foreign policy objectives after tsunami.”